Sunday, 4 September 2016

Love Letters: It matters what we leave behind

“Love letters” by Edward Hays in “Secular Society”

"You and I are meant to be “letters” to the world. People who “read” us receive a message from the Divine Mystery. Now, there’s a delightful vocation – to be a sort of “valentine” from God to a love-hungry world! But if we are to be living, divine letters, “words made flesh,” we, of all people, should keep alive and treat with respect the beautiful custom of letter writing. As we take time to do this, let us remember that such activity is always prayer. Let us remember that it is also prayer to receive and read a letter. Perhaps we could pause at the conclusion of having penned a note to a friend and trace the sign of the cross upon the letter to remind ourselves of this fact. Or we could breathe part of our spirit into the envelope. More than just a puff of breath, we could send along with our message a part of our soul. Since love is invisible, some ritual or sign helps us to remember what it is we are really sending when we send a letter to someone we love."

Huw a member of the Urmston congregation recently asked me if people treat me and act differently towards me since I lost the weight. I thought about it for a moment and said, no I don’t think so, or at least I hope not. After all I am still the same person I always was, it’s just that I now I live in a smaller shell than before.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot since. Do people treat me the same way now that I have transformed myself physically? Have the physical changes altered the way I am in the world? Do we judge people more on their appearance than on their inner being? Does the way we see ourselves affect the way we live with others and live in life?

The more I’ve thought about it the more I have become aware of people treating me differently actually. I’ve also realised that I am acting differently in the world and am once again seeing the world through fresh eyes. I have changed once again, or do I more accurately mean I have woken up once again. I am and will always be the same man in essence. This part of myself never changes the spirit that lays at the core of me. Whatever happens to my physical being, my emotional being and my mental being, this core always remains, although I believe that it just more awakened today. In fact there have been times in my life when that aspect of my being has been fast asleep.

There is no doubt to me that my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual being are interconnected, not one is separate from the rest. Just as all life is connected, nay interconnected. Nothing exists in isolation from anything else. Even the time we exist in now is influenced by all that has ever existed before. Yes we live in this moment right now. But this moment does not exist in isolation we only have this moment because of all that happened before and we are only the people that we are, in this moment, because of all that has existed before. We bring our whole selves alive in this precious moment right now. We do so by not rejecting any aspect of our lives up to now. We do so by allowing our whole being to come alive, to come to flower right here right now. This is what being alive really means. This is what bringing the moment alive really means. It is not enough to passively live in the moment, you’ve got to bring the moment fully alive. In so doing you live the life you are here to live and you play your part in the cosmic co-creation. All that we do and all that we do not do matters. Each moment that we live we leave behind us a legacy, a love letter if you like, that others will pick up on as they too continue on through their lives.

Just think of the people that have influenced you in your lives. People who are no longer physically with you, but who are still impacting on you today. Even when they are gone, something beautiful remains.

It matters how we live in the world. It matters how we see the world and think about the world and feel about the world. This is influenced by how we have lived in this world. It’s not just something that comes to us in isolation and it is influenced by how we see and experience ourselves.

Who do we think we are? What do we believe about ourselves? What do we see when we gaze at ourselves in the mirror, in the glass, in the water? Do we see ourselves with loving eyes, or with the eyes that despise? For how we see ourselves will influence how we see life and see others. You see we all do live by the “Golden Rule” we do in fact love or hate our neighbour as we love or hate ourselves. I just that one day we can all live by the Golden Rule of compassion and not of loathing or indifference.

My dad once shared a story with me, just weeks before he died. It’s one of those things that has stayed with me all these years and has only truly begun to make sense to me these last few years. Now whether it actually happened in his life, or not, doesn’t matter. I have come across versions of this story in my reading. What matters is the universal mythos in the tale. This is the story:

He recounted a tale when he was once at Appleby Horse Fair, a place he loved; where he was probably at his happiest. He was talking to me about faith and God. It was during a time of my life when I was a man of little or no faith; I certainly had no belief in God. He recounted that he saw a priest staring down into the water from a bridge. He asked the priest what he was doing and the priest told him that he was staring into God’s eyes. My dad looked into the water and said he could only see himself and the priest. At which point the priest replied that this is where God dwells within you, within me and within everything.

Whenever I remember this moment, that has stayed with me ever since, even in my darkest hours, my nihilistic despair, the memory would come alive deep within me. Its real meaning only really made sense many years later. What I do know is that whenever I looked into the water or into the glass, whatever I saw looking back at me was reflected in how I saw life and lived in the world. It impacted on how I lived in whatever moment, whatever place and whatever people I found myself in the company of.

When I look at life today and when I look deeply, compassionately into the eyes of others I can see something of the Divine present there, sometimes awake and sometimes fast asleep. Most of the time though, somewhere in between.

