Saturday, 4 June 2016

Openness: Eyes, hearts, minds & hands

If I have learnt anything about spiritual living I have learnt that the key is openness; the key to spiritual living is to live with open hearts, open minds, open eyes and open hands. These four are spiritual living in practice, which I have come to believe is the true essence of religion. Not creed like religion but truly living breathing practising free religion. True religion, intentional spirituality, should not only bring us to life as individuals but enable us to live truly alive and fully awake in this our shared world.

Unitarian minister James Vila Blake (1842-1925) wrote, "Love is the spirit of this church, and service its law. This is our great covenant: To dwell together in peace, To seek the truth in love, And to help one another." I think in many ways this covenant articulates the essence of what it means to come together in love as a worshipping community. It has been adopted by many Unitarian Universalist and Free Christian communities. It expresses beautifully what it means to live in an open, living breathing spiritual community, what free religion ought to be about.

When I am asked what it means to be a Unitarian, the first word that comes to mind is “openness”. It seems to me that we are an open tradition. Now as I have come to believe the essence of openness is humility, but more about that later.

Openness is very much a doing word. It’s not so much that you are open, more that you live openly. I have come to believe that to do so religiously, is to be open in four ways. It is to live with open eyes, open hearts and open minds and open hands.

Now to live with these four open eyes, open minds, open hearts and open hands is no easy task. In fact to master them is virtually impossible. The key is to begin and to continue; the key is intentional practice.

To live with open eyes is to see the world as it truly is; to see reality as it really is, warts and all and in its beauty spots too; to live with open eyes is to not turn away from the suffering present in life but also to pay attention to life’s beauty too; to live with open eyes is to see the reality of the whole of life. This is not easy, so often we are tempted to turn away. To live fully connected lives we need to live with open eyes, to see life in all its blessings and curses.

To live with an open mind is to be able to search for truth and meaning, while maintaining an awareness of the tension between certainty and curiosity. It is the balance of being receptive to what is new and alien, while at the same time holding onto what is most dear. It is to try to know while in the presence of the unknown and unknowable. This can make others feel uncomfortable and others may try to close an open mind or fill it with their things. To live with an open mind does not mean that we do not discern, that we don’t come to conclusions. Quite the opposite actually. It is vital to come to conclusions, so that one can act in the world. It’s just that after the decision the openness must be maintained, it is never too late to change our minds. The key is to keep our minds open but to be careful with what comes in.

The key to living with a loving and open heart is live with all our senses, including our sixth sense, our soul, open to all the wonders and mystery of life. This too brings its dangers. Living with an open heart exposes us to pain and suffering. You see to truly live with an open heart is to allow ourselves to be touched in the most tender of places. This can hurt sometimes. Remember Cupids arrow had to first of all pierce the flesh before it could penetrate the heart, love hurts. To live with an open heart is to follow the great commandment, it is Agape. It is to love others, no matter who they are what they have done, where they have come from, it is to love without condition. It is to follow the Golden Rule. It is to love our neighbour as we would wish to be loved ourselves. This requires love and compassion for ourselves of course, which can at times be the greatest challenge. It is to feel a deep connection with all that is, all that has been and all that will ever be. It is to recognise that in order to feel this connection requires that we share ourselves. To love is to practise forgiveness, over and over again. Practising living with a loving heart is to live willing to be transformed by what we encounter in our daily lives.

By living with these three open eyes, open minds and open hearts we can then practice living with open hands. Hands that welcome, hands that humbly accept our interconnectedness. Open hands are willing to do what they can do to serve, to play their part in the world. It means committing and recommitting to use our hands, our abilities, in the service of life. With our hands, our actions, we take responsibility for our part in serving life, to create the kin-dom of love right here right now, to create a better world, the beloved community. With open hands, we offer what we have and do what we can.

Our open eyes allow us to recognise where we can act in the world, if our minds and our hearts are open. It is these three that tell our open hands where they are needed.

Open hands though are not just about action, they are also about connection and perhaps more importantly humility. Humility is the key to openness and to my eyes the essence of this my chosen Unitarian faith. I say chosen but I’m not sure if I chose it or it chose me. Who knows?

Now humility is a word that is often misunderstood. To be humble is to be at home in our true humanity, to be grounded in our own reality and shared humanity. The key to humility is to recognise that we are a part of something larger than our singular selves.

Humility is not about being meek and mild and bowing and scraping, it is not about being self-deprecating or denigrating. Too often humility is seen in this way, particularly from a religious perspective, as an excuse for suffering and or meekness. To me this is not true humility; true humility is about living with open hands and doing what we can in the world, we can only do this if we live with open hearts, open minds and open eyes and by recognising our common humanity.

