Saturday, 31 January 2015

Somebody To Lean On

"Lean on me" Bill Withers

Where do you turn in times of trouble, who or what do you lean on? I turn to people of course I do but for me the most important place I turn in times of trouble is God. These last twelve months I have turned, turned and turned again in difficult times. By turning to that infinite source that is never not there I am then better able to be of service to others. Something I have been able to do so in some pretty dark days these last 12 months, something I have been able to do these last few years.

I have been physically very ill these last two weeks and I have to say that prayer has helped immensely as I have had to just lay down and come to terms with the being completely incapacitated by illness. I have been deeply moved by the offers of help from so many people. It is good to know that you are loved. I have let people help me too. Perhaps this is the greatest gift you can give a person. For if I have learnt anything in life I have learnt that in that space when we give and receive, when we help one another, the Love that is God once again incarnates in life.

I am also grateful for those souls who have helped me in so many ways at different stages in my life. I have been guided during the darker times in my life. I have also been helped by people I have never even met by people who died even before I was born as everyone has. Those who passed on what they knew and helped those in their time and place that have impacted on we who live today. I noticed last week that 24th January was the 44th anniversary of Bill Wilson’s death. He died nine months before I was even born. He was one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous and the legacy that he has left behind have brought new life to millions of the lost and hopeless. That simple message of love and service that transformed his life and millions of others including me.

I have been carried in so many ways by so many people, often without noticing it. I offer eternal thanks and praise for this.

This brings to mind one of my favourite stories. Ir goes by the name "Heaven and Hell" or sometimes "Chopsticks"...

What are the differences between Heaven and Hell?, a young Zen monk asked an aged Buddhist priest who was renowned for his wisdom.

“There are no material difference,” replied the old monk.

“None at all?” asked the puzzled young monk.

“That’s right. Both Heaven and Hell have a spacious hall with a big pot in the centre in which noodles are boiled, giving off a delicious scent,” said the old priest. “The size of the huge pan, the number of people sitting around the pot and the bowl of sauce placed in front of each diner are the same in both places.”

“The odd thing is that each diner is given a pair of meter-long chopsticks and must use them to eat the noodles.”

“To eat the noodles, you must hold the chopsticks properly at their ends,” the old monk told the young Zen monk.

“In the case of Hell’s kitchen, people are always hungry because no matter how hard they try, they can’t get the noodles into their mouths,” said the old priest.

“But isn’t it the same for the people in Heaven? The junior monk inquired.

“No. They can eat because they each feed the person sitting opposite them at the table. That’s the difference between Heaven and Hell,” explained the old monk.

I love this story, one of my all-time favourites. I have come across several other versions of it from other traditions too. There is an almost identical version that is told from a Jewish perspective. In this tale the chopsticks are replaced with spoons.

In the story Heaven and Hell appear exactly the same and yet they are experienced oh so differently. In Hell all go hungry because everyone tries to feed themselves only, they are purely self reliant. And yet in heaven they attempt to feed one another and are therefore fed in abundance. To me this is as much about the relationships as the food going into one another’s mouths. I believe that we all possess an innate need to serve one another that if we do not do this part of our natural humanity withers away and dies off. By not serving one another we starve our souls.

I think that one of the greatest delusions of the modern era is the myth of self reliance, this idea that as individuals we have all that we need and that we do not need one another. Jeffrey Lockwood in his meditation “to ask is to give” claims that:

“...One of the great blessings of travel is to be put in a position of asking help from others, to be genuinely needful of strangers. Our illusion of self-reliance evaporates as the unexpected and unfamiliar merge into vulnerability. We offer the gift of authentic need, the opportunity for deep trust. We express to another person the most humanizing cross-cultural phrase: “Please help me.”...In our society, self-sufficiency is heralded as a virtue, and chronic dependence on others can be degrading. But never being asked to help another person is isolating, even dehumanizing. In a culture that exalts autonomy, asking for help may be one of the greatest gifts we offer. So much of life has become a calculation of costs and benefits; to ask assistance is to create the opportunity for unconditional giving in raw, spiritual defiance of economic rationality. We become mutually indebted without expectation of repayment. Each person in the relationship becomes a giver and receiver. Each one becomes more human. Each one has something to be thankful for.”

There are several slightly different accounts in the Gospels of Jesus feeding crowds of people. Now there is a real danger of losing the meaning behind these tales by engaging in winding arguments about their factual accuracy; to get hung up on a debate as to whether or not Jesus could feed the thousands of people present with just a few fish and loaves. Is this really what these stories are about? I do not think so. To get hung up on the factual accuracy is to miss the whole point of the teaching behind the story. Mythological tales are not about fact they are about revealing deeper universal truths.

