Sunday, 17 September 2017

From Sincerity to Authenticity

“We waste so much energy trying to cover up who we are when beneath every attitude is the want to be loved, and beneath every anger is a wound to be healed and beneath every sadness is the fear that there will not be enough time.

When we hesitate in being direct, we unknowingly slip something on, some added layer of protection that keeps us from feeling the world, and often that thin covering is the beginning of a loneliness which, if not put down, diminishes our chances of joy.

It’s like wearing gloves every time we touch something, and then, forgetting we chose to put them on, we complain that nothing feels quite real. Our challenge each day is not to get dressed to face the world but to unglove ourselves so that the doorknob feels cold and the car handle feels wet and the kiss goodbye feels like the lips of another being, soft and unrepeatable.”

From "The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want By Being Present to the Life You Have"

“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.”

Parker J Palmer from “Let Your Life Speak”

The greatest danger to living the authentic life, to living with sincerity and integrity is what I think I know; what I think I know about myself, others, life and the spirit that is at the core of all being, that I call God.

With this in mind each morning as I awake, as I begin my morning devotion and open myself in humility, I say a few words of prayer asking that I can lay aside whatever I think I know. I lay myself open to the mystery at the core of life and ask that whatever I believe I know about the four realms of existence does not become a barrier to new experiences. The four realms as I understand them today are of the mind, the body, the heart and the spirit. As a result I am finding new truth being revealed to me constantly; as a result I am finding myself less inhibited by my own self-created fears and the fears created by others that they can attempt to pass on to me.

How many times in life are we held back not only by our own fears, but by taking on board the fears of others.

“Keep it real” it’s a phrase you hear quite a lot these days. It’s about being authentic, living with integrity. Some people go to extremes to prove the realness of who they are. It seems to me that if you feel the need to prove it, then in some sense you are not being real at all, that you are not living with integrity as you feel the need to seek the approval of others.

I remember many years ago the tragic Richey Edwards, second guitarist and lyricist from the Manic Street Preachers, infamously carving the phrase “4 Real” onto his arm in an attempt to prove to “The NME” that they were who they claimed to be. A few years later he disappeared, presumed dead by his own hand. A sad end for such a talented young man.

How many other people have been destroyed by this need to be seen as authentic to others, how many of us have found ourselves standing their naked seduced by the delusion that is “The Emperor’s New Clothes”?


In this age of “Fake News” it is hard to discern what is real. Who and what do we trust? There seems to be little or no sincerity and integrity in life. Dishonesty it seems is not only acceptable, but kind of expected today. This saddens me.

We see this obviously in politics and in the spoken and written news. We also see it very clearly in sport. The Olympic spirit is gone. As money and ratings have become the God that such people worship, the idea of integrity as all but died out. The last Olympics Games was shrouded in questions about drug cheats, no one trusts cyclists. Even in cricket no one trusts the batsmen and fielders any longer. Perhaps the only sport where such integrity exists is in golf where it is still highly regarded.

Does sincerity exist any longer? Is integrity dead?

I recently attended the funeral of my “Auntie Josephine”. Josephine was my dad’s cousin, she had no children of her own. As a result she would take me and my siblings for birthday treats when we were children. Sadly over the last few she has lost who she was through dementia. At her funeral one of the readings was taken from John’s Gospel Ch 14 vv 1 – 7. After the service I was talking with Josephine’s brother my uncle Billy who said about the reading something like “I don’t go for much scripture, but those words speak powerfully to me.” They describe both his and many people’s faith. The service was held in my dad’s side of the family’s church, St Francis of Assisi’s Roman Catholic Church, Morley West Yorkshire. A place I spent many Sunday’s at as a child and one I occasionally attend for family weddings and funerals these days. During the funeral Mass the priest offered communion or to those who are not Catholic a blessing. I went forward for a blessing, as mark of respect to my family and to the occasion even if I do not believe as they do. After the service several friends of the family had also gone forward, but they had offered themselves for communion at which the priest asked them if they were Catholic, they were not they were Anglicans and thus he indicated he could only offer a blessing. They were upset by this and asked me afterwards why it was? Gosh why do I always get these questions, perils of the job I suppose? The truth is that the priest was acting with integrity with regards to his own beliefs. Whether I or others agree with him, is not the real question he was acting with integrity with regards to his own beliefs. I for one respect him for that.

I see faith and life through very different eyes. I am a Universalist in every sense of the word, but I would not expect someone else to subscribe to my truth if they didn’t look at life through the same kaleidoscopic lens.

Whatever we believe about life, ourselves, the world and whatever we believe about what is at the core of it all it is vital that we are sincere about it, whilst also respecting that others will come to various conclusions. It is not enough to simply tolerate that there are different truths, to me that still sounds somewhat judgemental, tolerance is not enough. I for one want to celebrate the difference and to lay myself open to the truths of others. I never want to become a slave to what I think I know.

Sincerity is no easy thing. It is not easy being sincere about who we are, to show the world as we are, to live as we truly are “warts and all and beauty spots too.”

There is a phrase I often here in spiritual communities that irritates me. It is used as an attempt to get people started but to me I find it not only unhelpful but in the long term quite damaging. The phrase goes something like “You’ve got to fake it to make it.” I have found the opposite to be true. In my experience if you attempt to fake it you will never make it. I suspect that the most unspiritual thing a person can be is insincere.

If you attempt to fake it you won't truly make it...just because it rhymes it doesn't make it real...

The key is authenticity, being real, being honest, living by faithful uncertainty...giving it an honesty go.

Now “Sincerity” is a fascinating word and anyone who knows me will know I love etymology. Well there is a disputed theory about the Etymology of the word “Sincere.” One theory suggest that it is rooted in Latin and that it literally meant "without wax"

It is said that during the Renaissance, in Italy, sculptures were in plentiful supply & stones were sold everywhere. It seems that not all stone sellers were honest & some of the stones they sold were imperfect, they had cracks which were filled with wax. They tried to sell these stones as flawless when in fact the cracks were filled in with wax. So an honest stone seller became one who was “sin cere”, without wax who sold his stones revealing the cracks.

For me the spiritual life has to be the same. There are cracks in my belief, but it is honest. Each day I turn in faithful uncertainty and experience toward a life I never dreamed possible. I do so honestly, with integrity in humility which I have found leads to a greater openness.

Is sincerity enough though? John O’Donohue suggests otherwise, he believed that what we really needed was authenricity. That is what it means to be real. To live with our cracks fully exposed and open to life. That it is this that allows us to truly feel life, to live without our gloves on. He stated that:

“Another way to approach this is to look at the huge difference between sincerity and authenticity. Sincerity, while it's lovely, is necessary but insufficient, because you can be sincere with just one zone of your heart awakened. When many zones of the heart are awakened and harmonized we can speak of authenticity, which is a broader and more complex notion. It takes great courage and grace to feel the call to awaken, and it takes greater courage and more grace still to actually submit to the call, to risk yourself into these interior spaces where there is very often little protection. It takes a great person to creatively inhabit her own mind and not turn her mind into a destructive force that can ransack her life.”

It seems to me that live with authenticity is to be truly open in all four aspects of humanity, the four realms of being, mind, body, heart and spirit. I suspect it’s about truly being who you are.

Forrest Church suggested that to “be who you are” is perhaps the hardest task of all. To be who you are is to not "fake your existence." He claimed "each of us is unique, with unique flaws and gifts. The world doesn’t owe us a living; we owe the world a living, our very own." The key is to answer your own calling, going 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."