Humility is an interesting word, when understood correctly. It has its roots in the word “humus” which means earth. By the way human and humanity share the very same root, something that Forrest Church often spoke of. In “Bringing God Home: A Traveller’s Guide” he wrote:

“The word human has a telling etymology, my very favourite. All the words that relate to it – humane, humanitarian, humor, humility, humble, and humus – are illuminating. From dust to dust, the mortar of mortality binds us fast to one another. Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike trace their ancestry to the third chapter of the Book of Genesis, where God proclaims to Eve and Adam (whose name means “out of red clay”), “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground, for out of it wast thou taken; for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

Being humble is connected to being grounded. To be truly humble is to recognise our honest place in the world and life in general, whilst recognising that life itself does not revolve around us. Humility is at the core of my understanding of my Unitarian faith, I believe that we are a truly humble faith. Our tradition is open and accepting, we welcome diversity, we honour one another’s points of view. Are these not by their very nature acts of humility? And in doing so are we not accepting that each of us have limits to our own individual perspectives; that we need to be open to one another in order to see new and deeper truths; that we cannot make sense of anything alone. This is free religion in its essence, this coming together and experiencing more than we could have imagined alone, by coming together, in love. We honour and acknowledge that on our own we cannot know everything and that by being open to others who may see and understand things differently we are challenged to expand our understandings, doing so in love and respect and honour these differences. Humility is about rejoicing in the challenge that others who see things differently can reveal to us and therefore expand our understanding.

I feel that so many of our troubles are caused by our inability to be truly open to one another and to new ideas; our troubles are caused by our arrogance and belief that we know best. Therefore by not living openly we fail to understand and therefore empathise with each other and we remain trapped by what we think we know. We are too closed down and we need to open up, to one another, to life and to God. We need to be opened up like the Buddhist Monk, arms out with his begging bowl. An image which as Thomas Merton explained “represents not just a right to beg, but openness to the gifts of all human beings as an expression of this interdependence of all beings...Thus when a monk begs from the layman it is not as a selfish person getting something from someone else. He is simply opening himself to his interdependence.” The key is to live openly and of course the key to openness is humility. No one lives apart from anyone else we are all interdependent. Also none of us knows everything, we all see through the glass dimly.

I remember the first time I heard Forrest Church’s assertion that humility and openness are the two keys to religious living, how much this struck me deep inside. I saw the truth in it. There is limitlessness in openness. Who knows how much we can truly change and learn to love if we just stay open, in our hearts and minds and eyes. Who knows what we can do with our loving hands if we live with truly open eyes, open hearts and open minds.

The key to true spiritual living is openness, to live with open eyes, open hearts open minds and open hands; the key is to live with true humility, to see that we are grounded in our shared humanity; the key is to see that we are a part of something far greater than ourselves and that through recognising this we will know the love present in life and begin to bring that love alive, right here right now.

Every day is a day when we can bear witness to a Power Greater than ourselves. We do this when we love one another with open hands, when we see the world with truly open eyes, when we live with minds that are truly open and hearts open to the love waiting to enter and to be poured out onto our world that really needs it.

I believe it is our task to live truly open lives. This is real spiritual living, this is true religion. I believe it is our task to bring love alive, through our openness. It is our task to allow God to incarnate through our lives. To do so we need to live with open hands.

I'm going to end this little chip of a "blogspot" with a beautiful poem "Accepting This" by Mark Nepo, that a I came across a while back.

"Accepting This" by Mark Nepo

Yes, it is true. I confess,
I have thought great thoughts,
and sung great songs—all of it
rehearsal for the majesty
of being held.

The dream is awakened
when thinking I love you
and life begins
when saying I love you
and joy moves like blood
when embracing others with love.

My efforts now turn
from trying to outrun suffering
to accepting love wherever
I can find it.

Stripped of causes and plans
and things to strive for,
I have discovered everything
I could need or ask for
is right here—
in flawed abundance.

We cannot eliminate hunger,
but we can feed each other.
We cannot eliminate loneliness,
but we can hold each other.
We cannot eliminate pain,
but we can live a life
of compassion.

Ultimately,
we are small living things
awakened in the stream,
not gods who carve out rivers.

Like human fish,
we are asked to experience
meaning in the life that moves
through the gill of our heart.

There is nothing to do
and nowhere to go.
Accepting this,
we can do everything
and go anywhere.



3 comments:

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