Saturday, 26 December 2015

Inbetween Days: Liminal Space

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 standing at the threshold 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 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. For it is in this cold stillness that change can begin to form and grow.

There is a beauty in those in between days as we stand on the threshold of something new, in that space. As we stand together between the worlds in the changing of the light.

The truth is though that we are always standing at thresholds, at times of change. Each beginning is actually the end of something and each ending is the beginning of something new and what stands in between is threshold.

Over the last few months I have kept on hearing a phrase that I was not really consciously aware of before; it is phrase that has kept on knocking on the window of my consciousness all this year, staring right into my soul. The phrase is “Liminal Space”. Now what on earth does it mean? You may well be asking. Well “Liminal Space” is a threshold, a space between things.

The word “Liminal” comes from the Latin “limens”, meaning “a threshold.” A threshold is a doorway or the entrance, it is a place or point of entering or beginning. In psychology the term “Limen” means the point at which a stimulus is of sufficient intensity to begin to produce an effect.

So “Liminal Space” is that moment when something changes from one state to another. Such as the dawn of each day, when the morning sun rises high in the sky bringing daylight. Or at dusk, when the evening sun sinks into the horizon bringing nightfall.

“Liminal Space” is that moment when we move either into or out of a deep fog, whether physical or one made from our own minds. Sometimes in that fog we find a complete stillness and in that stillness a new truth can be revealed. As we do we come out of the fog once again and step into a new clear light. Similar to those moments when we awaken from a deep sleep, when we are not yet fully awake but no longer asleep. And at the other end of the day that state when we move from being fully awake and conscious into deep sleep. Then there are those moments of life’s transitions, between life and death itself. The following reflection by Victoria Safford, describes this beautifully.

“In Between” by Victoria Safford

"One afternoon some time ago I brought my little baby out to visit a very, very old neighbour who was dying that year, quietly and gracefully, in her gracious home. We were having a little birthday party for her, with sherry and cake and a few old friends gathered round her bed. To free a hand to cut the cake, I put my baby down right on the bed, right up on the pillow - and there was a sudden hush in the room, for we were caught off guard, beholding.

It was a startling sight. There is the late afternoon light were two people side by side, two human merely beings. Neither one could walk, neither one could speak, not in language you could understand, both utterly dependent on the rest of us bustling around, masquerading as immortals. There they were: a plump one, apple-cheeked, a cherry tomato of a babe, smiling; and a silver-thin one, hallow-eyes, translucent, shining, smiling. We revellers were hushed because we clearly saw that these were dancers on the very edge of things. These two were closer to the threshold, the edge of the great mystery, than any of us had been for a long time or would be for a while. Living, breathing, smiling they were, but each with one foot and who knows how much consciousness firmly planted on the other side, whatever that is, the starry darkness from whence we come and whither will we go, in time. Fresh from birth, nigh unto death, bright – eyed, they were bookends there, mirrors of each other. Radiant.

Cake in hand, and napkins, knife, glasses, a crystal carafe a century old, we paused there on the thresholds of our own momentary lives. Then, “What shall we sing?” said someone, to the silence, to the sunlight on the covers, to the stars. It was the only question, then, as now, years later. What on earth shall we sing?"

“Liminal Spaces” are “Thin Places” occurring on boundaries between things. This brings to mind a beautiful song by Justin Sullivan. Please listen to a version of it here...


“Liminal Space” is a boundary. Think of fences, walls and trees between property. It is the edge between things. Such as water and land, a valley or a hill. When I think of where I come from in West Yorkshire, such boundaries are everywhere in those hills and valleys of green and grey. Another example is in the change of the shape of the land, just look around you then next time you are out and about where you live . Another example is the East Coast of Yorkshire , around Filey and Flamborough Head where the cliffs are eroding and falling away into the North Sea. It is amazing to stand there sometimes and stare out into the sea watching the waves hitting and then retreating from the coast . It is that moment of contact, just before the sea withdraws once again that is a kind of “Liminal Space”.

“Liminal Space” is not only physical in nature though. It is that moment, which may last a lifetime, that lies between the known and the unknown. It is a moment of transition a space of heightened intensity when we cross the threshold of what we think we know. That moment of abandon when things change and are never quite the same again. Moments that can change us forever. Moments that change everything. We all have them, it’s just that too often we are not fully awake to them. We all of us stand in that space, between the changing of the light. Between every sunrise and every sunset a whole new world of possibility is born.

Now sometimes we enter such times, “Liminal Space”, willingly, as a result of a decision to try something new. But there are also others times when we just drift into them a bit like driving into a fog on our journeys somewhere, not knowing when the fog will clear. Such moments are filled with uncertainty, they are times of transition we did not ask for at all. These can be confusing times and such confusion can cause fear and anxiety. We humans do not like uncertainty, we like to know the ground that we stand on is solid and secure. We want the path to be clear, we want our goals to be certain, we want to rush through the fog and enter once more into the light as soon as possible. This is why so many of us don’t like the cold and darkness of winter, spring is so much more appealing, but we cannot have the joy of spring without life’s winter. We want certainty, we want firmness now!!! This though is not realistic, this is not life.

The French Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin captured this perfectly when he wrote: “We are quite naturally impatient in everything. To reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability – And that it may take a very long time.” He urged us to be patient, to embrace this time of uncertainty, to allow it to unfold naturally as we evolve into what we are meant to become. The key it would seem is to be open and to experience everything, because everything matters you know, even the experiences we don’t want to feel. We need to experience the thresholds, so as to learn all that they offer. To stand between the worlds in the changing of light. To pass through the “Liminal Space” and become all that we were born to be. Born again and again and again in each moment of life.

This year has been one of great change for me. This year has been one when I have come out of the mist of threshold into something new. New dawns have emerged and new beginnings have arisen. New truths and experiences have come to me. My life has changed on so many levels. In every sense. There has been the obvious physical change as I have lost over a third of my body mass. That said there have been other changes too in terms of my understanding of life and it’s meaning to me. These changes have been mental, emotional, spiritual as well as the physical one.

My understanding of my own spiritual faith has opened and awakened to new levels too. There has been one phrase that comes from “The Sermon on the Mount”, from Matthew’s Gospel, that has been taking shape in the soul of me all year long. The phrase is “You are the light of the world”. That this is the real message that was brought to the world 2.000 years ago and that it is our task to bring this to life in our mortal lives. That it is our task to incarnate this love in our world. That we are responsible for this our world. That we are the ones that our world has been waiting for. It is up to us you know, it’s up to us to bring this love alive.

Last year as I stood on the threshold of the year I did not know what was to come. None of us did, did we? This year we all stand at a new threshold uncertain of what is to come. As we stand in the coldest darkest days. Let’s not rush through these in between days and wish them away. Let’s instead appreciate this “Liminal Space” for what it is and when we are ready, let’s step into the days of the new beginnings and truly give birth to the love that is within us all.

I will end with this beautiful meditative piece by Kath R Walker...Best wishes for the days ahead and may you experience all that lies inbetween...

“In Between” by Kate R Walker

In between, liminal, that space where we wait.
Between moments; events, results, action, no action.
To stand on the threshold, waiting for something to end,
And something new to arrive, a pause in the rumble of time.
Awareness claims us, alert, a shadow of something different.

In between invitation and acceptance.
In between symptom and diagnosis.
In between send and receipt of inquiry and question.
In between love given and love received.