The very first Unitarian I ever met was Peter Sampson. I met him as I passed through the threshold of Cross Street Chapel all those years ago. He taught me so much about what it means to live as a human being. He is also a talented poet and hymn writer. He wrote the following piece for a collection of named "Heart and Mind" It speaks powerfully to me,

“Incarnation” by Peter Sampson

'"The incarnation is true not of Christ exclusively but of Man universally and God everlastingly. He bends into the human to dwell there and humanity is the susceptible organ of the divine."

James Martineau (1805-1900)

James Martineau’s distinctly Unitarian ‘take’ on the transformation of God into our human – all too human – flesh and blood has been a constant inspiration to me.

Our responsibility for our own lives and necessarily, for the lives of our brothers and sisters throughout the world lays upon us all a duty which cannot be dodged; our humanity is defined by how we serve and care for the needs of the human family. You can’t have faith without works and working for the good of all inspires our faith in God-given life.

It is a small comfort to me to be told that God died for our sins. I see every one of us missing the mark in our lives and whenever a fellow-creature is harmed we must pray for forgiveness for ourselves. We are all culpable but if we are to serve human progress we have to say ‘sorry’ from the bottom of our heart and move on.

When we look around us we tend to focus on what’s going wrong: suffering – often caused by human ignorance – waste, devastation, degradation, contempt, the whole sorry spectacle of “Man’s in humanity to Man”. I see this as a betrayal of our God-given humanity, a trivialisation of our God-endowed divinity.

Resorting to armaments and inflexible war-talk of politicians, shouting at those we don’t agree with and throwing our weight about if we don’t get our own way – I want to say “Come off it! Who do you think you are? There is that of God in every person, in every creature on the planet.
Peter's piece begins with the following quote by the great 19th century Unitarian James Martineau who stated that:'

"The incarnation is true not of Christ exclusively but of Man universally and God everlastingly. He bends into the human to dwell there and humanity is the susceptible organ of the divine."

Could this be true? Is humanity the susceptible organ of the divine?

I do believe that there is that of God in everyone, but that is not all that we are. Yes we have the potential to do incredible things we humans and I do believe that God lives through our lives. But that is not all that we are, we are also capable of incredible hatred, destruction and evil. I believe that both these potentials lay within each of us. It is important that I recognise this when I look at another and when I look at myself. When I look at another person I must recognise myself within them. This sometimes fills me with absolute bliss and on other occasions it fills me with nothing but agony. Humanity is a mysterious duality indeed.

Abraham Joshua Heschel said the following of man...

“Man is a duality of mysterious grandeur and pompous aridity, a vision of God and a mountain of dust. It is because of his being dust that his iniquities may be forgiven, it is because of his being an image that his righteousness is expected.”

It is an incredible thing to be human, we are fascinating creatures. Even the word human itself interests me. It is formed from the same root as humility, possibly humanity’s greatest attribute. It is also closely related to humus (not to be confused with hummus) and exhume. The root for all of these words is “hum” which originally referred to the earth or dirt. Our earliest forbears perceived that we humans originated from the soil – you would think that this would keep us grounded, but seemingly not - this is made clear in the second creation story found in Genesis II which reads “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” The ancient Hebrew word for Adam is closely related to the word “toadamah” which means soil or earth. There are other ancient creation stories too which associate the origin of humankind with soil or the ground. Such as the Sumerian myth of Marduk who created people by killing Qingu and mixing his blood with clay. Or the Greek myths of Decallion and Pyrrha who by throwing rocks over their shoulders created man and woman.

We are indeed a mysterious duality we humans. Yes formed from dust but with the spirit of the Divine breathed into our very being.

We need to remember this when we look into one another’s eyes and when we look into our own eyes. For how we see ourselves and how we see one another will impact on how we live in the world and that really matters. We need to look a little deeper than the surface too, for that will change. Beauty is more than skin deep, our real beauty and true essence lays way beneath the surface of our skin; it is way deeper than our thinking minds and our feeling emotions. It is in our essence, our spirit our souls. This never changes, it remains the same it’s just that it awakens and goes to sleep at different times and stages of our lives.

How awake and alive we are in the world in this moment really matters too. For how we live will impact on those around us too and will impact on how they live in the world, for no one and no-thing lives in isolation.

In every moment of our lives we are creating and leaving a legacy for those who share this time and those who follow in this beautiful co-creation that is life. Each moment we leave behind us letters that those who follow will then pick up and read and be influenced. So let us ensure that the letters we leave behind are letters of love and not of indifference, letters of Hope and not of Despair.

I’m going to end this little chip of a "blogspot" with this beautiful extract from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”:

I hear and behold God in every object, yet understand God not in the least,
Nor do I understand who there can be more wonderful than myself.
Why should I wish to see God better than this day?
I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then,
In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass,
I find letters from God dropt in the street, and every one is sign'd
by God's name,
And I leave them where they are, for I know that wheresoe'er I go,
Others will punctually come for ever and ever.

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