It seems to me that to live with sincerity, with authenticity is to truly be who you are. Do you know what our world needs us to live authentically; it needs us to be truly who we are, warts and all and beauty spots too. It needs us to be unafraid to revel our cracks, because in so doing we encourage others to be who they are. We need to expose who we truly are to give ourselves fully away to life and thus encourage others to do the same. In so doing we may just begin to create that kin-ship of love right here, right now…

So let’s keep it real, let’s be who we are, let us be unafraid to live the sincere life, to show our cracks, let us live with authenticity…For our world needs us to be...

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Threads

I recently spent a week at Summer School, serving as minister of the week. Now one of the traditions that has developed there over the years are the knitting circles. There is always a group of knitters, working away throughout the week. They even have a "knitting policy" and guidelines for knitters who wish to practice while listening to the theme talks. Some people find the knitters a little distracting.

A few years ago when I attended Summer School it seemed like they had taken over the place, everyone was knitting. There was a charitable project going so it was for a very good reason. I remember at the time saying “You’d never get me knitting” In fact I said “The only time you’d see me knitting is if Bill Darlison did." Now I thought Bill was my friend. Well he set me up good and proper because on the last day they got him to pose for a picture with needles and yarn in his hands and lap. It brought a great deal of laughter, but did not lead me to pick up the needles.

This year there was a group of three knitters that particularly caught my attention. They were always together, it seemed strange to see one without the others. In a odd way they kind of held the week together, a bit like the rug in the film “The Big Lebowski”. They were one of the many stabilising and creative threads that weaved their way through the week. All were needed.

While I was away at Summer School I began to weave a new thread into my attempt to live the four aspects, “The Four Realms”, of my human being more fully. “The Four Realms” are mind, body, heart and spirit. Each morning, before breakfast we were offered the opportunity to be led in either meditation or yoga. I went to meditation the first morning, but after that I decided to give yoga a go. I’d been considering it for a few months, but hadn’t taken the plunge. Well it seems I’m hooked and since I got back I’ve been following a teaching on line every morning, on awakening, after a short time in prayer and meditation. It is a new thread that is helping to weave together the four aspects, realms, dimensions, of my human being. As I have been practising I have felt the thread that runs through my being both lengthening and strengthening.

Ever since I returned from Summers School I’ve been thinking about the many threads that make up my life and the web of creation, made of infinite threads that both holds and creates all life.

In many of the human traditions there are enumerable web and weaving mythos’. The stories describe a creature or perhaps spirit that guides human beings through life, that runs through all of life and holds life together. I have come to believe that we each of us have this very same thread in us, in fact maybe we as individuals are one thread on the universal web of all life, that without our thread and every other thread the web would not exist. The web is what creates, holds and sustains us, but at the same time we create the very same web of existence. Many of the great stories of the ancient traditions speak of this. In the Christian tradition I always think of the Kingdom of God, as being an example of this. You see the Kingdom is not some place we wish to arrive at some day, but something we build or maybe weave right here, right now. We are the builders, we are weavers or we are the destroyers of the web, the kingdom or as I prefer to call it these days, the “kin-dom”.

Now in many traditions there is the mythos of “The Spirit’s Thread” You will find it in the Navajo tradition, and in traditions found in Alaska and Japan. By the way there may be good reason for this, as studies of migrational history suggest that all three peoples’s originate from a tribe that dispersed from Siberia. Both Navajo and the Japanese traditions share a reverence for the larger interconnected net that holds all of life together, the web of life.

In “The Exquisite Risk: Daring to Live An Authentic Life” Mark Nepo writes of this. He states:

“The Navajo honor this connection in everything they do. Even when weaving rugs to lie on the earth, the Navajo worldview is present. For somewhere in each rug there is always a single thread that connects the inner weavings to the outer weavings. This affirms a spiritual law which says that if we are to know health, if we are to experience the mystery of being whole, if we are to know joy, there has to be a thread or inlet that allows what lives within out and which allows what lives without in. Indeed, only if in and out are allowed to inform each other can we live in the mystery and strength of the Great Spirit.

This is the Spirit's Thread, which love makes visible. It exists in everything. The thread of Spirit - there in the rock and the rose and the dark heart waiting to be known. And in order to befriend the Whole, in order to stay in relationship with all that is larger than us, we are invited to care for our Spirit's Thread. We are invited to honor the Spirit's Thread in everything, so the light hidden in the rock sand the blood hidden in the rose might help revive our dark and waiting heart.

So, what does the Spirit's Thread mean, then, in a daily way? I think this beautiful notion implies that we are called to care for the small, thin thing that lives in each of us, that connects who we are to the world. We can understand that small passageway as our breath, our heart, or openness of mind. It is the vital tether by which we can tremble in awe at the infinite power and gentleness of life.”

It is vital that we take care of this thread that is our life, body, mind, heart and soul and that we continue to weave into the web of all existence. That we fully play our part in creating and recreating the web. For if we do not we will not be playing our part in the whole and we will feel disconnected, no longer a part of the whole.

Now at times our thread may become a little threadbare, an aspect may become weakened. When this happens we need to take stock and perhaps do what is required to fix our thread or perhaps do more work to repair the damaged whole.

Now the web does not only exist in the present moment. It began to be weaved at the beginning of time and will continue on into eternity, when we are long gone. That said we have played our role in co-creating the whole. As our ancestors did, those who came before us. As I look back at my own life I can see a kind of personal tapestry being weaved and not by myself alone. I did not create this wholly alone, so many other lives have weaved their way into my life and helped create who I am, just as I have weaved my way into the lives of others. There is no neutrality in life, everything is connected. Everything that we do and do not do matters. Every thought, every word, every feeling. It matters for we are all part of the great interconnected whole.

Now for me the main purpose of spiritual community is to aid and encourage both the repair and enhancing of our individual threads while also creating, repairing and beautifying the whole. This is what Rev Dr Martin Luther King called “Beloved Community”, the Kingdom of God right here right now. This is the kind of faith community that is based around responsibility in humility. Not one that expects God to do the weaving alone but for each individual to bring their uniquely beautiful thread and weave it into community, turning up, entering into relationship willingly, learning how to weave their individual gifts to make the most of the whole, which is greater than the sum of its parts. To me this is true religion. Religion comes from the word religiere which meant to bind together and create more than could be done alone with the individual parts. Our single threads, no matter how well developed, no matter how powerful and beautiful can achieve very little alone, in fact they are pretty useless and certainly lonely on their own. This is the greatest problem of spirituality without community, in truth it doesn’t really work. Yet each individual thread weaved into the whole, playing its part, can create something way more beautiful than any of us could ever have imagined.

We are here for a purpose, there is a mighty meaning to our lives. Our lives and the lives of all depend on us taking care of the threads that make up our individual lives and the weaving of our threads as deeply as we can into the web of all existence. As we look at ourselves, our families, our communites, our world, no doubt we can see may tears in the web of existence, tears that won’t heal themselves. It is our task to repair the damage by weaving our threads together. In so doing we not only repair the whole, but we also beautify and strengthen our own threads. In so doing we will begin to create the “Kin-dom of Love” right here right now, we become the “Beloved Community”, we become the ones we have all been waiting for.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Why is it so hard to speak of Joy?

I was recently given the honour of serving as minister of week at Summer School. The subject of the week was seeking joy in life despite its many real troubles. It got me thinking about Joy. What Joy might be and how to articulate it.

