Saturday, 21 February 2015

Into the Wilderness of Wisdom

It would appear that my job is getting easier, or at least the creative side of it does. I seem to have to do less and less as time goes by. All I seemingly have to do these days is observe and pay attention and perhaps discern and then piece together.

Every Monday morning when I awaken from my dreamless sleep I do so with ideas already formed or at least forming as to what I wish to explore and create in worship for the coming Sunday. It seems my part in the creative interchange is lessening. For the whole of last Sunday I was being fed by every interaction right throughout the day. It began with the first conversation I had when I arrived at Urmston and one or two I had at the end of worship. It continued as I arrived at Altrincham, through Aled’s comments about the Bodhisattva as he delivered the reading I’d given him and other conversations I had as we shared tea and biscuits. It continued as I interacted with a rich tapestry of people throughout the day and into the night. Last Sunday was one of those beautifully rich and deep days, when I just felt spoken to all day long. It brought to mind the following by Robert Walsh

“I moved through the experience with my attention alternating between the present moment and a future time, when I would be back home, telling the story. It’s what preachers call homiletic consciousness, which means going through life thinking, Can I use this in a sermon? But it’s not just preachers who do it. I imagine a painter would do the same. Or a poet. Or a novelist, teacher, composer, or a storyteller – anyone who uses the experiences of life in order to give something to someone else.”

Every time I engaged with someone that day I found myself smiling as it seemed everyone was touching that place deep in the soul of me…Just beautiful…

After leading worship I attended a friend’s son’s Christening. Well actually I attended the reception afterwards at “The Yard” in Alderly Edge, what a beautiful venue. As I arrived I was chatting with folk who asked me about an element of the service that had caused them to pause and feel a little uncomfortable. It was held at a local Anglican Church and during it those participating were asked “Do you renounce Satan and all his works and all his empty promises?”. I was asked what I thought of this and what I thought of Satan. I was asked “do you believe in Satan?” Good golly how do you answer that? Well I said I don’t believe in a being by that name. That said I don’t believe in a personified God either, God as a kind of super person. I then went on to say that perhaps this tempter this questioner that is given many names is really that other silent voice that we hear that separates us from one another and from our better selves and of course that power that is Greater than all and yet present in each, that I name God.

We then engaged in a long conversation about our attempts to live more openly and connectedly, more spiritually and less selfishly and how this is a challenge each and every day. He then left me in peace to enjoy the gathering of friends who were there to celebrate this beautiful gift of a new child that had been welcomed into the family of life.

The conversation beautifully reminded me of the blessings and the curses of my work. I do get to engage in the most fascinating conversations, but also I am rarely allowed to just shake off my shoes and have a laugh. This is partly my own fault, due to the curses of the old homiletic consciousness. I left smiling at so much of what I had experienced with the many friends old and new that I get to share my life with.

We have now entered the season of Lent. I hope you all enjoyed your pancakes on Tuesday. On what some still call Shrove Tuesday, or as many prefer to call it “Pancake Day”, or as I prefer to call it “Flat Yorkshire Pudding Day”…How do you eat yours?

The following day “Ash Wednesday”, for Christians, marks the beginning of 40 days of fasting and self-sacrifice that lead up to Easter, the day of re-birth re-newal and new beginnings.

In the account found in Matthews Gospel, Jesus is “led by the spirit” into the wilderness, a place of transformation and temptation. He is taken to the pinnacle of the temple and to the top of a high mountain. Here he is offered the world, but rejects the allure of an easier showier more obvious path. Instead he chooses the road less travelled, the heroes path. He is tempted by “Satan” but resists the temptation.

This is a universal tale; many of the great sages went on similar journeys, before embarking on their missions to bring healing to their people. The Buddha had to leave the comforts of home, abandon his weeping family, shave his head and don the robes of a world renouncing ascetic when he began his journey to discover a cure for the pain of the world. Long before his revelations Muhammad use to retreat to Mount Hira, outside of Mecca, where he fasted, performed spiritual exercises and gave alms to the poor. He did this in an attempt to discover a remedy for the troubles of his time. When Ghandi began his mission he left the comforts of the elite in which he had lived his whole life and travelled to India carefully observing the plight of the ordinary people.

