Saturday, 9 April 2016

What would you have me "Be"?

During a recent conversation with colleagues there was much talk about what it means to be a minister. Not so much the specific aspects of our role, more the way that we should “Be” in the world. It got me thinking about how I am in the world. How I should be in the world? During the conversation there was also talk about what it meant to be a “Holy Presence”. We were asked to ponder the following quote:

“Whenever I meet a Buddhist I meet a holy man. Whenever I meet a Christian leader – I meet a manager.”

We were then asked to substitute the word “Unitarian” into the quotation and asked which one rings truest?

It really got me thinking about my role as a minister and how I am in the world. What presence do I project into the world? What do people experience in my company. While I may not be a holy man I hope to goodness I do not come across as a manager.

I am a minister and I know that to minister is to serve. This is not only a physical duty, the things I do. It is as much the way that these very things are done. It is about bringing the holy into the things I do.

It is not just about what I do singularly though. It is about what the communities I serve do together. For I do not minister alone. In my eyes a Unitarian community serves together as a whole. Ministry is something that the community does together.

The key I suspect is how we are in the world, actually it’s probably more about how we “Be”. I suspect it begins by being an authentic presence in the world in which we live. By being “Who” we really are. By doing so we become a source of light in our world.

Now being “Who” we really are is about authenticity. It’s about avoiding pretence, dropping the masks and being sincere. It’s not just about doing the right thing, but being the right thing. It’s not just about what we do, but how we “Be”.

Parker Palmer captures what I am trying to say near perfectly in the following quotation.

“Our deepest calling is to grow into our authentic selfhood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks; we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.”

This got me thinking about a prayer that I use constantly throughout my daily life. It is a prayer associated with Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 step fellowships. It is known as “The Fear Prayer” and goes as follows.

“We ask Him to remove our fear and direct our attention to what He would have us be.”

Now I adapt the wording to fit with my own theology and the situation I find myself in during the day. The key to it for me is that it is not so much seeking what I ought to be doing in a given situation, but how I should “Be”. The person I ought to “Be” in life. I do not personally believe that God maps out every intricate detail of life and will direct me to what I should do in every tiny situation of life. That said I have found that if and when I open myself up in any given situation I know exactly how I should “Be”. I believe that this applies to all of us. We can all be the open, loving, authentic, holy presence in life. In so doing we will serve life and the people around us. I believe that this is our gift to the world. which we can give and share in the way that we “Be”. In so doing we do indeed become holy men and women.

Now of course some of you who are reading this are doubt feeling uncomfortable with the thought of being holy, or being a holy person. You may well be asking what it means to be holy. You may feel deeply uncomfortable. Well please do not be. We can indeed all “Be” holy if we live authentic and open lives. We sanctify life and the people we share life with when we do so.

The word “Holy”, rather like the word “Salvation” and many others are often misunderstood. They are both linked to health and wholeness, they are really about how we live in the world, in the real world in which we find ourselves and not some distant realm or a way of being that is beyond humanity. At least it is if we explore the etymology of these words.

The Latin root “Salve” from which Salvation is formed means health. The Teutonic cognates (shared roots) for health, hale, whole and holy are the same. All these words share the same roots.

For me holiness is about salvation in the here and now, it is about being truly whole in the way that we live and breathe and share our being. It is about the way that we “Be”. It is about living with integrity and in so doing we will serve the world simply in the way that we “Be” It is the way that leads to authentic service in the world. It is the way to minister to ourselves, one another and the world around us. In so doing we become holy and we sanctify life.

During our recent denomination annual meetings at Birmingham many people spoke to me about my column in the “Inquirer”, which goes by the title “From Nothing to Everything”. I was deeply moved by what everyone said to me about how it touched them deeply. I do not seek approval in my writing but it is encouraging to be told by so many people that you have a positive impact on their lives. Several people mentioned their admiration for my openness. This led to several conversations about openness and wholeness actually. I suspect that the key to being whole and therefore holy is openness.

Openness is no easy thing. It truly is a process. I am far more open than I ever was and I am becoming more open as time goes by. That said there is always room for improvement. After all isn’t the “room for improvement” the largest room in our lives. Another subject of conversation were the physical changes in me. Now one rather astute person commented on the changes in the way I am, in my being. I have to say that this comment touched me the most deeply. They noticed that my persona was more open than it had been in the past.

This is so true and is something I am becoming increasingly aware of. It is something I’ve been working on these last few months. How we are, how we “Be” is not just about the words we speak or the spirit in which we live, it shows in our deportment too, in how we carry ourselves. Yes there has been many physical changes in my life this last year, but it is not just about the weight loss. I am working on becoming more physically open. I am learning to become freer in my physical being. It is helping me to become all that I can “Be”.

Oscar Wilde said, “Be who you are (because) everyone else is already taken”. If only it was as easy as it appears to simply be, in this quotation. How many of us waste so much of our lives trying to be something we are not, instead of trying to “Be” who we truly are. Now all this brought to mind a poem that recently came to my attention by May Sarton "Now I Become Myself”.

“Now I Become Myself” by May Sarton

Now I become myself. It's taken
Time, many years and places;
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people's faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
"Hurry, you will be dead before—"
(What? Before you reach the morning?
Or the end of the poem is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)
Now to stand still, to be here,
Feel my own weight and density!
The black shadow on the paper
Is my hand; the shadow of a word
As thought shapes the shaper
Falls heavy on the page, is heard.
All fuses now, falls into place
From wish to action, word to silence,
My work, my love, my time, my face
Gathered into one intense
Gesture of growing like a plant.
As slowly as the ripening fruit
Fertile, detached, and always spent,
Falls but does not exhaust the root,
So all the poem is, can give,
Grows in me to become the song,
Made so and rooted by love.
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move.
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!

To “Be” who we truly are, who we were born to be, is no easy task. Sarton wrote this poem when she was 83 years old. It would seem that it took her a long time to truly “Be” who she really was, something she wrote of in her memoirs and journals. I commend them to you, they are worthy of exploration.

It is no easy task to “Be” who we truly are, to live openly, to live whole and holy lives. To “find our path of authentic service in the world.” You see we learn by following others from the day we are born. We learn to “Be Like” rather than to simply “Be”. It takes a long time to let go of the stabilisers of others and become wholly ourselves. For May Sarton it only really began after the death of her parents during middle age, actually about the age I am now.

Forrest Church had similar experiences it was only when he stopped living in his father’s shadow that he found the courage to truly “Be”. As he said:

"I found my calling. I answered a call that was mine, and not someone else’s." And went on to say "To envy another’s skills, looks, or gifts rather than embracing your own nature and call is to fail in two respects. In trying unsuccessfully to be who we aren’t, we fail to become who we are."

The key he said of course was to always “be who you are.”

This is the key of course. This is what it means to live holy lives. This is how we become a holy, an authentic presence in the world. This is how we serve the world by our presence and you know what it is never too later. It can begin right here right now. May Sarton was 83 years old when she wrote “Now I become myself”. Maybe, we only truly become our true selves at the end of our physical being. That said we need to begin some where and the only place to begin is right here right now. Right here, right now is the only place we can “Be”

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