Joy is a characteristic of faith in life itself; faith in the joy of living, in all its mystery. Joy is the universal aspect of living life fully. It’s about spending our time in “thick” space, a life deep and rich in meaning. It is not the same as happiness, pleasure or fun. Joy is not about the material circumstances of our lives. Perhaps the true measure of joy is the experience of it, even in the most difficult of times, without guilt or apology. Joy is a deeply held spiritual quality, it exists beneath feelings and emotions. It is a quality that is always open to us, although not necessarily realised. Why you may well ask? Well because too often we are afraid to live by and through it, to reach out for it for fear of not achieving it and living in disappointment. I know disappointment every day and I know and experience what it means to live in and through joy. Or perhaps the reason we don’t know joy is because we are too afraid to let go of control and let life have its way, because deep down we do not have faith in life itself. The essence of joy is faith, faith in life itself, that there is a goodness, a Divine goodness at the core of life…

Here is an example of Joy in this sense by Unitarian Universalist minister Carl Scovel. He named the heart of his faith “The Great Surmise”

"The Great Surmise says simply this: At the heart of all creation lies a good intent, a purposeful goodness, from which we come, by which we live our fullest, and to which we shall at last return. This is the supreme mystery of our lives. This goodness is ultimate-not fate, not freedom, not mystery, energy, order, nor finitude, but this good intent in creation is our source, our center, and our destiny. . . Our work on earth is to explore, enjoy, and share this goodness. "Neither duty nor suffering nor progress nor conflict-not even survival-is the aim of life, but joy. Deep, abiding, uncompromised joy."

I have come to believe that Joy is the essence and the energy of life and yet we find it so hard to speak of. Why do we find it so hard to speak of joy?

Well for some it hasn't been so hard. Here is another example.

Rabindranath Tagore wrote…

“Joy is everywhere; it is in the earth’s green covering of grass; in the blue serenity of the sky; in the reckless exuberance of spring; in the severe abstinence of grey winter; in the living flesh that animates our bodily frame; in the perfect poise of the human figure, noble and upright; in living; in the exercise of all our powers; in the acquisition of knowledge; in fighting evils; in dying for gains we never can share. Joy is there everywhere.”

“Joy is there everywhere.” Do you believe this? What does your life teach you? What energises you? How do you feel when you are around a person filled with joy, en-joying life, en-joying who they are, singing the joy of living in all its mystery? What do you do when you are around such a person? I do hope you never try to clip their wings, to put them off being who they truly are, learning to fly free. I hope you never try to enslave them by the dangers of living with too much safety. In fact if you are going to be cautious about anything in life, it ought to safety. Be very careful about playing it safe, for it won’t guard you against the dangers of life, it will only strangle the joys of living, in all its mystery.

I was recently sat with friends enjoying coffee and chatting after sharing an hour together in meditation and deep conversation. We meet twice weekly at seven am and then some of us go off and continue the conversation in a local coffee shop. We are quite a shocking group to the locals and staff, due to the volume of laughter that rings out from us. Don’t get me wrong we speak seriously about many things, but we also know the joy of living. Anyway after an hour I declared “it’s time I moved” and got up to go for a gym session. Before I left I was asked how often I went and how long I spend at the gym. I said I go five times a week for between one and a half and two hours. Then followed the often heard comments about being too obsessive and not over doing it. I said little in response and just got up enthusiastically to get on with my session. Yes it’s tough and challenging, but I do enjoy how it is transforming my body and allowing me to be all I can be. I’ve never felt more alive.

All my life I’ve experienced people who have tried to curb my enthusiasm. It used to work as I allowed fear to inhibit my natural experience of joy, I didn’t want others to think I was a weirdo or nuts. By the way it worked for it sucked all the joy out of living as I suppressed my true human nature. People still try today but I know that it is more about their fear than anything I am doing or not doing. These days I always respectfully listen to others, but I do not take on board their fears and negativity. I would rather listen to the voice of joy and possibility deep within me; I prefer to live from a place of faith in life and not fear. Ever since I rediscovered faith in life itself, I have found the courage to be.

Now to live in joy, to have faith in life is not easy, it is even harder to describe. It is far easier to talk about pain and suffering, to talk about despair. Just enter any academic environment or follow social media or the daily news. People find it far easier to talk about their pain, than their joy.

Henri Nouwen observed that anxiety and suffering are far more easily expressed than joy. He wrote:

"I vividly remember how one of my university teachers spoke for a whole year about anxiety in human life. He discussed in great detail the thoughts of Kierkegaard, Sartre, Heidegger, and Camus and gave an impressive exposé of the anatomy of fear. One day, during the last month of the course, a few students found the courage to interrupt him and ask him to speak a little about joy before the course was over. At first he was taken aback. But then he promised to give it a try. The next class he started hesitantly to speak about joy. His words sounded less convincing and penetrating than when he spoke about anxiety and fear. Finally, after two more meetings, he told us that he had run out of ideas about joy and would continue his interrupted train of thought. This event made a deep impression on me, especially since I had such great admiration for my teacher. I kept asking myself why he was unable to teach about joy as eloquently as he had taught about anxiety.

It’s a good question, “why is it so much easier to speak about anxiety than joy?" We have no trouble describing our sadness, what is wrong, what sickens us as individuals and as a society. Nouwen observed there are far “more words for sickness than for health, more for abnormal conditions than for normal conditions. When my leg hurts, my head aches, my eyes burn, or my heart stings, I talk about it, often in elaborate ways, but when I am perfectly healthy I have little, if anything, to say about those parts of my body.”

Think about the word resentment. It comes from resentere which literally means to re-feel something. Now when we re-feel something a memory from our past life it doesn’t have to be a painful memory, something that makes us angry and yet the word resentment only has negative connotation. We do not have a word that means to re-feel something joyful. There is no specific word for this in the English language.

I have come to believe that one reason that we struggle to speak of joy is that it is not a surface experience, it is not of the body or the mind, it is more about the spirit. It is harder to make sense of and or control with our minds and our language. Now some may say the reason for this is that joy is an abnormal state, but I have come to believe that the truth is the opposite of this. Joy is actually the essence of life, what Scovel called the “Great Surmise”. We can’t tame joy, we can’t control it and perhaps this is why we fear and distrust it in ourselves and others so much.

Joy is linked closely to ecstasy, no not the party drug, but ecstasy in its true meaning. It is derived from the Greek 'ekstasis,' formed from 'ek,' meaning out, and 'stasis,' a state of standstill. So to be ecstatic literally means to be outside of a static place. It is a constantly moving state, not a rigid or fixed one. Joy is the same, it is always new, it is about life, it is about creation. Thus, those who live ecstatic lives are always moving away from rigidly fixed situations and exploring new, unmapped dimensions of reality. This is the essence of joy.

Joy is always new; it is about life; it is about creation; it’s about energy. Think about those joy filled moments you had when you were really free, maybe while dancing, singing, playing, creating, running free, at the birth of a child whatever that might be. When you were like a child.

Can you remember the last time you got giddy? I get giddy with those folks I share meditation and coffee with twice a week and other places too, often in the pulpit.

We need to get “giddy” with it. By doing so we may well just begin to experience the joy of living. By the way “giddy” is one of the words that has been reduced in meaning over time. In medieval times it used to mean being 'possessed by a god or spirit.' Now this was not considered to be a good thing as to be in such a state was considered to be a form of insanity, simplemindedness or to be some kind of religious fanatic. Religion has shied away from such expressions and feelings. We Unitarians have sadly been at the vanguard of this, distrusting emotion and worshipping rationality. We were once known as “God’s frozen people?” Not any longer I hope. Never fear who you are, your true nature.