Liminality, a letting go, entering into confusion,
ambiguity and disorientation.
A ritual begun, pause … look back at what once was,
Look forward into what becomes.
Identity sheds a layer, reaches into something uncomfortable to wear.

In between lighting of the match and the kindling of oil.
In between choosing of text and the reading of words.
In between voices and notes carried through the air into ears to hear.
In between creation thrusts ever forward.

Social hierarchies may disassemble and structures may fall.
Communities may revolt or tempt trust.
Tradition may falter or creativity crashes forward.
Leaders may step down or take charge.
The people may choose or refuse.

In between, storm predicted, the horizon beacons.
In between, theology of process reminds us to step back.
In between, where minutia and galaxies intermingle with microbes and mysteries.
In between, liminal, that space where we wait: Look, listen, feel, breathe.



Thursday, 24 December 2015

Christmas Eve

"Christmas Eve" by Tracy Pullman

Christmas eve is a time for candlelight.
It is a time when one desires nothing more than family and soft music.
Who can say what passes through our hearts on Christmas eve?
Strange thoughts, indefinable emotions and sudden tears.
All this and more, unbidden, come without reason.

And we burn our candles for this is Christmas eve.
Christmas eve is not a time to be merry but quietly glad.
It is the proper time to wish upon a star.
It is a time to watch children with excited happy eyes troop off to bed to
await the miracle of dawn.
It is a time of wonder, of thankfulness that life is still being created anew
out of darkness.
It is a time of quiet awakening to beauty that still lives on through the
strife of a war torn world.

And we burn our candles for this is Christmas eve.
Christmas eve is a time of heartbreak,
When those who are not at their own fireside are most missed.
Christmas eve is a time of blessing when all the heartbroken world gives
thanks for the quiet beauty of rest,
When one is closest to ones companions and is not then enemy of any
person.

And we burn our candles for this is Christmas eve.
Christmas eve is a time of memory,
When one remembers past happiness and love
And often sighs for the good that might have been.
Peace on earth and now comes the memory of the story of the first
Christmas, so old and yet so new.
We lose ourselves in legend and dream of storybook people; Tiny Tim
and the other Wise Man live again in the memory of human hearts.

And we burn our candles for this is Christmas eve.


Christmas is the season of the heart. It is a time to focus on the ties of the heart, the loves of the heart, the dreams of the heart; it is a time to focus on the hearts yearnings and longings; it is a time when we are called to concentrate on the heart, on what it wants, what it needs and what it compels us to be. The heart of Christmas is the heart itself, burst to overflowing, lit up bringing light and warmth into this season of darkness and cold. It brings hope in what can be very cynical times, as it always has. Christmas is the dream of the heart, wishing to come alive. This is why Christmas is both the religious and emotional centre of the year for most folk. Christmas is the time of the heart, which calls us to our truest nature, to be all that we can be.

This is why it is the holiest of holy days and nights. This is why I believe it is for everyone regardless of background and or faith, or lack of it. Christmas connects to something universal, something eternal in all of us which allows us to connect to our true selves, to one another, to all life and to that loving and eternal spirit that runs through all life.

“Oh I wish it could be Christmas every day”. Well it can be if we make it Christmas every day. It begins by lighting that lamp, that fire in our hearts and in our hearths.


I have included in this blog material that has inspired me and the worship I have created this Advent and Christmas season. I trust it will speak to your spirit and fill your heart with the soul of the season.

Merry Christmas one and all...


“Christmas is for Love” (Author unknown)

Christmas is for love. It is for joy, for giving and sharing, for laughter, for reuniting with family and friends, for tinsel and brightly covered packages. But, mostly Christmas is for love. I had not believed this until a small elfin like pupil with wide innocent eyes and soft rosy cheeks gave me a wondrous gift one Christmas.

Matthew was a 10 year old orphan who lived with his aunt, a bitter, middle aged woman greatly annoyed with the burden of caring for her dead sister's son. She never failed to remind young Matthew, if it hadn't been for her generosity, he would be a vagrant, homeless waif. Still, with all the scolding and chilliness at home, he was a sweet and gentle child.

I had not noticed Matthew particularly until he began staying after class each day [at the risk of arousing his aunt's anger so I learned later] to help me straighten up the room. We did this quietly and comfortably, not speaking much, but enjoying the solitude of that hour of the day. When we did talk, Matthew spoke mostly of his mother. Though he was quite young when she died, he remembered a kind, gentle, loving woman who always spent time with him.

As Christmas drew near however, Matthew failed to stay after school each day. I looked forward to his coming, and when the days passed and he continued to scamper hurriedly from the room after class, I stopped him one afternoon and asked him why he no longer helped me in the room. I told him how I had missed him, and his large brown eyes lit up eagerly as he replied, 'Did you really miss me?'

I explained how he had been my best helper, 'I was making you a surprise,' he whispered confidentially. 'It's for Christmas.' With that, he became embarrassed and dashed from the room. He didn't stay after school any more after that.

Finally came the last school day before Christmas. Matthew crept slowly into the room late that afternoon with his hands concealing something behind his back. 'I have your present,' he said timidly when I looked up. 'I hope you like it.' He held out his hands, and there lying in his small palms was a tiny wooden box.

'It's beautiful, Matthew. Is there something in it?' I asked opening the top to look inside. 'Oh you can't see what's in it,' he replied, 'and you can't touch it, or taste it or feel it, but mother always said it makes you feel good all the time, warm on cold nights and safe when you're all alone.'

I gazed into the empty box. 'What is it, Matthew' I asked gently, 'that will make me feel so good?'

'It's love,' he whispered softly, 'and mother always said it's best when you give it away.' He turned and quietly left the room.

So now I keep a small box crudely made of scraps of wood on the piano in my living room and only smile when inquiring friends raise quizzical eyebrows when I explain to them there is love in it.

Yes, Christmas is for gaiety, mirth, song, and for good and wondrous gifts. But mostly, Christmas is for love.

“All I want for Christmas” by David S. Blanchard taken from “A Temporary State of Grace”

This is a time of 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 who ask us, “What do you want?”

Dare to answer. Think of the things you want, and the things others close to you would want. Imagine the ways they might be given and received.

What do you want?


"This is the season" by Jacob Trapp

This is the season when the child in the heart of all of us awakens and the
embers of long forgotten dreams are blown into flame.
The ramp of the Legions is stilled; the Caesars lie in dust, but the light
from that humble stable shines warm and bright.
Something old and almost lost amid the clutter of the years is calling from
the skies and across the fields of snow.
The night winds are stilled and in the darkened heavens the stars foretell
of lengthening days and the birth of spring after the winter’s cold.
This is the sign that the light of hope, which shines in the dimness of our
broken dreams, will never fade or die.
O stretch your hands and with the simple trust of the child, grasp another’s
hand and walk the way together.
Though the darkness press in upon us and the promise of Christmas
comes like the echo of music upon the wind, let our hearts remember
that loveliness, that light.



“Sing” by George K Beach

This is a good season for singing. I may not sing very well but everybody knows the Christmas carols and I can just sing and get away with it. Nobody notices unless I refuse altogether. So singing comes easy, now.

This is also a good season for telling stories. The stories I like are both life-like and a little fantastic – believable, unbelievable, and somehow both at once. They let me imagine something other than hard facts that just say what is.

The idea of angels singing and animals talking for a holy babe born in a barn and laid in a manger allows me to love a little while in a world where everything is different. And get away with it.

A most amazing recognition that is: that I can get away with it. Life allows me; it lets me go again and again: for we are set at liberty.

