Sunday, 3 July 2016

Hope not Despair: Coming into the peace of things

This piece was originally day after Jo Cox's murder as I visited home, in shock, to bare witness to the scene...

"The Peace of Wild Things" by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Like Wendell Berry we all feel despair at the world at times. We all fear for our own lives, our loved ones and the lives of others. This is something common to the whole of humanity, something that unites us all. No life is immune from suffering. I have experienced such moments these last couple of weeks, as I have been recovering from surgery. I have had to spend much time alone as company has been too exhausting. This has not been easy for an active man such as I. It has been deeply uncomfortable at times, but I know in so doing my soul has opened up and I have grown. In the pain and suffering I have found the peace that passeth all understanding and if truth be told the suffering has not turned to despair.

One of the darkest moments was a week last Sunday as I stood in silent suffering in the market square of the village where I had grown up. I stood there in Priestley’s shadow weeping with many others. I grew up in the village of Birstall, in West Yorkshire. Birstall was not known to most of the world until a couple of weeks ago, but sadly now the world does know its name. Birstall of course was the scene of the brutal murder of the M.P. Jo Cox. Murdered because she served and loved all of her people, which in the eyes of some is somehow treachery.

The tributes in the market place were beautiful, all gathered around the statue of Joseph Priestley. The Unitarian minister and scientist who himself was chased out of England for his beliefs. His home and laboratory were destroyed by a baying mob.

I walked away from Birstall market place heart broken. They say home is where the heart is. Well this is home and it feels broken, my heart is broken. I walked away and wanted and needed to be alone. I thought of Wendell Berry’s poem I too wanted to come into the peace of wild things. I didn’t have the energy to be with people, even loved ones. I needed to be alone. I need to feel this horror and suffering and to come to terms with this awful destruction of love. So I went off alone, low on energy, in physical discomfort and pain, and I just wept.

Now what has followed since and caused me to weep more and more. I have found much that I have witnessed and heard since hard to take as people have torn one another apart. As division has risen and as hate has grown. Some of the things I have seen on the news and some of the things I have heard from people I know personally has broken my heart again and again and again and all I could do was sit silently and try and take it in, struggling to come into the peace of anything. There does seem to be so much turmoil and division about everywhere.

Now of course this is nothing new, it’s been going on for a long, long, time. The human capacity to Love and to create knows no bounds. That said the human capacity to Hate and destroy knows no bounds similarly.

As the days have passed I have continued to sit in the silence, alone, hoping against hope to come into to the peace of something. As I did other words came into my heart. I thought of Viktor Frankl and “Man’s Search for Meaning” and his equation that D=S-M that despair is suffering without meaning. I thought of Jo Cox herself and her legacy. I thought of her words during her maiden speech in the House of Commons, her belief that there is more that unites us than divides us. I thought of what I have learnt during my life, that hope is born from despair. That in these ashes of all our hearts that love and hope can rise again, but it is up to us. I thought of the beautiful words of Margaret Kirk’s Meditation "Something there is that doesn't love a wall". That bridges between difference can be made. That we are all the same people, all of the same earth, born under the same sun. That we can live together as one. It is up to us though. We are responsible. It is up to us to create meaning from the ashes of suffering. It is up to us to bring healing in our lives, in the lives of those around and to the wider human community. We are responsible, every single one of us. For everything matters. Every feeling, every thought, every word and every deed.

Below is Margaret Kirk's Meditation mentioned above...

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” by Rev Margaret Kirk

We see barriers erected between people of different lands,
We see sheets of steel and towers of concrete called Protection.
We see boundaries policed,
watch men, women and children running from hunger and persecution,
looking for a gap in the wall………

Something there is that doesn't love a wall…………

We see walls of fear –
Fear of the young, fear of the stranger,
Fear of sexuality that is different, fear of the educated, fear of the poor,
Fear of the Muslim, fear of the Jew –
Fear upon fear, endless and perpetuating,
And we offer our silent prayer that solid walls of fear will crumble to dust.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall…………

We hear the language of separation,
The jingoistic chant, the racial slur,
words of indifference and dismissal,
words arranged for the purpose of exclusion,
words that sting and taunt,
words that lie.
Let us find words that ring with love and truthfulness,
that reach out through the emptiness of separation.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall…………

We see the deluded barriers of the mind protecting self,
We see relationships stripped of affection
as one person becomes closed to another.
We see people trapped in misunderstanding,
old hurts re-ignited,
bricks placed higher on the wall,
goodwill and trust suspended.
and we ask for boundaries that are not impenetrable,
through which light can shine and distance be dissolved.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall………….

And when we need these boundaries for our own well being,
Let us know them for what they are,
Use them wisely and kindly,
Recognising our own vulnerability and that of others –
So each of us can find the space for retreat and succour,
find that peace that passes all understanding
and be renewed with strength and love
for the task of living life joyfully in communion with all others.

...A beautiful poem...A heartbreaking poem...

There are moments in every single one of our lives, when darkness seemingly over comes us. We all experience tragedy, loss, bereavement, rejection and failure. No one can avoid this. There is no wall we can build around ourselves that will protect us from this. In fact if we do build up such walls all that we will achieve is to cut ourselves off from the love and the joy present in life. This leads to the worst kind of suffering, the suffering within the suffering, hopeless despair. It leads to nothingness.

This despair, this nothingness often turns to blame, to pointing the finger, to scapegoating to hatred of the other who we see as being somehow different to us. There seems to be a growing tide of this at the moment. Whether that be against people from other parts of the country, other sections of society, other genders, religions, sexualities, nationalities, colour of skin, even other age groups. The young not trusting and blaming the elderly and the elderly not trusting and blaming the young. This helps no one and it just makes things worse.

So what can we do? How do we build bridges of love between those divisions in our lives and our own communities? How do we bring light into the darkening aspects of life? How do we bring the light of Hope into the darkening shadows of despair? How do we ensure that the light shines in the darkness and that the darkness does not overcome it? Well by becoming the light of the world and letting that light shine from our being. This is how we bring Hope to life and light. This is where meaning will grow from the ashes of despair. This is what I remembered as I came to the peace of everything, alone and in the silence. In this silence that still small voice of calm seemed to speak to me in a voice that was somehow more than silence and yet less than a whisper. I remembered also why I had become a minister of religion in the first place, that too had been born from personal loss and suffering. I remembered how my heart had been broken many times before and I remembered all the many broken hearted and broken people I have known in my time ministering to the communities I serve and how they too had come to life once again in their grief and suffering. My heart was filled once again and courage began to rise within me.

Hope had risen from the ashes of suffering...There was no despair...

Like Wendell Berry we all feel despair at the world at times. We all fear for our own lives, our loved ones and the lives of others. We all seek to come into the peace of something. We can find that peace. I know this to be true and when the peace comes, provided we do not close down or close in, hope can once again come to life and we can begin to bring healing not only in our lives, but in the lives of those around us stretching out to the wider reaches of this our shared world. We cannot avoid suffering, but we can give birth to meaning in that suffering in the way that we live our lives. We need not despair, we can live in hope, we can live in love. We can heal what separates us from one another. 

We can live in love. In all that we feel, all that we think, all that we say and all that we do.

I’m going to end this "Blogspot" with these adapted words by Sidney L. Freeman, which my friend Jane Blackall recently shared...

'Only a few things wear the mark of the eternal:
the giving we have invested in others,
the love we have expressed in deeds,
the kindness we have shown, the work
we have done because we loved it,
the light we have shown that others may not stumble,
the evil we turned into good because we saw
that none of us lives apart,
but all are members one of another.'

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