I suspect that the reason it is easier to talk about the pain, what is wrong with life, our fear, rather than the joy of living has something to do with how we view the nature of ourselves and life itself. That there is something wrong with life, that there is something wrong with human nature, that at the core we are bad and its time we accepted this. I’m not convinced that this is so.

The first chapter of the book of Genesis talks about God looking at his creation and seeing it as good. But is life with all its ups and downs good? What about violence, war and senseless tragedies? What about germs, disease and famine? What about the pain of our families, our friends, our loved ones? Isn’t life more like what Thomas Hobbes described in “The Leviathan” “And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short”. Is that what life is? Are we fallen and broken by nature, at war with ourselves and one another. We are told that the nature of life is competition, but is that correct? Recent biological research into the most basic life forms suggest that this is not so as even they have to cooperate in order to create, that this is in actual fact the energy of life. When we cooperate, work together in harmony, don’t we feel joyful? I know I do.

So something to consider. What is the nature and energy of life? Is joy the essence of life? Is it the energy that forms all life? Also how do we find ways to articulate and express this in ways that others can understand? I suspect that it might not be through the limit of words. Maybe we can’t tell, perhaps all we can do is show. So show it in all that you do and if you must, use words.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Exquisite Risk

I was recently sent a picture of myself with my two closest, in age at least, siblings. It was taken in 1977 at a fancy dress street party during the Silver Jubilee celebrations. I was five years old at the time. In the picture I am dressed as Tarzan. The strange thing is though that I am standing bolt upright, like a soldier on duty. There is good reason for this. I was originally planning to go as “Action Man” (What American’s call GI Joe). I had spent the weeks before attempting to stand upright, as even at that age I was deeply self-conscious about physical problems I had and was constantly told to stand straught. As I looked at the picture I reflected on the pain and the shame I had at the time and the decades that followed. I also remembered how even at that young age I was already living a bubble of self-protection that would lead to so many problems later in life. It has taken me forty years to shed that skin, but as I write this little "blogspot" I believe I have done so. Many old ideas have drifted away over the years. I have lost so much skin that have been imprisoned in.

As a kid I was always considered overly sensitive, that I needed toughening up, to develop another layer of skin. For a long time I attempted to do so and of course it only made things worse as I attempted to be something I am not, to harden my heart. The truth is that all I needed to do was to learn not take things so personally and to allow my sensitivity to become perhaps my greatest asset. I no longer attempt to defend my heart, instead I just allow my heart to lighten my life and pour my love out. Today my sensitivity may well be my greatest asset, my treasure, it is certainly where my heart is

I regularly meet with several colleagues. We talk about ministry; we talk about where our own lives are at; we talk about our own spiritual development. One colleague often repeats the following words when we come together.

“I honour your gods
I drink at your well
I bring an undefended heart to our meeting place
I have no cherished outcome
I will not negotiate by withholding
I am not subject to disappointment”

Oddly these words come from traditional Celtic wedding vows. Hardly romantic, but perhaps they symbolise something deeper.

It is the line “I bring an undefended heart to our meeting place” that resonates with me the most. It is the key I believe to living the spiritual life, to live with an undefended an open heart. This can be extremely painful and difficult at times, but I have learnt how vital it is for me. When I close down or put on my suit of armour life soon loses its flavour. I suppose that this is why I’ve always struggled with the sentiment of Ephesians Ch6 vv 10-18, the passage commonly known as “God’s Armour”. I was recently at an Anglo Catholic church where I saw an image based around this passage. I remember thinking to myself “gosh that’s the last thing I would want.”

For me religion and spirituality are not about being at war or in conflict and the God of my limited understanding does not want me armour plaited. I know these kinds of images appeal to many and certainly to some of my own traditional Christians friends. Not to me though and it does seem in conflict with the message I find in the Gospels.

Increasingly for me the spiritual life is about “Living with an unarmoured heart”, easier said than done I know. It is the treasure though and wherever my treasure is I have come to believe that this is also where my heart is.

Just imagine what it might be like to live with an unarmoured or an undefended heart. We all have defence mechanism, things we do to protect ourselves from being hurt. I am sure we are all familiar with the fright and flight mechanism. There is another reaction that perhaps we are less familiar with, it is certainly one that is less talked about. I have come to call this the freeze mechanism. It is something I am very familiar with, for I have utilised it throughout my life. Basically when trouble strikes a frozen person appears to continue to function normally on the outside, but inside, emotionally at least, they shut down, they internally hibernate. It is something I have come to learn about myself in recent years and I see it others quite clearly at times, perhaps too clearly. When it happens to me my neck and shoulders become stiff, my throat dries up, the base of my skull seems to warm up, my skin tightens around my face, I tend to blow out a lot and it feels like someone has just dropped a great rock into the pit of my stomach. These are the moments when I build up my walls and try to keep life out. I was doing this at five years old, no child should be like that.

How many of us spend lifetime’s building these walls that we think protect us? When in fact all we succeed in doing is block ourselves off from the love present in life, a treasure of infinite value, a pearl of great price.

To live with an open heart is to live intimately with all that is life. It is to experience life through our felt experience to not be ruled by what our minds project from our past, those disappointments and fears that have been built over a life time. To live with an unarmoured heart is about connecting with all that is there. Zen Buddhism talks about intimacy with 10,000 things, meaning intimacy with all things, all phenomena, that nothing is left out.

I have discovered that I am living openheartedly when I am not at war with life, when I am not arguing with reality and not avoiding intimacy, especially with my own thoughts and feelings. I can find myself arguing with reality at times, I suppose some would call this living in denial, but thankfully by living faithfully I once again see the truth and let loose the prison of my own skin and move onto a newer and fresher reality, my heart opens up and I experience a new reality. I do not remain armoured or frozen for very long. Faith sets me free once again. I shed another layer of skin.

In “The Exquisite Risk: Daring To Live An Authentic Life” Mark Nepo talks about daring to live your whole unique self, to sing your authentic true song, and to be you unforgivingly. The key is to dare to slow down and to really feel life rather than merely manage it. Nepo encourages us to become quiet enough and open enough to listen to what truly matters; he encourages us to listen intimately to our own hearts, our loved ones, the wonders of nature; he encourages us to live with nothing held back. He shares his own journey including a battle with cancer which he overcame and which helped him understand how only by daring to embrace all that life has to offer can we come to a deeper appreciation of its meaning and beauty. The beauty of Nepo’s work is that he makes the personal universal. He speaks in a way that anyone can relate to, if they would only find the courage to open their own hearts.

A beautiful example of this is when he tells of a dear old friend who slowly loses her hearing. I can relate to this, mine is not what it once was. Due to this she moved beyond merely surface listening and instead listens below, she goes on a journey under the skin. He tells how one day as she grew “tired of straining so hard for all the words, (she) began to listen to eyes, bodies, to gestures, to the face behind the face.” She discovered the warmth, the deep love coming from within the other. Circumstances had forced her to change how she related to people and in so doing she discovered new and beautiful ways to relate and connect to others. Her disability had not decreased the experience of her life, instead through listening with the ear of her heart she had discovered new and beautiful things. She had shed off the skin she had been imprisoned it.

Nepo does not suggest that we have to suffer in order to draw out these beautiful gifts of the heart that are within all of us, although it seems that for most of us this is the case. It is often suffering that finally humbles us enough to open up and transcend the limits of what we think we know. The key he suggests is in self-education. Since the word “educate” means to draw out to call forth what is already present within us (if only schools and places of education would learn this). In so doing we will discover the world within us and ourselves within the world. This requires us to listen to all that the world has to say and not just the thoughts going round and round in our own little worlds. It requires us to shed the skin that we are imprisoned in, to let down the armour plating to learn to live with an un-defended heart.