This is a good season for believing that “something happened” and everything is different now. I don’t have to be bigger, better, or beautifuler than anybody. I can love somebody and get away with it.

And what is “it”? It is only that which I want in my heart of hearts – like loving, like being changed, like singing and having a story to tell. And once I have let myself go, there is something I can do no longer: pretend I am not allowed to be myself, in the community of giving and receiving. Such a life of freedom and love is itself the first and greatest gift.




“Little Kight” by Charles A Gains


As I look at this lighted candle, I think of all the people I have read about
who lit up the world with their love. I think of Jesus and Buddha, St Francis
and Schweitzer, Clara Barton and Martin Luther King. And I know in
my heart that I can light up the world with my love too.
As I look at this glowing candle, I think of all the people I have known in
my life who lit up my world with their love; parents who gave me birth,
teachers who taught me in schools; people who walked with me for a
while. And I know in my heart that that I can light up the world with my
love too.

As I look at this bright candle, I think of all the people I know now who
light up my world with their love; my partner and my children; my colleagues
and my friends; people who are with me now, others who are
absent, but with us just the same. And I know in my heart that I can light
up the world with my love too.

Loved ones, friends, strangers I pass this light to you. Take it and let it
brighten up the darkness. Let its glow sparkle around your eyes and
lighten your face And know that by sharing our love, even in little ways,
we touch others with our light and our world becomes brighter
It all began many years ago when one light lit up the midnight sky. It has
been passed on to us by saints and prophets, parents, teachers and poets,
and all the friends and lovers of humankind.
Take it, pass it on - tonight, tomorrow and whenever you see a shadow or
a dark place your love can lighten. No one is ever too old. No one is ever
too young. Each of us can touch someone by our love and inspire them
with our light.


A Closing Prayer

Christmas Eve, December 24, 2007
On this night of nights,
We have more for which to be grateful than we will ever know:
More cause to bless and cherish
And bend our knee in wonder,
More call to lift our hearts on wings of praise.

For we, too, on this very night,
Illuminated by a story and a star,
Can witness a miracle:
A birth — heralding our birth,
Pregnant with promise and oh so surpassingly strange;
A life — no less magical than ours;
A death — to charge our days with purpose,
Helping us to live in such a way
That our lives, too, will prove worth dying for.

To enter the realm of enchantment,
We must first shed our self-protective cover,
Not, as we too often and so sadly do,
Take this precious life for granted,
But unwrap the present and receive the gift,
Mysterious and charged with saving grace.

So let us, on this night of nights, set aside our shopping list of grievances,
Resist the nattering of our grubby little egos,
And crack our parched lives open like a seed.

Let us pray.

Let us awaken from the soul-crushing allures
Of sophisticated resignation and cynical chic,
To savor instead the world of abundance and possibility
That awaits just beyond the self-imposed limits of our imagination.

Let us awaken to the saving gift of forgiveness,
Where we can, in a single breath, free ourselves and free another.

Let us awaken to the possibility of love,
Body, mind, and spirit,
All-saving and all-redeeming love.

Let us awaken to the blessing of acceptance,
Expressed in a simple, saving mantra:
Want what we have; do what we can; be who we are.

Rather than let wishful thinking or regret
Displace the gratitude for all that is ours, here and now,
To savor and to save.

Let us want what we have —
Praying for health, if we are blessed with health,
For friendship, if we are blessed with friends,
For family, if we are blessed with family,
For work, if we are blessed with tasks that await our doing,
And if our lives are dark, may we remember to want nothing more than the loving
Affection of those whose hearts are broken by
our pain.

Let us do what we can —
Not dream impossible dreams or climb every mountain,
But dream one possible dream and climb one splendid mountain,
That our life may be blessed with attainable meaning.

And let us be who we are —
Embrace our God-given nature and talents.
Answer the call that is ours, not another's,
Thereby enhancing our little world and the greater world we share.

That is my Christmas prayer,
Call it thoughtful wishing.
All we have to do is put our heart in it.
And there's one more bonus.
Unlike wishful thinking, thoughtful wishes always come true.

Amen. I love you. And may God bless us all.

An Excerpt from "Love & Death: My Journey through the Valley of the Shadow" by Forrest Church



Saturday, 5 December 2015

What can we give?

For most of us Christmas is about the giving and receiving of presents. It’s kind of mass consumerism gone mad. The worst excesses of which seem to form in that most hideous of American imports “Black Friday”, which is actually really linked to the American holiday of “Thanksgiving”. We have not taken that part on, just “Black Friday”, not the giving of thanks bit. Maybe we should and then extend it on into Christmas itself. Surely Christmas is about giving thanks for the gifts we have been given and expressing this thanks by using this gifts in our lives. In so doing we can become gifts to the world…Isn’t this what it means to live with gratitude?

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 Father Christmas, St Nicholas or 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 when we truly 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. This is one way in which we can truly begin to become a gift to the world.

One thing that I believe is a worthwhile venture to do at this time of year is to think of and perhaps even make a list of the nicest gifts we have received. Not just Christmas gifts though, but also those we have received throughout our lives too. Now these could be actual presents, or they could be loving gestures or kindly acts. I will never forget a bowl of soup that Wynne Semester made for me when I was a completely broken man after Ethan had been killed some ten years ago now. She sat me down in the kitchen at Oldham Unitarian Chapel and just simply warmed up the soup and fed me while my heart broke. This simple act of love and countless others helped heal me in my utter despair; they helped to relight the fire of love and hope in me, in my darkest hour. I can name a 1001 or more times when others have done similar things. I have been and will continue to make a list of the many gifts I have been given throughout my life. This fills my heart with gratitude as I think of ways in which I can begin to give back what has been so freely given to me.

Why not give this a go. Spend some time in this Advent season compiling a list of all that has been given to you, freely, from the hearts of others and perhaps think of ways in which you too can give back from your heart. You never know, in so doing you may just be reigniting a fire that has gone out in someone’s heart.

Now please don’t take what I am saying the wrong way. I am not trying to coerce you here, to get you to behave in the right way, just so you will be rewarded. This is one of the few things I don’t really like about Christmas, the way that children are kind of coerced, dishonestly, into behaving themselves by the threat that if they don’t Father Christmas won’t come. It never works anyway. And why don’t I like it? Well because it’s not honest and besides which most children know for a long time that this is not the case, long before they will admit to it. I know I did. Although having said this I understand fully why parents use this tactic.

There is another problem too in using this method of coercion. Once we see the lie in this Christmas manipulation we equate all life in the same way. I think that one of the biggest problems when it comes to question re faith etc is that people equate God with Father Christmas. The God I have come to know is nothing like Father Christmas or anything else for that matter. God is not some kind of super being handing out favours or not willy nilly. God is no thing at all. God is beyond being.

When I really think of the gifts I have been given the greatest is of course life itself. This is of course the ultimate free gift. The ultimate unearned grace. As the beautiful hymn goes “Life is the greatest gift of all the riches on this earth; life and its creatures, great and small, of high and lowly birth. So treasure it and measure it with deeds of shining worth.”

Well truth be told I can’t claim to have always treasured and measured it with deeds of shining worth. I haven’t always been grateful for all that I have been freely given, beginning with life itself. How many of us can truly say that they have?