There is a line in one account from Mark’s gospel (Ch 8 vv 1-9) where we hear the words “They ate and were filled”. During a conversation I had with Rev Brian Jackson a sadly recently deceased Methodist minister, this account really came to life. He explained that the story is really about the encounter that goes on between the disciples and the crowd that by feeding them face to face they are serving them, they are ministering to them. Yes the crowd’s physical hunger is met, while at the same time everyone’s spiritual hunger is met. Seemingly everyone ate and everyone was filled, abundantly, to overflowing.

"From you I receive to you I give, together we share and from this we live."

It is not always easy asking for help and not always because of pride. In order to sincerely ask for help we have to trust who or what's hands we are putting our lives in.

I recently came across the following extract taken from “Telling Secrets” by Frederick Buechner


I remember sitting parked by the roadside once, terribly depressed and afraid about my daughter's illness and what was going on in our family, when out of nowhere a car came along down the highway with a license plate that bore on it the one word out of all the words in the dictionary that I needed most to see exactly then. The word was TRUST. What do you call a moment like that? Something to laugh off as the kind of joke life plays on us every once in a while? The word of God? I am willing to believe that maybe it was something of both, but for me it was an epiphany. The owner of the car turned out to be, as I'd suspected, a trust officer in a bank, and not long ago, having read an account I wrote of the incident somewhere, he found out where I lived and one afternoon brought me the license plate itself, which sits propped up on a bookshelf in my house to this day. It is rusty around the edges and a little battered, and it is also as holy a relic as I have ever seen.

...what a beautiful story...

I passed it on to a friend of mine and in reply she sent me the following message...

"Wow!! My mum & sister often see licence plates in the states too, in the traffic or on cars just cruising along in front of them & only yday my sister sent me this......! & this is the license plate they see often."

The name that they see is "Alf", the name of her brother who sadly is no surprise to me that this is the sign they see most often...

“Trust” an interesting word. In whom or what do we trust? What does it mean to trust? I believe that trust is about the heart, more than the head. In many ways it is a matter of faith. James Fowler taught that faith is really about what we trust, pointing out that the word “credo” which one normally translates as “I believe” really means “I trust”. He claims that belief is of the mind but faith and trust is of the heart. Claiming that "Trust" is about passion it’s about embracing life whole heartedly. It’s about awe and humility. It’s an active thing too. It is a way of being and living and breathing and doing. In some ways it resembles hope in that it is something that with give birth to through our own hearts. We gain trust, because we trust wholeheartedly.

Ernest Hemingway said, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” We become more trusting by living in a trusting way. It’s about having faith in life and ourselves. That said it does not mean that everything will work out as we want it to just because we trust. Sometimes it won’t.

Trust grows like faith if we live with it in our hearts. It grows through trial and error, by reaching out; like love and hope and anything else that really matters. We develop trust by simply trusting. It takes real courage to trust. And of course to have courage is to live whole heartedly.

Trust is not the expectation that everything will work out as we want it too. Trust is more about how we are in any given situation, how we behave in any given situation. Trust is not just about expecting things to work out immediately but that things will come good someday.

Steve Jobs the creature of Apple, who died a couple of years ago said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” Trust is a risk; it is a reaching out without knowing what will come next.

Trust is about something more than ourselves of course. Trust is about relying on more than just our own resources; trust is about learning to rely on the whole of life. It is about leaning on others at times and allowing them to lean on you. It is about more than self. It’s about opening ourselves to one another and to that greater reality that permeates all life. To put it another way. It’s about letting go and letting God.

So in who or what do you trust? In times of trouble who or what do you lean on? Do you trust? Can others trust in you? Something to ponder perhaps...

I’m going to end with a few thoughts by Gunilla Norris titled “Flying with equals” taken from "Journeying in Place: Reflections from a country Garden"

I get a rush of hopeful feeling when I hear geese honking. I have never completely understood why. At first I thought it was because they had the freedom of the skyways . . . something high and romantic . . . something in contrast to my earthbound existence. But lately I have learned more about geese through an article a friend brought to share. This new information has fleshed out that spontaneous inner feeling of mine.

What I learned is that of all the creatures that I can see in this landscape, the geese best represent the communion of saints. They depend on one another. The lead goose does the most work, but when it is tired, it falls back and another takes its place. To be able to rely on others is a deep trust that does not come easy.

The geese fly in the wake of one another’s wings. They literally get a lift from one another. I want to be with others this way. Geese tell me that it is, indeed, possible to fly with equals.

The high honking I hear when I stand on the ground and look up is the sound of encouragement the geese make to keep on flying. It is a loud and happy sound in my ears. I want to honk with others on the journey.

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