The key is to become intimately aware that all of us have a unique purpose for being here, this is the “exquisite risk” that Nepo is describing. It is to become willing to be fully alive, open, available to live authentically alive with an undefended heart.

Nepo speaks powerfully to me, to my condition. The spiritual life is indeed a journey under the skin, beneath the surface. This takes courage to go beyond the limits of material life. It takes courage to truly engage in the exquisite risk, to live the authentic life, to join in the courageous conversation. I invite you to come and join with me on this journey under the skin, to lose the skin that you’re imprisoned in. Let us take together the exquisite risk.



Sunday, 6 August 2017

Time and the Theory of Wellativity

I have ministered to the two congregations I serve for seven years now. I began on 1st of August 2010,  it seems like only yesterday and yet at the same time a life time ago. So much has happened during this time. It has affected me deeply, I trust it has done so with the folk and the communities I serve. I have certainly experienced some deep moments in our time together, what I like to call “thick time”.

Yes we have been together for some seven years now, it has been a wonderful time, a true blessing. As I look back at those seven years I feel I would like to mark this time. I feel I would like to honour all we have shared together, I hope it has added as much depth and value to their lives as it has to mine. I trust it has in some ways expanded their imaginations and fed their spirits and enabled them to give more of themselves to life.

Time is a funny thing. Time can stop and time can fly by. The passing of time brings with it the experience of ageing, if we are offered that privilege, but that same passing of time can also rejuvenate, if we spend it wisely. We can kill time, but in so doing we do not damage it, only ourselves. We can spend time until it runs out, but we can also invest in it, spend it wisely, and in so doing receive a rich dividends.

One thing we humans do, whether religious or secular, is mark the passing of time. We say “It’s time for this and it’s time for that.” In so doing we mark a certain day and in so doing we separate what has been and what is yet to come. So this week I marked seven years of journeying together with the people I serve, remembering that journey is from the French word “Jounier” which meant your daily travel, your daily task. Well we’ve spent just over seven times 365 individual daily journeys together, in our fellowship love. This week we marked the day and separated what has been and what is yet to come.

We acknowledge the passing of time by marking it. We have always done so. Our ancient ancestors looked into the night sky and observed that the celestial events above them kept on repeating themselves, but not in exactly the same way, but at varying intervals, that today we call a day, or a month, or a year, and so on. Such time is a measured period that extends from one event until it is repeated again. This is linear time, the ancient Greeks called it “Chronos”.

We place such a high value on this kind time because we are given a limited supply of it. We cannot earn more of this kind of time. We mark it off and we continue to mark off such time to keep track of its passing. Each morning, as the sun rises, we begin our daily journey, we begin a period of time called a day. The moon moves through a "moonth" or monthly cycle which lasts twenty nine and a half days. It’s the same with the passing of the spring equinox, which follow a cycle of what we call a year, or actually 365 and a quarter days, which is why we have a leap year every fourth year.

There is though another form of time, other than chronos, that we all experience, a time without measure. Such time is called eternity. Now the ancients believed that this is the time that God inhabits. As Peter wrote in his third letter “A thousand years is as a day to God and one day is as a thousand years.“ The Greeks called such time Kairos”. Such time cannot be measured in a linear sense and thus we often miss it’s value.

Kairos time is not limited, through it we can indeed alter how we live out our Chronos time. We cannot lengthen such time but we can deepen or thicken the experience of this time. Kairos time is qualitative. It is measured by the depth of the moment and not the length, how many seconds it lasts. It’s what Blake described as infinity in an hour. In such moments it feels like the whole world takes a breath; in such moments our whole lives can change and yet in terms of measured “chronos” time it lasted no longer than any other second.

It brings to my mind that wonderful poem by Wendell Berry when he describes the journey (the daily task) or more accurately the spiritual journey which is one of depth rather than distance. This is Kairos time which last no longer but is experienced in a much “thicker” sense. He wrote:

"A Spiritual Journey"

And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles,
no matter how long,
but only by a spiritual journey,
a journey of one inch,
very arduous and humbling and joyful,
by which we arrive at the ground at our feet,
and learn to be at home.

by Wendell Berry

You cannot lengthen time, we are finite creatures we humans. This is what makes our lives so precious, so valuable, so meaningful if we would but learn to deepen our time and thicken our experiences. But how do we do this? Well in many ways this is what I try to do each Sunday and in my other activities with the people I serve, I try to guide them into ways in which they can live their lives in deeper and more fulfilling ways.

How do we do this with regards to time? Well the following wonderful piece of wisdom by Marney K Makrodakis explores one way in which this could be achieved. In “The Theory of Wellativity” she writes:

"Since time is relative, and is relative on so many levels, why not consciously control it, by adjusting our inner relativity? Time is changeable and is not an absolute thing, and we can use this to inspiring advantage. After all, time wasn't even standardized until 1884, and obviously life on the planet was able to carry on just fine before then.

"Einstein's theory of relativity is popularly known through the equation E = mc2. In actuality, this equation represents just a portion of the theory of special relativity, basically setting the stage to state that there is equivalence between mass and energy.

"I propose a Theory of Wellativity that looks like this:

F = T + I2

which means:
Fulfillment = Time + Imagination2

"To summarize the equation: to increase wellness in your life, take Time and add to it lots of Imagination, and then you get Fulfillment.

"How does imagination play a role in leading us to fulfillment? Imagination is a powerful conduit for change. Applying the dazzling power of imagination is akin to looking through a kaleidoscope. When we look through a kaleidoscope and focus on a single object, the image magically expands into a dazzling infinity of patterns and colors, instantly changing our capacity to see. And when we connect to the power of imagination, sparkly solutions expand in infinite directions, allowing us to see more. As author and creativity coach Jill Badonsky says, 'The imagination is always on call to transport my spirit to that timeless place of inner peace.'

"The most important changes in my life have, without exception, been primarily fueled by my imagination. Through my imagination, I have attracted an endless number of kaleidoscopic miracles, including bouncing back from mental illness, emerging from suicide attempts, healing physical ailments, attracting my soul mate, designing my ideal work, changing my financial reality, becoming pregnant when doctors said it wasn't possible, losing one hundred pounds, and so much more . . . including completely changing the way I see and experience time.

"As my experience illustrates, imagination is a powerful inner creative act, capable of transforming reality in ways beyond our wildest dreams, including creating the time we need. We can use imagination to control our intention, attention, and awareness; by doing so, we can see the ways in which any given period can be shortened or expanded, deepened or cheapened. Through our imagination, we have an infinite capacity to control our perception of time. Knowing that all time is not equal opens the doorway for us to tap into imagination to make new choices about how we experience time."

...My goodness I relate to this, almost word for word, well except the pregnant bit...

What do you think of this “Theory of Wellativity”. Is imagination a powerful conduit to change? Well it has been in my life. Before any change was possible, before any new beginning was given birth to, I first had to imagine it was possible. Even if others believed it would not be. One of those was becoming a minister, another was over coming physical problems I’ve had all my life, another was being set free from addiction, another was finding and developing a relationship with God, I really didn’t think that was possible and much, much more. I know I’m not alone. It is my imagination that has allowed me to move into unknown territory in my life, to experience the undreamed of realities of existence, to experience what I have come to call “thick time”

We cannot really lengthen the time we have been given, the “Chronos” time. Well at least not beyond a few extra years. Instead of three score and ten, perhaps the norm is four score and ten now. We can though deepen and thicken this time, there is no limit to “Kairos” time. It does not operate in a linear sense, it has no limit, except our own imaginations and we will never reach the limits of these, well not in our life time.