Now of course saying that we are grateful is easy. We can all say that we are grateful for the gifts we have been given, whether at Christmas or throughout the year; whether these gifts are material or spiritual in nature. But I am not so sure that this is what gratitude actually is. To quote David Whyte:

“Gratitude is not a passive response to something given to us, gratitude is being awake in the presence of everything that lives within and without us. Gratitude is not something that is shown after the event, it is the deep, a priori state of attention that shows we understand and are equal to the gifted nature of life. Gratitude is the understanding that many millions of things come together and live together and mesh together and breathe together in order for us to take even one more breath of air, that the underlying gift of life and incarnation as a living, participating human being is privilege, that we are part of something, rather than nothing…Thankfulness finds its full measure in generosity of presence, both through participation and witness. We sit at the table part of every other person’s world while making our own world without will or effort, this is what is extraordinary and gifted, this is the essence of gratefulness, seeing to the heart of privilege. Thanksgiving happens when our sense of presence meets all other presences. Being unappreciative means we are simply not paying attention.”

This is really what I would like you to think about over the next of weeks as we approach Christmas. To consider the gifts that we have been granted and to perhaps think of the gifts we would like. To remember, but not passively, let’s instead make it an act of remembrance, of all that has been freely given to us, gifted to us. Let’s also make from these gifts a true act of gratitude for all that is our lives. Let’s become a part of the gift that is life itself and express this in our being. Let’s become the gift to the world. And pour out this gift on one another and to all life, in all that we feel, all that we think, all that we say and all that we do…








Amen

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Becoming the Light

It is not difficult to look at the world in despair and cry out “There is no hope for humanity”. It is easy to say “what is the point? Darkness always overcomes it all.” It is easy to cry out “there is something deeply flawed in human nature that evil always seems to prevail.” It is so easy to accept those words from the Book of Common Prayer” “That there is no health in us.” It is easy to give up on it all and say “It is all going to rack and ruin”

I’ve done it myself. In fact it would be fair to say that for many years of my adult life I did just this. I gave up on life and I gave up on humanity. I allowed the light in my own being and in life itself to go out. I gave in. That was the easy way, the heartless way if truth be told. I had lost the courage to live and the courage to love and had become consumed by despair.

But thank God it did not stay that way. From that place of hopelessness, from that place of despair Hope somehow took root once again, light took hold in the dark cold places within my being. I have seen this happen in the lives of many others since. Light can prevail, if we let it. It is not easy though. To live in hope in some ways is the harder way. It takes love and it takes courage…To live in the way of love and life takes heart…

Now of course sometimes the light is lit by another. As Albert Schweitzer said “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lit the flame within us”.

There are many who have rekindle the spark in me over the years. I hope that I done so in lives of others too.

It has been through experiencing the light once more coming on and witnessing it in the lives of others that keeps the fire of hope burning deep within me. We human beings are capable of incredible acts of love and compassion. I see this every day in my personal interactions and I also see it on a global level in the way that we do respond to the horrors and crisis that we witness in our lives both locally and globally. We humans are capable of such goodness.

The key is to believe and to bring that belief to fruition that we are capable of deep caring as well as destructive aggression; that we are just as capable of good as we are of evil. By the way I mean all of us, not just some of us. I do believe that we are formed from Divine love and that we have that Divine spark that created the beginning of all life within us; that we are all formed from that Original Goodness; that we all have that same stardust within us. Our problem is that we have forgotten this and or rejected it. When we do this we turn from a love for all life into a rejection and hatred of life itself. To me this is where the darkness, the evil in life comes from. From rejecting life and the love from which we are all formed.

…The darkness grows when we fail to recognise that we are the light of the world…

It is our task, I believe, to rekindle that loving flame within each and every one of us. It is our task to become the Immanuel's, the ones that the world has been waiting for. Not to wait for some figure to come and rescue humanity, but to become those people ourselves, to let love incarnate within us and through us. To bear witness to the fact that God is already with us, in our hearts and souls and to bring that love to life. We must become the Immanuel’s, the ones we have all been waiting for.

It is so easy to sink into despair and say, there is no hope for humanity, but is this true? I don’t think so, but it is up to us. There is no point just waiting for something to happen, it is we who must become the savours of our world and it begins in our own hearts and minds, in our own families and in our own communities and then it may begin to spread throughout the whole world. It is our task to bring the spirit of love alive in our lives and in our times and places. It is our task to become the Immanuel’s.

…We must become the light of the world…


We can build temples of hope in all our hearts, in spite of the despair that we see within our own lives and those all around us. We can bring love alive once more. We can light the flame within us and rekindle the flame in those who need it the most, who feel close to giving up, who feel consumed by despair. We can become the blessing that our world has been waiting for.

…We can become the light of the world…

Amen




Saturday, 14 November 2015

Start Close In...With the First Step...

I woke up the other morning with the following thoughts singing in my heart and soul…

"Some say that freedom comes from seeking your own answers to the questions of the day; to the questions that others asks you. I am not so sure that this is real freedom.

Who decides the questions? Who says that these are the questions that you should even be asking yourself?

What are the questions that your own heart, your own soul, asks?

Finding your own voice is not about only finding your own answers, but also about asking the questions your own soul demands of you, your own heart asks you.

That said it is not enough to merely ask the questions that your heart desires. I am learning that to truly join in the courageous conversation requires me to follow my bliss...

It begins right here, right now, it begins close in, close at heart, with the first step...It begins by asking my heart, what my heart desires to know and not what someone else's heart desires..."

Now where that came from is the great mystery...Where does anything come from?

I think that the thoughts were influenced by a poem I had been listening to by David Whyte. The poem being “Start Close In”. Below is a clip from YouTube of him reciting his own poem followed it in written form...




"Start Close In"

Start close in,
don't take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don't want to take.
Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way of starting
the conversation.
Start with your own
question,
give up on other
people's questions,
don't let them
smother something
simple.
To find
another's voice,
follow
your own voice,
wait until
that voice
becomes a
private ear
listening
to another.
Start right
now
take a small step
you can call your own
don't follow
someone else's
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don't mistake
that other
for your own.
Start close in,
don't take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don't want to take.

I love the challenge of this poem. It’s really about engaging in what Whyte calls the courageous conversation, which he says is about how we live authentically listening to our own hearts desires and truly living from our own souls. It’s about not being swayed by others too much and simply following their leads. Instead it’s about listening to that still small voice within and following its call and then beginning the journey “close in, with the first step. Not the second or third, but close in with the first step.” And how does this begin? He says “Start with your own question, give up on other people’s questions. Don’t let them smother something simple”

It is so easy to become swayed off course by others. I know I can be swayed of course by the questions and opinions of others. Less so these days as I have learnt to trust that still small voice within. That said I wonder how many times indecision has grown in me because I have been too easily swayed by the opinions of others. Opinions I have not even asked for by the way. How often in life do people give us unasked for advice? How often does this advice breed uncertainty about our paths within us? How often does it complicate something that was so simple?

Now there is another difficulty with beginning journeys of change, being too focused on a perceived goal. If we face ahead, looking purely at our perceived goal, we will not really experience all that is around us. In so doing we fail to hear that still small voice present in all life. I suspect being too single minded eventually leads to failure, because it is impossible to sustain.

This is the danger I have had to pay close attention to these last few months as I have radically altered my lifestyle and lost almost 6 stones, or 82 pounds in weight. I suspect that if I had focused purely on the end result I would have eventually failed. Instead I started close in. I began with the first step, with the ground at my feet. I made a beginning and have experienced every aspect of my ever changing life these last few months. It truly has been amazing as I have connected and opened in new and wonderful ways. I began shyly, nervously and with little confidence, but I began and as the journey has continued it has become nothing but bliss. And of course to top it all I have lost a phenomenal amount of weight and have enjoyed the journey at the same time.