During their own times in the wilderness the great sages found their answers. Through taking the road less travelled, the hard road, the difficult road, the answers came to them. They discovered the knowledge they needed to impact positively on their people in their time and place. They returned with wisdom to share.

This is the spiritual life in its essence. It is often the hardest most difficult path and it can certainly appear to be the loneliest, one filled with temptations. That said it is the one where the answers are usually found.

The great sages pointed to the “Way” in which salvation or liberation could be attained for each and every one of us. Now of course they weren’t exactly the same but there were certainly parallels in which the “Way” could be trod. They each carried with them wisdom which they did not want to keep selfishly for themselves they wanted to pass on to all of us, so that we could each create the “kin-dom” of God within our own lives and communities. For the wisdom is pretty meaningless unless you give it away.

The recently deceased liberal theologian Marcus Borg in his book “Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings” claims that both Jesus and the Buddha “…were teachers of the way less traveled. 'Way' or 'path' imagery is central to both bodies of teaching. The way of the Buddha is enshrined in the four noble truths of Buddhism, the fourth of which is 'the eightfold path.' Jesus spoke regularly of 'the way.' Moreover, according to the book of Acts, the earliest name for the Jesus movement was 'the Way.' The Gospel of John thus only takes this image one step further in speaking of Jesus as the incarnation of 'the way…'

According to Borg they both pointed to new ways of seeing life, they both wanted to radically change the perception of those they came into contact with. Christian imagery talks about once being blind and now being able to see, about scales falling from eyes of new truths being revealed of being released from old prejudices and pride. While Buddhism talks of enlightenment which means to see differently.

They both taught transformation. In Buddhism this is seen as a liberation from suffering through learning to let go instead of grasping at everything. While Jesus turned around the perceived wisdom of the day through his aphorism such as those who empty themselves will be exalted, and those who exalt themselves will be emptied; those who make themselves last will be first, and the first last. He also claimed that the Christian concept of taking up your cross and the dying of self were similar to the Buddhist concept of letting go. That they were both about being born to a new way of being.

He highlighted that compassion was at the core of both teachings. Stating that this is the way of a Bodhisattva and that this is what Paul has called “Love” the primary fruit of the spirit and the greatest of all spiritual gifts. In fact Borg claimed that “…one might even say that becoming a bodhisattva is the goal of the fully developed Christian life."

In my last blogspot You are the Light of the World I wrote of how we all fall short of what we can be, that we lose our way, that we forget what we can be at the best of times, that we are distracted or tempted away from the path of enlightenment and spiritual freedom, often by self-seeking voices, in the hustle and bustle of our daily living.

Jesus and the great sages of ancient times went into the wilderness, into the emptiness, the loneliness and the silence. This is something that is nearly impossible to do in our time and place. The voices that distract and tempt we who live today seem louder and the wild seems harder to find. Where is the wilderness to wander off alone into and to find the silence to really listen? How do we find the space to see the world with new vision? How do we move away from the need to grasp at things and hold on to what we think is ours, even if that’s just our wisdom or what we think we know? How do we find ways to live more compassionately in our daily interactions with one another? How do we find ways to truly become “The light of the world”, the Bodhisattva who through our lives shows others the way?

Well I believe it begins by making space for vision. It means perhaps by creating a sense of wilderness in our own lives. We need wilderness, a time to get lost perhaps in order to discover the wisdom that is available to us all and then to return renewed and refreshed so we can offer something to our world. As Marcel Proust said “We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves after a journey through the wilderness, which no one else can make for us.”

So this is what I am attempting to do this Lent. I’m not giving things up and I’m not even spending my time giving, well no more than I would normally. I am instead spending time making space. Something that can at times feel so difficult. My life is too full at times, all our lives are too full at times. We need more space, we time away alone in the wild, in the wilderness where we can reach those difficult turbulent places and discover what it is we are truly here for. A time to let go of what hold us back and return refreshed and renewed ready to give back to our world on the day of new beginnings. A time for new vision, a time for transformation and a time for love and renewed compassion, but first of all I believe that we all need a little time in the wild.

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