The key it seems is not the length of time we have and or have left but what we do with the time. I invite you to make the most of it. To continue on journeying (joining in the daily task) to sail the sea of life in the ship of love, to expand the limits of what we think we know, to not be held back by what we think we know. Let’s journey on enjoying ever more thickening time.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

No one steps in the same river twice

No one ever steps in the same river twice. This is because the river is not the same, but then neither is the person. This little aphorism from Heraclitus has been drifting in and out of my consciousness as I have been travelling around these last two weeks. I’ve been all over England and North Wales staring out to sea on several occasions as I have enjoyed two weeks leave. One thing I’ve noticed is that even when on leave my homiletic consciousness is still awake. Every interaction I engage in still taps into it. I have noticed once again that my life, that all life, is constantly in flux, is forever changing, that nothing ever stays the same. That life truly is like a river, it is forever flowing.

A couple of Sunday’s back I as invited to the semi-final and final of “Slimming World Man of the Year 2017”. It was a wonderful day meeting the 38 finalist, listening to their stories and awaiting this year’s winner. I was moved deeply by so much of the day as I listened to stories of hope and transformation. I also relived my own experiences of the year before. How different it was standing in this very same river of the event and how much I as a person had also changed. I got to give a speech too, and to hand out the awards. So much has changed this last 12 months, since I was named "Slimming World Man of the Year 2016". I am not the same man I was 12 months ago. I see life and my purpose, my meaning, in new and wonderful ways and yet on the surface things seem mostly to be the same.

I had similar experiences last weekend too as I drove down to Bridport in Dorset to attend the wedding of John Harley and Lizzie Hornby. It was a lovely weekend in a beautiful part of England. As I drove I remembered stepping into this river almost exactly two years ago. I am certainly not the same man I was then, so much has changed. The journey was a long one, the traffic was appalling, as it had been two years before. I travelled then to my nephews wedding in nearby Devon. That weekend was beautiful, but it was also one of suffering and proved to be a breaking point in my life. It was a physical breaking point in the sense that my car broke down. That said it was also a mental, emotional and spiritual breaking point, as from that moment of my car breaking down in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere in dark nameless country lane in Devon, something new began to emerge in me. It was a moment of re-birth, as during the week that followed a new version of myself began to be born. Yes as I drove down and got stuck in traffic on the M5 around Bristol I realised the truth that I was not the same man stepping into the same river. It was a wonderful experience in a beautiful part of the country.

Oh by the way I cannot go anywhere, twice that weekend strangers came up to me and said “You are that slimmer of the year bloke aren’t you.” Funny I know, I didn’t correct them.

Yes no one steps in the same river twice. This is because the river is not the same but then neither is the person. Life is constantly in flux, is forever changing, ever flowing on.

Flux is a central theme of the philosophy of Heraclitus. Heraclitus of Ephesus was a Greek philosopher around the 5th century BC. He was known as the “Weeping Philosopher” and “The Obscure”. He believed that the nature of life is subject to constant change and that it operates within “a unity of opposites”, also stating “the path up and down are one in the same.”

Other aphorism of Heraclitus were on the “Logos”. He stated “The idea that all things come to pass in accordance with this Logos” and “The Logos is common” The Logos was understood to mean the reason, the word, the meaning of everything. For Heraclitus the Logos is eternal and the source of everything, the problem is though that we humans fail to fully understand the Logos because we do not fully engage with it, although he believed that we human beings are capable of doing so because we have an element of the Logos within us. The reason we do not is that we rarely fully examine our true nature.

It is also claimed that he said something like “Eternity is a child playing, playing checkers; the kingdom belongs to a child.” He spoke in riddles, in paradox, but then isn’t this the nature of life? I have certainly found it to be so. That which destroys, is what ultimately creates. In losing ourselves we are found. To know the deepest truths, to the know the kingdom now, is to become almost like a child playing, didn’t Jesus say this in the passage relating to discipleship from Mark’s Gospel? Maybe this is how the meaning (The Logo’s) comes alive in human form in our very human lives.

The beginning of John’s Gospel speaks of this, of the Logos coming into being and dwelling among us and bringing light into the darkness of our lives. How many times have new truths, new meanings, new light come into being in our lives? Everything changes, everything is flux. Perhaps when we are humble enough to be as little children, to have the beginners mind that the Buddhist speak of, we enable new truths, a new word, a new meaning to emerge and in so doing the Logos once more becomes flesh in and amongst us. For this to happen though the old self has to end, to be destroyed, and this often involves suffering, although not despair as it becomes a suffering from which meaning can emerge and come into being.



It’s interesting how this homilectic consciousness comes alive, but while I was driving around thinking of change and meaning the work of Viktor Frankl came into my mind.

In “Man’s Search For Meaning” Frankl gives an account of his struggle to find meaning when held as a prisoner in the Nazi death camps of the second world war. He lost most of his family and friends in the camps and yet he never lost hope in humanity.

Frankl was the founder of what has often been referred to as the “Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy” Freud founded the first which was based on the central role of the libido or pleasure principle in human psychology. Alfred Adler founded the second which emphasised the importance of the will to power and the significance of the superiority/inferiority complex in human behaviour, based on ideas formulated by Nietzsche. In contrast to these two schools Frankl’s psychology is based on the will to meaning which he saw as the primary motivating force in human life. He named it “Logotherapy” taken from the Greek term logos, which as stated above means “word”, “reason”, or “meaning”. For Frankl meaning had a transcendent origin.

Frankl saw a spiritual dimension beyond the biological and psychological. He saw the suppression of this spiritual dimension as the root cause of our human malady. Therefore the task of “Logotherapy” was “to remind patients of their unconscious religiousness”; to uncover the spiritual dimensions of their lives; enable them to recover the capacity to choose those values which give our lives worth and meaning.

Now this meaning is of course is different for everyone. As Frankl said himself:

“For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.” He did not suggest that there wasn’t a universal meaning, he was not a true existentialist in this sense. What he suggested was that we ourselves seemed unable to uncover it as individuals, here I believe echoing thoughts of Heraclitus.

Frankl claimed that meaning is discovered through creative and worthwhile activites, by creating something beautiful or doing good – I believe that one of the greatest sadness’s of our age is the fact that the phrase “do-gooder” has become a term of mockery, that it is somehow seen as wrong and suspicious to do good - Meaning can be found through experiencing and sharing in the beauty of art or nature or through loving or ethical encounters with others.

Even in the most horrific and terrifyingly hopeless situations we still have the capacity to choose our attitude towards whatever circumstances we are faced with. It is our response to life’s events that shapes our souls. Remember Frankl developed his theory during the utter despair and horror of the Nazi death camps.

As Frankl himself said “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”



My life seems to echo these ideas constantly, new meaning has often emerged through the transformative nature of walking faithfully through suffering and the belief that something beautiful and meaningful can emerge once again from the ashes of life.

Two Sunday’s ago just before the Slimming World Man of Year 2017 semi-final and final began I was asked to speak to the thirty eight men present about my experiences. I was honoured to do so, although I did not perhaps give what the Slimming World folk were expecting. Instead I returned to Heraclitus' aphorism “That no one steps in the same river twice” and the idea that everything is constantly in flux and this is where the meaning emerges from, even when brought into being by the fire of suffering. I spoke about how I had changed in the last 12 months, how my understanding of my humanity and life had changed and that I that a new meaning and mission had grown in me. That I and hoped that they would reach other men and other people and help us face up to whatever in life is holding us back, stopping us living the lives that we can live, for ourselves and the greater good of humanity itself. This was my words becoming flesh and my lived life becoming meaningful in new and wonderful ways.