Why? You may well ask. Well because I have fully experienced it. In so doing I have “followed my bliss”

Now “Following your bliss” comes from the teaching of the mythologist Joseph Campbell. He described “bliss” as that intuitive, deep-down way of knowing what is right for us, what is good for us, what makes us “truly happy”, that un-commonsense that can only be found deep down in the marrow of our souls. Campbell emphasised something that is known at an intuitive level, that we will never know real contentment, we will never feel truly fulfilled, unless we are “following our bliss”, unless we are doing with our lives what our hearts truly desire us to be doing, being who we truly ought to be and living by the values that we know in our souls are our ultimate values.

So why don’t we all “follow our bliss”? Well one reason is that it is shot through with uncertainty and danger, it is a step out into the unknown. To “follow our bliss” is to take the “Hero’s Journey” that Campbell also spoke of. Such a journey is riddled with danger. In the ancient myths these dangers would be deep dark forests and dragons and all kinds of other beasts. These are metaphors for the dangers we face in life today such as anxiety, dread and life sucking emptiness. There is also the danger of need to seek the approval of others. These dangers can press in on us so tightly that they stop us following what our hearts and souls truly desire. How many of us fail to hear the voice deep down within us, because we are too busy listening to fears and so called rationales of those around us?

Now of course there is always a price to pay for “following our bliss”. Such a price may seem too much for many of us. We may have to lose some things that we claim we hold so dear, that make us feel safe and secure in order to truly “follow our bliss”. A wonderful example of this is found in Mark's Gospel chapter 10, which depicts an encounter between Jesus and a “Rich Young Man”. The rich young man meets Jesus just as he has sets out on a journey – Jesus is an archetype of someone “following their bliss”- he kneels before him and asks what he must do in order to follow him. Jesus tells him that he must give up everything he owns and give all his money away to the poor. This the man cannot do, for him it was too much of a price to pay and so he walked away in shock and grief for he had many possessions. The rich young man could not “follow his bliss” because he could not sacrifice these things in his life in order to be free, to follow what his heart truly desired. How many of us are held back from being truly free by the things that we think make us who we are? I’m not merely talking about material things here, it could just as easily be status, ideas and or beliefs.

Now David Whyte is someone who took the courageous step, who was able to “follow his bliss”. He gave up a career in corporate America and became a poet and writer and eventually a deeply inspirational speaker. Much of his work is about finding "a work" a meaning in life. He himself began close in, with the first courageous step and experienced every ounce of meaning along the way. This was not easy. But he always followed what his heart and soul called him to do. It began for him when he stopped asking himself the questions others were asking him and began instead asking himself his own questions. The questions his own heart and soul asked of him.

Now this all seems a bit drastic for most us and I’m not suggesting that we follow his lead and give up our lives and responsibilities and go off and become poets. We do not have to do this to live authentically, to “follow our bliss”, I very much doubt it would be ours to do in any case. No what I am suggesting is that we find ways to truly listen to our own hearts and not become distracted by what others demand of us. What I am suggesting is that we learn to tune into that still small voice within each of us and begin close in, with the first step. Perhaps it could begin by asking ourselves what the questions our own hearts and souls are asking us rather than answering other people’s question. Maybe this is how we start close in, with the first step. Perhaps this is how we begin to live authentically, perhaps this is how we begin to “follow our bliss”.

Amen




Saturday, 31 October 2015

Faces of Fear

Today the 1st of November is All Saints Day or All Hallows Day. It is sandwiched between All Hallows Eve or Halloween on the 31st October and on 2nd November All Souls Day, a time in the Christian Calendar to remember all souls who have departed this life.

Like other Christian festivals, including Christmas, Easter and Whitsuntide, these three autumn days are a fascinating mixture of pre-Christian, Christian and even post-Christian tradition and mythos. I am fairly certain that the children going door to door at Halloween are probably not aware that they have created a modern day variant on the pre-Christian festival of Samhain; a festival that not only celebrated harvest, but was also a time to commune with spirits of ancestors. There are similar traditions throughout most culture's, autumnal and winter festivals. Autumn is a time of reflection, a time to take stock before the harsh realities of winter come.

Halloween in the north of England is something that is marked, at least in a secular way, far more
these days than I remember in my earlier childhood. When I was a child it was Guy Fawkes or Bonfire Night that took on greater significance. I don’t really remember going “Trick or Treating”, until a significant film came out in 1982 and then everything seemed to change. The film was E.T. the Extra Terrestrial. One of the most commercially successful films of all time and one that changed something significantly, certainly in my life and perhaps the culture of the North of England. I recall, as many others did, that after this going door to door, trick or treating replaced the tradition of going “Door to Door” asking for “a penny for the guy” and of course “Mischievous Night”. It seems that these traditions all got swallowed up with “Trick or Treating”. “Mischievous Night”, at least in Yorkshire came on the 4th November and was linked to the “Gunpowder Plot” or “Fireworks Night” that is marked on the 5th of November. Things could get pretty wild on “Mischievous Night” and some, I’m sure, are glad to see that it has pretty much been lost to history. You do hear of little pockets of it in Liverpool and Leeds, but mainly it has gone the way of the Dodo and been replaced by “Trick or Treating”. There’s a part of me that wishes this wasn’t true. I remember the thrill of getting "up to no good" with friends and of hearing similar tales of other friends who were far more daring than I. I also remember my granddad telling me of things he and his mate Percy used to get up to. I remember the delight in this night of freedom that the children used to be granted. A freedom that I fear children of today do not enjoy.



Now when we think of Halloween today it is horror movies and the fear that accompany them that immediately springs to my mind. Such horrors can stay with us for many years and make us afraid to step out in the dark or to sit in the house alone. I recently went to see a horror film with some friends. I have to say I didn’t enjoy it and for a few days, as I went on my early morning walks, there was a sense of fear in my mind, my heart and my soul.

As a child I could easily be affected by such films. I remember being haunted for years by a Saturday night episode of “Hammer House of Horror”. It was a werewolf tale that vividly remains within my psyche. The image that had the greatest impact was of the beast at the window in the black of night and the person turning round and it being in the room with them. This was etched on my memory for years and to such an extent that I never dared look out through the glass of my room after dark. Even to this day there is a part of me that feels nervous if I look through “glass darkly”

Fear is a powerful emotion. It has the power to inhibit but it also has the power of allure. Fear comes in many forms. In "Freedom From Fear: Finding the Courage to Act, Love and Be" Forrest Church identified five different types, which he associated with the body, intellect, conscience, emotions and soul. These being:

“Fright” (Centred in the body), which is a kind of instinctive fear, designed to protect us from physical danger. It’s that feeling that makes us jump while watching a horror film or the thing that gets our blood pumping and awakens our senses and allows us to respond to physical danger.

The second being “Worry” (Centred in the intellect), this is a fear that is produced by our worst imaginings. Often they are not real and can be blown out of all reasonable proportions. Shortly before he died Mark Twain mused, “I am an old man and I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened”

The third being “Guilt” (Centred in the conscience). This is a fear of being caught out or found out due to something that we have done in our past. It’s a fear we often carry with us and can be projected into so much of our lives. It’s the feeling that can come over us as we pass through security at airports, even though there is no reason to feel it, or when walking out of stores and passing through the security senses, even though we know we haven’t stolen anything.

The fourth being “Insecurity” (centred in the emotions), this is fear prompted by feelings of inadequacy. It is a fear that breeds a need to seek approval from others. It’s form of Narcissism and forms deep self-consciousness which makes us unconscious to life itself.

