Sunday, 31 July 2016

More than words.deeds

“There is a marvellous story of a man who once stood before God, his heart breaking from all the pain and injustice in the world. “Dear God,” he cried out, “look at all the suffering, the anguish and distress in your world. Why don’t you send help?”

God responded. “I did send help. I sent you.”

from “Teaching Your Children About God” by David J. Wolfe

Part of my work as a minister is to the wider community, beyond the walls of the congregations I serve and who pay my stipend. I see this community as ever widening by the way and not just those who live in and around the towns of Altrincham and Urmston. My printed media and social media work extends my ministry to far flung places all over this country and world. I am also invited to lead worship out and about. I wish I could do more, but I possess neither the time nor energy to do so. I do the best that I can to, to minister, to serve.

Now one of my many roles is to conduct rites of passage for those who are looking for "something religious, but not too religious", as they so often say. Whether that be child namings and blessings, weddings and of course funerals. The most challenging are funerals, especially for people I have never met and or do not know. This is never easy, it takes a lot of emotional and spiritual energy, but sometimes can be the most rewarding.

I am extremely grateful to have been called and to have accepted the role as minister these last six years. I offer thanks and praise for this challenging, deeply rewarding and spiritually enriching work. Yes it is tough at times, but I am blessed to have been given it.

That said being grateful, I know is not enough. It is vital to offer thanks and praise; it is important to recognise what life gives to us and yet I know simply being grateful is not quite enough.

People thank me all the time. I received a beautiful letter of thanks from a man recently who attended a funeral I conducted. He has attended a few others things I host at the chapel these last few years and this has led to him rediscovering some old loves and encouraged him to re-engage with them. It was lovely to receive the letter but what touched me more was not his thanks, but that what he had experienced here had led to him wanting to do something about it; that he wanted to act on his gratitude.

For me this is the difference between offering thanks and living with gratitude. You see true gratitude to me compels us to act on what we have given thanks for. To pay forward what has been freely given to us. To me this is what true spiritual living is about. This is the works that grows from faith and inspires others, fills them with that loving spirit, so that they too can pass it on.

I recently conducted a funeral for a family. Afterwards one of the family members thanked me for “making it so easy for them”. They also apologised for the way that they had been at times, I said there really was no need, as I understand. I wasn’t just saying it though, I do understand. Such times can bring up all kinds of intense feelings and at a time when people ought to be pulling together and supporting one another they can do the exact opposite and end up falling out and hurting one another. Sometimes these disputes can take years to resolve, sometimes sadly they are never resolved. I have had experience of this over the last few years too. It always leaves me with a sense of sadness and pain. When I think of the things I witness in life that cause me pain I feel that irreconcilable family disputes cause me the greatest.

Saying sorry isn’t enough. Ok it might be a start but it really isn’t enough. Again works is required here. Simply saying sorry, especially if the only person you are apologising to is a stranger, who is not a part of the dispute, does not heal a rift. Amends is required, reconciliation is required, true healing needs to come. Otherwise sorry just becomes another hollow word. It lacks both faith and works I would say, although it does perhaps appear ok.

It is a strange thing being a minister. People often find themselves saying sorry to you. I suspect at the bottom of it is a feeling that so many of us share, a feeling of somehow being wrong inside. A feeling that probably stems from some hidden sense of guilt over something from the past, something we have done or something that we have failed to. Some simple, all too human, frailty. I wish I could do something about it.

If I had a superpower I think that this might be it. Not so much to relieve people of their guilt. I don’t believe it is mine or anyone else’s job, but our own. No the superpower would be to inspire others to do the works that their souls are crying out for them to do. To either put right what needs to be put right and or to live with gratitude for the gifts that life has freely given them. Not to merely recognise these gifts and to truly offer thanks and praise for them, but to give back and make from them a sacred act of gratitude.

Recognising and acknowledging what has been freely given us is a vital aspect of true spiritual living, as is acknowledging when we have fallen short, but the words and recognition are not enough. Saying thank you and saying sorry is not enough.

I say this because they are good things to do, but they are not quite good enough; I say this because they are not the best. We can all do better I know I can. It’s a bit like remembrance as opposed to remembering. Remembering is merely passively recalling something in your mind, whereas remembrance is a commitment to make something better from what has happened. This is why being grateful and being sorry is not good enough. It is passive and if I have learnt anything I have learnt that the spiritual life is by no means a passive one. The spiritual life only truly comes alive in deeds, in our works, in the way we live our lives. It is this I believe that leads us to our true calling. It certainly led me to mine. The reason I became a minister was an act, in many ways, of remembrance; it was an act of gratitude for the love that had been freely given me that gave me life once again when I had given up; it has been an apology in action, an amends for wasting so much time. And I’m the one receiving the rewards as life pays me back 100 hundred fold in the blessings of my daily living and breathing.

As I once read “The spiritual life is not a theory, we have to live it.”

Now what does that mean? You may well ask. Well for me living the spiritual life is about committing to more than just what is good, it’s about committing to be the best we can be. It’s about aiming high, it’s about committing to excellence, while accepting that we will all fall short. We are all far more human than otherwise.

This is not a cop out though, it is an aspiration and hopefully an inspiration to others. For if we keep on aiming to be the best we can, than so will others and then we all benefit by making our lives and our world the best it can be.

This brings to mind the other problem with merely offering thanks and saying sorry. This is of course is the whole self-centredness of it. Where is the commitment to others? Saying thank you and acknowledging all I have and or simply offering an apology does not reach out to other. It does not bring about reconciliation nor does it ensure that they have enough. No faithful inaction is simply not good enough, it is not the best this requires works too and requires a commitment to be the neighbour both near and far, a commitment to the wider world of our shared humanity.

After all there is one humanity, one world and one spirit that runs through it all…One God.

It is vitally important to acknowledge the gifts we have been given in our lives. To offer thanks for what others have freely done and given to us, but it is not enough. Likewise it is important to acknowledge when we have fallen short, done wrong and to apologies for this, but once again I do not think this is enough. It is not enough to simply acknowledge and remember.

What is required is to turn these words into actions, into deeds to make them acts of remembrance and to do something about bringing some healing into this world that we keep on damaging with our all too human frailties.

The healing begins in our own hearts and lives, in our own families and communities and spreads out beyond to the wider human community and all life itself…It is up to us to ever widen those concentric circles of compassion…It is, I believe what we are here for…


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