This is the mission for all people I believe. This is how we build the “Kin-dom of Love” right here right now. This is how we transcend whatever suffering we experience in life and not sink into despair. The meaning emerges by giving from our own lives for the good of all. We are all part of the ever changing river of life we each of us have an aspect of eternal love within us.

So let’s keep on stepping into the eternal river of all life.


Sunday, 9 July 2017

The Aliveness of Things

Last Friday I had the joy of conducting the wedding of two young women who have been attending worship with us for a while. It was a truly beautiful occasion, full of joy and full of love. At the end of the service many of those present thanked me for the service and told me how much they loved it. Some of the comments will live with me for a long time. One in particular I believe will keep me going for quite some time. I had a long and continuing conversation with one of the guests, but it was the first thing that he said that struck powerfully. He said something like “I gave up on religion 50 years ago, but something happened today. This service has awoken something in me. Thank you.” He thanked me, when in reality the thanks are all mine. It is for moments like this that I do this work. It’s why I’m here I believe. It’s why we are all here, to discover the truth that life is more than mere material processes.  We are called, I believe, to help awaken one another to the aliveness of being, to raise one another’s consciousness.

I love the aliveness of things. I feel that the last few years of my life has been all about awakening to this aliveness of things. This kind of universal consciousness at the core of all life, what the western religions might call God. I witness it in all life, I see it in human creativity too, particularly art. I love the aliveness in words, in art, in music or whatever is creative. We experience the works in the moment, whether individually or collectively and yet, especially the great works, are somehow timeless. They possess a consciousness of their own, as their aliveness is not only in the moment they were written or recorded or created, but continuing on and on into eternity. If life has revealed anything to me it has awoken me to the fact that things are much more than merely the sum of their parts, they have a power beyond the mere limits of the material they are formed from and that they grow in power and meaning beyond the limits of the creators imaginations. That aliveness of course was there before the creation grew in the creators imagination; it is vital to remember, of course. all that has occurred before those moments of creation; all the incredible aliveness that allowed them to be created. I love the aliveness of things; I love the aliveness of my mere thoughts and feelings, knowing that they come from something far more than the mere chemical reactions in my brain or even my singular consciousness; I love the aliveness of things they are so much more than the sum of their parts.

It’s not just in great works of human creation that I witness this same aliveness, I see it in the ordinary in the loving interaction, in the small gesture of loving kindness and I see it manifest in the natural world. I see powerfully a simple loving universal consciousness at work in life, it enlivens and empowers me. It gives my life meaning and makes my life worth living, hey even dying, for.

Now there are many who would dispute this truth, I would have done at one time or another and who knows I may do so again in the future. Many suggest that there is no such thing as consciousness, that it is merely a creation of the brain, a stage of the evolutionary process. What do you think? What do you think about consciousness? Is it merely a creation of the functions of the brain?

In philosophical circles consciousness is considered the “Hard Problem” as it seems impossible to solve adequately. The great minds don’t seem to have come up with a satisfactory answer to what exactly it is and or why it exists. In fact many of the great minds seem to fall out about it all the time. I’m sure that many would scoff at my unscientific conclusion about life and yet it doesn’t sound as crazy as some of the great theories of the so called great minds, who have equated we humans with “lumbering robots” and or asked why we are not just zombies or to quote that wonderful short story of science fiction, simply thinking meat. We are more than merely this though, surely we are. Reductionist world views seem to miss what is so clearly in front of its eyes.

The truth is of course that maybe, just maybe we won’t ever come up with a satisfactory answer, to what we call “consciousness”. Maybe one day we will not know the answer to everything. It is possible, I suppose, that one day we will, and it shouldn’t stop us striving for the answers. Our human consciousness after is the very thing that drives us, compels us to do so. Let’s just never forget to do what Mary Oliver suggested, let’s remember to pay attention to beauty of the daisy and all life for that matter. For I believe that same consciousness is at the heart of it all, connecting it all, bringing the aliveness to life.

Now please excuse me if this next bit is hard to follow but I am going to briefly attempt to summarise three schools of thought about consciousness that have emerged in the modern era. The three being “dualism”, “physicalism” and “pansychism”.

“ Cartesian Dualism” dates back to seventeenth century when Rene Descartes identified the problem that has tied the great minds in knots ever since. He realised, that on the one hand, that there was nothing more undeniably obvious than the fact that we are conscious beings, everything else could be an illusion but not this, as he said “I think therefore I am”. That said he suggested that this consciousness seemingly does not obey the usual rules of science of the physical realm, as it can only be observed from within and can’t really be described except from the one who is conscious of it. From this he concluded that the mind therefore must be made from some special kind of none material stuff that are not ruled by the laws of nature and thus bequeathed by God upon humanity, thus raising us above nature in some special way.

“Dualism” began to be questioned particularly by the secular scientific community that took “physicalism” – the idea that only physical things exist – as its primary principle. The problem was though that although it rejected dualism, for many years, it could not come up a convincing alternative to it. Such views concluded that the mind and consciousness are a result of processes of the brain, but no concrete answers beyond that could be unearthed. As a result the topic became virtually taboo and was referred to as “The Hard Question”. This led in 1989 to Stuart Sutherland writing in the “International Dictionary of Psychology” that with regard to consciousness “it is impossible to specify what it is, what it does, or why it evolved. Nothing worth reading has been written on it.”

There have been developments since, most notably by Francis Crick and others who have suggested that certain neurons firing at particular frequencies are the cause of inner awareness. And there seems little doubt that there is a physical aspect to it, as awareness of who or what we are is affected by the workings of the brain. Brain injury and degenerative disease such as forms of dementia seem to prove this and certainly impact on our perception of consciousness. That said just merely putting consciousness of ourselves and life itself down to impulses within the brain seems wholly inadequate an answer to me. I’m with Sutherland on this one. There is also the problem of free will and the potential to change. It seems that “physicalism” on the whole denies this possibility, claiming we are merely subject to our biological impulses.

In more recent times another theory has developed, which is linked to some more ancient knowledge. The theory has become known as “panpsychism”, which suggest that everything in the universe might be conscious, or at least potentially conscious, or conscious when put into certain configurations. It suggest that consciousness is not merely limited to humans thus rejecting dualism and humanities privileged position.

“Pansychism” does not require a belief in some special mind substance that resides in the brain, nor does it require the suspension in the belief of the laws of physics. Meanwhile nor does it require us deny the reality of our own experiences and the strange acceptance that consciousness doesn’t exist, when it’s so obvious that it does. On the contrary, “panpsychism” suggests that consciousness is everywhere, life it is throbbing with it. It suggests in fact that consciousness is the energy of life.

“Pansychism suggest that there is a connectiveness to everything and that everything affects everything else. It also suggests that consciousness does not actually require a brain at all, that it exists beyond the brain. I would suggest from this that actually the function of the brain is not to create consciousness but to make sense of it and interpret and perhaps communicate this consciousness. Isn’t this what we are doing when we are sharing our own personal experiences of life? Isn’t this what words are for? Isn’t this what creative expression is for? And when we do so do we not somehow increase the experience for ourselves and others and bring about change?