The fifth and perhaps worst of all is “Dread” (centred in the soul), a fear that is generated by life’s general uncertainty. In “Freedom from Fear” Church wrote “ ‘Man himself produces dread, wrote the Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. We manufacture it whenever we attempt to control things over which we hold no final authority. We reduce life to a battleground, where we struggle against insurmountable odds. Fearing every transition from certainty to uncertainty, we devote our full energy to protecting ourselves against loss. Dread is the opposite of trust. The more we dread death and dying, the more alarming life and living turn out to be.”

Yes fear has many faces and all of them powerful in their own ways. We each of us experience every type at different times in our lives.

The other morning I was out walking before sunset. As I headed towards John Leigh Park I noticed a woman was standing on the edge of the park, with her large German Shepherd dog. She looked at me, with fear in her eyes, and said “I’m not going in their while it is still dark.” I smiled and said “I think you’ll be ok with the dog”, she looked back at me nervously and said, “yes everyone says that”. I just carried on walking on into the park and then onto the neighbourhood circuit. About twenty minutes later I passed through the park again, by now the sun had come up and the woman and her dog were happily playing right in the middle of the park. Nothing had really changed and yet she felt safer now that the sun had come up.

So many of us fear the dark, the unknown, the unseen, the uncertain. The truth is though that so much of life is uncertain. I have learnt that it is vital to accept this, to surrender to this and through this you find the courage to simply live and truly be yourself and to discover real faith in life once again.

The encounter in the park reminded me of a story I once heard of a young boy who lived with his parents on a farm. His job each afternoon was to fetch the afternoon paper so that his dad could read, after a long days work, while eating his tea. Now one November day he forgot to fetch the paper and by now it was turning dark. It turned four o’clock, nearly tea time, and his mum noticed that he hadn’t fetched the paper, she asked her son if he would get it. Twenty minutes later she asked again and then ten minutes later, still no paper, so she asked once again. This went on until the mum completely lost her temper and shouted at the boy, will you get your dad’s paper. At which point the boy burst into tears. His mother realising something was wrong went to boy, who was inconsolable by now. After a while she calmed him down and asked him what on earth was wrong. He began to explain that all his life he had been afraid of the dark, but was too afraid to let his parent know. His mother soothed him and then asked. Now then you are a boy of faith and you believe in God, you believe that God is in you and with you. That God is in everything, even the dark. The boy nodded and then his mother said “There is no reason then to fear the dark, for God is in the dark, and God can do anything. Now be a good lad and go and get your dad’s paper.” At this the boy looked up at his mum smilingly and went to the door. He opened the door and confidently and shouted “God will you get me my dad’s paper please.”

This brought to mind a passage from Mark's Gospel Ch 4 vv 35 – 41. The passage depicts Jesus and the disciples being caught in a storm. It follows many verses depicting Jesus speaking in parables, at the river bank, about faith and the Kingdom of God. After Jesus has finished preaching he and the disciples cross the waters and are caught in the storm. The disciples become afraid for their lives and waken Jesus who calms the seas and then rebukes them with the following words ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ Just like the lady on the edge of the park, or the boy they were afraid, they lacked courage, and they lacked faith in life. It seems to me that living in this kind of fear is the very thing that so often reduces life. The key to overcome this fear, it seems to me is courage.

Courage in many ways is the essence of life, maybe it is our daily bread. Anais Nin once said “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” I’m sure we can all think of moments when our own lives have either expanded or shrunk in proportion to our courage. Courage itself comes from the French root “Cuer” meaning heart. To have courage is to have strength of heart. Courage is a consistent and sustaining love, it is a spiritual energy that sustains us in sickness and in health in loss or disappointment.

It is said that there are only really two emotions fear and love. Which I think can be translated as fear or courage. Now I do not believe that to feel the emotion of fear is to lack love, or courage or faith. That said to be ruled by fear and to be paralysed by it, may well mean a lack of faith. How often in life, do we say no to life because we have become paralysed by fear? How often do we expect someone else to do what we can do ourselves, because of fear? For me faith is all about having the courage to be all that we can be do and to do all that we can do in love and service.

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to the size of our heart; life shrinks or expands in service to life itself. It’s about heart, it’s about courage, and it’s about being all that we can.

To have courage is to have strength of heart and to live from our hearts in our ordinary everyday activities. Courage is a way of living and breathing it’s about living openly and vulnerably in the world. Courage comes in those ordinary acts of love as we walk slowly through life. It is courage that allows us to learn that even when life has betrayed us, love is still present.

It is courage that allows us to stay open to life even when the storms are really blowing. It is courage that is formed in the heart; it is courage that is the ultimate act of faith; it is courage that keeps us open to life so that we can live in love and service.

I'm going to end this chip of a blogspot with this beautiful poem...

"Triumph of being" by Edith Södergran

What have I to fear? I am a part of infinity,
I am a part of the all’s great power,
a lonely world inside millions of worlds,
like a star of the first degree that fades last.
Triumph of living, triumph of breathing, triumph of being!
Triumph of feeling time run ice-cold through one’s veins
and of hearing the silent river of the night
and of standing on the mountain under the sun.
I walk on sun, I stand on sun,
I know of nothing else than sun.
Time – convertress, time – destructress, time – enchantress,
do you come with new schemes, a thousand tricks to offer me existence
as a little seed, as a coiled snake, as a coiled snake, as a rock amidst the sea?
Time – you murdress – leave me!
The sun fills my breast with sweet honey up to the brim
and she says: all stars fade at last, but they always shine without fear.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Odyssey: Return, Return, Return

“Odysseus” by Tom Leonard

it took me so long to get back to who I am
why was I away so long why was the journey so tortuous
all those false masks against a backdrop narrative to do with authenticity

but now arriving back there is still much debris to clear
the clearer to see the point from which I started

that from which I set out confused in sundry identities at war with themselves
now to find calm on that setting-out point as the final destination

As any regular reader of this "blog" will be aware as part of my healthy living drive I’ve been going for daily walks. Most days I set out very early in the morning as it’s probably the only time I can do so. Usually when I step out of my front door it is still dark and yet when I return home it is light once again. It was so this last Monday. As I walked ideas about this week’s little adventure came to me. I walked from darkness into light and I walked away from home and back again. As I walked two little words kept on forming in my mind. One word repeated three times “Return, return, return” and the other word was “Odyssey”. What came to me was this thought that we are all on an adventure, a kind of Odyssey. That throughout our lives we step out of the warmth and comfort of home, often in the dark, but that eventually we return home, or at least yearn to return home, often enlightened by the adventure. The call for home is a powerful one.

Human history is littered with stories and adventures inspired by the search for treasure, for wisdom, for enlightenment. Think of the great figures of religion Jesus, the Buddha, Mohammed, Gandhi, they all stepped out into the wild alone and returned enlightened. Think also of the heroic figures from the great stories, they did likewise. They were called out into the unknown, only to return with something new and inspiring. They stepped in the dark, but came home in the light. Stories such as Jason and the Argonauts or many of the other Greek tales, Pilgrims Progress, Gulliver’s Travels, The Wizard of Oz, Jack and the Beanstalk, The Lord of the Rings the list is endless. Human history is littered with folk tales and myths which teach us so much about what life is in all its potential both for beauty and horror.

Joseph Campbell, who spent years exploring such myths, believed that these stories helped us to fully understand how each of us at some point in our lives or at many moments of our lives are called out to journey forth. He identified four distinct stages of the journey. The first stage Campbell named “The Call to Adventure”. This he claimed is caused by discontent, which draws us out of the comfort of our lives to risk something new; the second stage is a form of initiation where the hero goes through a series of ordeals that test their mental and physical skills; The third stage is the time of revelation the discovery of truth and treasure; the final stage is the return to one’s community. With wisdom gained and with treasure to share. Coming home in the light if you like.

These adventures began and ended with a call. They began with a powerful call to adventure, but they also ended with an equally powerful call, to return home. Just think of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz and those immortal words as she clicked her ruby slippers “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.” Similar to those three words that came to me on Monday morning “return, return, return.



The call to return, especially to return home is a powerful call. This call though is not just about returning to a place, it is also about time I believe; about returning to a time in life when everything was simpler and safer. I’m sure that this was Dorothy’s call in “The Wizard of Oz”.

This is the call of nostalgia. To return to the place of safety the place of paradise, where we were cared for and looked after. Nostalgia though is often blind and perhaps senseless. It can also be painful. Things are never quite as we remember them.

Nostalgia is one of those words that has changed in meaning over time. Originally it meant “severe homesickness considered as a disease” from the German heimweh (home+woe) homesickness. It is rooted in the ancient Greek words “algos” meaning pain, Grief, distress and “nostos” meaning homecoming. I wonder if the Welsh word "Hiraeth" is also related to this. Nostalgia is a painful homecoming. The call to return home is powerful and, at times, painful. It can cause a deep yearning ache in our hearts and souls

The physical return home can also be painful, especially if what we are returning with is seemingly not wanted. Sometimes you might be rejected on the first return. Think of Jack and his beans in the story “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Or Jesus, in the Gospel accounts returning home and being rejected and almost mocked. As he said to his disciples ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’

Sometimes we might not be recognised when we return home, how painful can that be. We can feel like a stranger in our own land. Think of Odysseus who is recognised by no one on his return. It is only as he begins to speak that his old, now blind, dog recognises his voice and his tail begins to thud with joy and love and recognition. I wonder if it thudded out those words I heard on Monday morning… “Return, return, return…”

I remember a painful experience in my own life some ten or more years ago. There had been quite sudden and dramatic changes in my life, I have never been quite the same person since. I remember over the months that ensued that I would go home for a few days and return quite frustrated, with this feeling that my family and my loved ones were not accepting me as I was. I remember going to see my minister at the time, John Midgely and voicing this. I remember John calmly saying to me, after listening to me going on with myself for quite some time, “Danny you have gone through some quite dramatic changes and while you have adjusted to this it will take others some time. People are not quite sure how to be with you. They are used to you being a certain way and it will take them some time to adjust to the new you.” I remember thinking to myself how wise these words were. I also reflected some time later that perhaps I’d not changed that much as it was still all about me. Instead of me wanting them to adjust to and understand me, I was the one who ought to have been adjusting to and understanding them. These days I never feel unaccepted wherever I go and am gratefully received if I come to preach in my home town. I am loved amongst my kin and welcome in every home. I am recognised as I truly am too.

I love the following poem "Art of poetry" by Jorge Borges

"The Art of Poetry" By Jorge Luís Borges

To look at the river made of time and water
and remember that time is another river,
to know that we lose ourselves like the river
and that faces go by like the water.

To feel that wakefulness is another sleep
that dreams it is not dreaming and that the death
that our flesh fears is that death
every night that is called sleep.

To see in the day or in the year a symbol
of the days of mankind and of his years,
to change the outrage of the years
into a music, a rumor, and a symbol,

to see in death sleep, in sunset
a sad gold, such is the poetry
that is immortal and poor. Poetry
returns like dawn and sunset.

Sometimes in the evening a face
looks at us from the bottom of a mirror;
art should be like that mirror
that reveals our own face to us.

They tell that Ulysses, tired of wonders,
wept with love at the sight of his Ithaca,
green and humble. Art is that Ithaca
of green eternity, not of wonders.

It is also like the endless river
that passes and remains and is the mirror of one same
inconstant Heraclitus, who is the same
and is another, like the endless river.

Like Joseph Campbell Jorges Borges recognised a common theme in all the great stories. In this poem he explores some of the great ancient Greek stories. One being Ulysses (which is the Latin translation of Odysseus) and his painful return to Ithaca. He also talks of the philosopher Heraclitus who suggested that we can never return to the same river. This is because water continual flows on and on and the water we step into is never quite the same, but also because we who stand in the river are not the same person either, life will have changed us too…Like the river our lives, go on and on, ever changing. The lesson is that it is not about yearning to return to some mythical ideal, but to fully experience the adventure, the beautiful journey as the poem by Constantine Cavafy, “Ithacca” suggests. This is the lesson of Homer’s Odyssey and perhaps all the great stories. The treasure is the journey itself.

Life is a journey and a beautiful one at that. One in which we are constantly turning and returning again and again and again. It is not always an easy, no there will be troubles and difficulties on the beautiful journey. There will be times when we will not be recognised and may not even recognise ourselves; there will be times when we will feel completely lost and won’t know where to turn for sanctuary; there will be times of darkness too, but we all must journey on. In the end of course we return from where we came. We return, return, return, from the beautiful Odyssey. We step out in darkness for the final time and return into the light…

I'm going to end this little chip of a "blogspot" with the following "Prayer for Travelers" by Angela Herrera

“Prayer for Travelers” by Angela Herrera

This is a prayer for all the travelers.
For the ones who start out in beauty,
who fall from grace,
who step gingerly,
looking for the way back.
And for those who are born into the margins,
who travel from one liminal space to another,
crossing boundaries in search of center.

This is a prayer for the ones whose births
are a passing from darkness to darkness,
who all their lives are drawn toward the light,
and keep moving,
and for those whose journeys
are a winding road that begins
and ends in the same place,
though only when the journey is completed
do they finally know where they are.

For all the travelers, young and old,
aching and joyful,
weary and full of life;
the ones who are here, and the ones who are not here;
the ones who are like you (and they’re all like you)
and the ones who are different (for in some ways, we each travel alone).

This is a prayer for traveling mercies,
And surefootedness,
for clear vision,
for bread
for your body and spirit,
for water,
for your safe arrival
and for everyone you see along the way.

Amen

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Self Portrait




“How could anyone ever tell you

You were anything less than beautiful

How could anyone ever tell you

You were less than whole

How could anyone fail to notice

That your loving is a miracle

How deeply your connected to my soul”

We sing these words in one of the song chants during the “Singing Meditation” I lead. I think that they are beautiful and yet deeply sad. Why sad? You may well ask. Well because there are many people who fail to see this truth. They believe that they are less than beautiful, they believe that they are less than whole, they live disconnected lives.

I suspect that this is why so many of us constantly crave attention and approval from others; why so many of us so desperately need to have ourselves and our love acknowledged and recognised. What’s even sadder though is that often when it is, it is still not enough. By the way I am not immune from it myself, I know this only too well. Got to keep an eye on this need for approval from others.

Every couple of weeks I have been updating my weight loss progress on Facebook. I have now lost 4 and a half stone in just 12 weeks and I feel fabulous. The encouraging replies from friends has been wonderful. Some, who haven’t seen me for some time, have asked if I would take a picture of myself and post it for them to see. My response has been “I don’t take pictures of myself”. Now some of my friends have mischievously replied claiming I have hundreds of pouting images of myself and that’s all I ever do all day long. Now while this is wholly untrue I have noticed a little vanity creeping into all of this. I am enjoying the positive comments made both through social media and real face to face contact. I am also aware that people only want to see pictures because they are interested, they care.