Now you may well ask what is this guy on? And what has this got to do with his work? What’s this got to do with what happened at the wedding? What has it got to with the power of great works of art and loving action etc? Well I believe everything. As I often say I believe everything matters, every thought, every word, every deed, every interaction is interconnected and impacts on everything else. It seems to me that consciousness is everywhere and that life is throbbing with it. The purpose of religion and spirituality is to awaken us to this. If we do we may just begin to live by the “Golden Rule of Compassion” and do unto others as we would have them do to us. How could we not as we are all connected by the same consciousness, we have the same blood flowing through us and we have the same spirit animating us. We are all a part of the aliveness of life. So as we awaken to this consciousness we begin to act on it and incarnate this aliveness in our lives.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Inspire Wholeheartedness

Last Saturday I was invited, as a guest of honour, to present an award at the “Slimming World Oscars” at the Birmingham International Conference Centre (ICC). It was a lavish occasion celebrating the work of Slimming World consultants and other employees. It was a wonderful night celebrating love, community and transformation. Slimming World inspires, empowers and encourages people to live happy and healthy lives, at its core is community and love. They truly encourage, because they bring the heart alive. They bring to life heart and spirit because they inspire and encourage. So it was wonderful to celebrate those who work so hard to make the communities possible. I had a ball.

It was a day of contrast though, because I also bore witness to another group of people, who were also gathered in the centre of Birmingham, they though were not encouraging and inspiring love, quite the opposite, they were only inspiring hate. I had arrived early and as a result decided to walk down to the nearby library, as it is such a beautiful and fascinating building. As I arrived I heard what sounded like a football crowed. Then I saw them. It was obviously a far right group waving their flags and shouting their hatred. There must have been about 150 of them from all around the country and I heard later from other parts of Europe. I observed their drunken aggression, intoxicated by alcohol and hatred of life. I asked the police officers present and some of the photographers and others present who they were. They were “Britain’s First”. I watched, I bore witness in silence, as they sang their songs of intimidation and I observed their faces. I remember feeling sickened by the sight of young children, even babies in prams among the crowd. I wondered what would happen to those children being brought up in such a way. I thought about much of the hatred and the violence we have witnessed these last 12 months from haters of life and fanatics and I thought about the children who they indoctrinate and inspire or maybe it’s more accurate to say dispirit and discourage, destroy loving spirit and heart. I thought about the people blown up in Manchester attending a concert, the people in London just enjoying a night out, the people breaking fast as a part of Ramadan outside Finsbury Park mosque. I thought about Jo Cox murdered by a fanatic who cried out “Britains First” when he murdered her. That weekend she and her message of unity and love was being celebrated throughout the country, her children had unveiled a plaque in Parliament with her simple message “There is more that unites us than divides us”. A message of love and community which I know will overpower those who hate life. I remembered that despite the real suffering and pain spread by those who have been overcome by hate throughout our world. I also remembered that there are far more encourages of love and inspirers of spirit in this world, it’s just that they tend to be quieter and not aggressive. I thought about this as I enjoyed the wonderful joy filled evening in Birmingham and as I observed the people enjoying music at Glastonbury and those remembering Jo Cox up and down the land. I also observed this carefully in the ordinary interactions with people and the loving conversations I have had this week. They have lifted my spirit and filled my heart. I found it deeply encouraging and inspiring. I will not become discouraged and or dispirited by those who have lost the love for life.

How do we encourage one another how do we inspire one another in these challenging times? How do we fill our children’s hearts with love and their spirits with faith in love and life? Well I believe it begins by allowing them to witness what it is that makes us come alive. Howard Thurman said  “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and do it. For what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
That is so true. This is what the world needs more than anything, people who come alive, this is how we inspire and thus encourage, by our simple example. This is what I love about the conversations that I have with people. Yes they often tell me about their pain, but also their joy. I am constantly amazed by the conversations I have with people. Even complete strangers tell me amazing things. I don’t ask them to, they just seem to open up to me and tell me beautiful love filled things about their passions and joys, it happened all last weekend. It blew my heart open and I felt that spirit in me coming alive. I see and witness so many people in my life who dedicate themselves to helping others to find what is already within them, I find it beautifully inspiring.

It brought to mind a rather beautiful mantra I once heard. It goes by the title “It’s time somebody told you”:

“It’s time somebody told you that you are lovely, good and real; that your beauty can make hearts stand still. It’s time somebody told you how much they love and need you, how much your spirit helped set them free, how your eyes shine full of light. It’s time somebody told you.”


I remember singing a version of these words in a “Singing Meditation”. I wonder how many of us really believe such words, how we can resist these feelings. Certainly the haters and destroyers of life do not. The truth is that we all need this kind of love and encouragement. I know I do from time to time. I remember a while ago, after attending an old friends 40th birthday party, another old mutual friend saying to me, after we had had another one of those fascinating conversations I love to experience, I remember them saying “Keep up the good work”. I had a similar conversation at the Slimming World Oscars. I got talking to man, he did most of the talking, I found out he was a recently retired senior police officer and he talked about how he gets lit up by the passion in others, he said he wasn’t religious himself but felt it was vital the work that religious communities do and as I left he too said “Keep up the good work” This kind of encouragement is important, it fills mt heart and it enlivened my spirit.

I strongly believe that the purpose of free religious communities is to encourage and inspire one another and the world in which we live. To encourage and inspire is to fill one another’s hearts and enliven one another’s spirits and bring that alive in those we meet and to somehow bring healing to a world in which there are those who want to tear it apart. It is the task pf free religious communities to be a part of the healing and the not the destruction of the world.
These last few days I have spent some time thinking of those who have filled my heart and enlivened my spirit.
Who are the people who have inspired you? Who planted the seeds of love or who nurtured those seeds and enabled them to grow and flower? Who have been your inspirations in your lives? Who are the people who have encouraged you to come alive?
The truth is that we all inspire or dispirit one another, we all encourage or discourage one another. No one lives a neutral life.
But what does it mean to be an inspiration? You may well ask. Well the word inspiration is an interesting one, as so many are. We have, as is our way,  reduced its meaning in power. It’s another one of those words that we have attempted to tame. Why do we always reduce the meaning of things in our attempt to gain control of them? Why don't we attempt to raise ourselves up to them instead. 

Today inspiration means someone or something that gives you an idea for doing something, but originally it meant “immediate influence of God or a god”. It comes from the old French word “inspiriacion” meaning “inhaling in or breathing in from the Latin “inspirare” meaning to blow into or breath upon so as to excite or inflame. This is the meaning in the following verse from Genesis Chapter 2 “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” It really meant to infuse or animate to affect to rouse to guide to put life into the human soul. It meant something much more profoundly powerful in the past that it does today.
That said I believe that we can and do inspire in this way and in so doing we can bring the kingdom to life in our own hearts and lives. We can ignite that divine spark.
I believe that this is what Albert Schweitzer meant when he said:
“Sometimes our light goes out but is blown again into flame by an encounter with another human being. Each of us owes the deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this inner light.”
Those who rekindle the light are the inspirers amongst us.
I strongly believe that it is our task, our religious imperative, to enliven the spirit within us, to truly come alive, our world needs it. And as we do to breath out that loving spirit and encourage love within one another.
It is our religious task to both breath in and breath out inspiration, to bring to life that seed of love at the core of our being. To shine as we are meant to shine and to not be afraid to be all that you are meant to be. For as Thurman said, “what the world needs is people who have come alive.”


And how do we do this? Well by simply living the life we love, by simply doing so we inspire those we meet to do the same and all life benefits and in so doing we might just bring the kingdom alive, right here right now. Actually there is no might about it we do bring the kin-dom of love alive within us and in so doing we shine a little bit of light on all those we share our lives with. In so doing we inspire and we encourage others to bring love and life alive.