That said I do not take pictures of myself. I find the whole concept a little strange and self obsessive if I am honest and perhaps a sign of our ever growing preoccupation with ourselves in negative ways. It’s not just about posting pictures either, it seems to be about eliciting a response, a need for approval.

Where does this come from? Well I suspect that is comes from this deeply ingrained sense that there is something wrong with us. This feeling that we are in fact less than beautiful, that we are not whole.

This “Selfie” obsession of continually taking images of ourselves reminds me of the Greek Myth of Narcissus. The story of the boy who fell so in love with his own reflection that he fell into the water and drowned. I get the feeling that the “selfie” phenomenon is very much a modern day version of this “mythos”, but on a mass scale. That said, rather like in the original tale there is no real love at the root of all of this, more a need that we will recognised as beautiful. Why? Well because deep down in the core our being so many of us do in fact feel less than beautiful, do in fact feel less than whole.

Some say that the solution to this need for the approval of others is to no longer care what other people think of you. Now to me this seems just as unhealthy and lacking in a real sense of loving connection. Indifference has little or nothing to do with love and to a large extent is not real at all. There is a world of difference to not being ruled by the need of the approval of others and not caring, of becoming indifferent.

Now of course this taking pictures of ourselves and displaying them for the world to see is not a modern phenomenon. There really is nothing new under the sun. All that has happened is that this has now grown to mass a scale, we can all do it today. In days gone by only the artist could do so, as they painted pictures of themselves. The great artist all created self-portraits, many became utterly obsessed with it, it seems. Frida Kahlo being one, who explained why she did so saying "I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best." Maybe there's a little bit of Frida in all of us. Some of the great works of art are self-portraits. Perhaps the most famous of them all is the one of Van Gough, just after he has cut part of his ear off and allegedly sent it to a woman he believed he was in love with. A powerful image of unrequited love if ever there was one. Here Van Gough is making himself somehow less than whole, somehow less than beautiful and yet somehow in the image that he paints of himself there seems little self-pity, he just gives us the facts in stark imagery. Another destructive image of the self-portrait. I have seem similar images of friends on social media showing too much of themselves, that the world really doesn’t need to see. Images they no doubt regret publishing afterwards.

The “selfie” is not for me, I don’t really like taking images of myself. I have very few pictures. I was recently askrd by someone who came to speak with me in my vestry, where my picture was? They had noticed that all my ministerial predecessors adorned the walls all around me, but they could not see one of me. I could not answer their question. I am glad there isn’t though as I’m not sure I would want to see a picture of myself, staring back at me each day. There is a mirror in my vestry. If I want to know what I look like I only need to look into it.

Isn’t that a living breathing self-portrait?

Below is a wonderful poem “Self-Portrait” by my favourite poet David Whyte. He wrote it after seeing an exhibition of Van Gough’s portraits in Amsterdam. He was deeply moved by the images, particularly the one with his bandaged ear. After visiting the exhibition he returned to his hotel room, looked at himself in the mirror, got out a piece of paper and wrote at the top of it "Self Portrait" what followed was the poem below which just flowed out of him. Hie self portrait were the questions that he believed really mattered, were important.



"Self Portrait"

It doesn't interest me if there is one God
or many gods.
I want to know if you belong or feel
abandoned.
If you know despair or can see it in others.
I want to know
if you are prepared to live in the world
with its harsh need
to change you. If you can look back
with firm eyes
saying this is where I stand. I want to know
if you know
how to melt into that fierce heat of living
falling toward
the center of your longing. I want to know
if you are willing
to live, day by day, with the consequence of love
and the bitter
unwanted passion of your sure defeat.

I have heard, in that fierce embrace, even
the gods speak of God.

David Whyte from "Fire in the Earth"

The poem is addressing someone he knows very well, himself. In so doing he is inviting us to do the same. The questions being asked are universal ones; questions we ought to be asking our true authentic selves. Not questions about the nature of God or God’s or even if there exists a greater reality, more about what it is to truly live, to be alive. Questions that most of us struggle with. Perhaps the most profound is the struggle to come to peace with trying to live up to the world’s expectations of each and every one of us whilst also trying to live authentically. How do we live authentically? How do we live freely? How do we live without being ruled by what others think of us, while not resorting to indifference to no longer caring about the opinions of others?

Whyte asks:

“I want to know if you know how to melt into that fierce heat of living falling toward the centre of your longing.”

The poem is asking for absolute honesty here. For it is the longing that brings about transformation in the human soul.

Finally the poem asks the ultimate question about love and how we live with all that love brings, not just the joy but the suffering too. This is the Love that is at the core of all the great faiths and is the highest goal of humanity

“I want to know if you are willing to live, day by day, with the consequence of love and the bitter unwanted passion of your sure defeat.”

Finally, at the end, the poem he does return to God question, the question the poem seemingly rejects in its opening.

“I have heard in that fierce embrace even the gods speak of God”

Here I suspect is the real beauty of the poem. Here through love and loss, joy, pain and suffering. Through living and growing through these experiences we can truly explore the mystery and the unknown and perhaps the unknowable that is the transcendent.

Whyte’s Poem always brings me back to those opening verse from Ecclesiastes chapter 1

"Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity."

Perhaps vanity is one of the things that makes us human. I’m not just talking about the vanity of Narcissus or the “selfie” generation. There’s also the vanity that the world needs to know what I think about everything, my opinion on all and sundry. Often my opinion on things I know little about. It’s not just about expressing opinion either, there is also this need for the world to agree and validate this very same opinion. Again I suspect that this comes from this sense that there is something wrong deep within us, that we are somehow less than whole, that we are something less than beautiful. I suspect that it is this that leads to either the total consumption with the opinions of others or their total rejection and the statement “I don’t care what other people think of me.” Not caring what others think about us is in my view just the other side of the vanity coin.

“Vanity, vanity, all is vanity”

The biggest problem with vanity, whichever side of the coin we are referring to, is that it stops us truly living the life we have been given. The preoccupation with the need for validation from others or the total rejection of what others think of us stops us truly living our lives. There is an unhealthy self-absorption in and a rejection of the love waiting to be expressed through us. “Vanity” stops us being fully alive. It is not about love at all and more about fear. In the second century AD the theologian and philosopher Irenaeus said “The glory of God is the human person fully alive” To be fully alive is to recognise that each of us are beautiful and whole and all that we really have to do is allow our loving to be a miracle and ensure that we are connected soul to soul.

The key to bringing this love alive lies in living the questions expressed in that wonderful poem “Self-Portrait” by David Whyte

The key I believe is to give ourselves fully to the love that lies deep within each and every one of us and all life. The key is to melt, holding nothing back, into that fierce heat of living that feels like nothing less than falling toward the centre of your belonging, living day by day with the consequences and the commitments we have made in our lives. With that love that both nourishes and tears at our hearts, knowing that one day we will return to the dust from which we came.

Love is what really matters and recognising that love in each and every one of us. For if we do we will not need to seek it from others or reject it when others recognise it in us. What really matters is that we bear witness to the love, beauty and wonder of life, that love that connects everything and rejects nothing.

“How could anyone ever tell you
You were anything less than beautiful
How could anyone ever tell you
You were less than whole
How could anyone fail to notice
That your loving is a miracle
How deeply your connected to my soul”