Sunday, 2 April 2017

Please Help & Thank You

Last Saturday I was invited to speak at Midland Unitarian Union’s Annual General Meeting.  It was lovely to spend the day with many Unitarians from the district at the beautiful Kingswood Meeting House in Hollywood, just south of Birmingham. The talk went really well, I enjoyed myself. I was grateful to be there. During the AGM the district’s treasurer Sandy Ellis was honoured for over thirty years of service. In fact there were many votes of thanks given throughout the day, something that is entirely appropriate for such occasions. So much work is done behind the scenes both in congregations, districts and at a wider level that enables these free religious communities to function; tireless work that is done mainly out of love.

A few days before this I had come home to find a box on my doorstep, a very large box. I opened it wondering what it was. Inside was an extensive selection of the most wonderful fruit and a lovely note from “Slimming World”. A thank you for all I’d given freely to the Parliamentary Workshop aimed at combating obesity. A wonderful gift. I have received many gifts in recent weeks and some rather lovely letters and cards all saying thank you for little things I’ve done in my many varied ministerial duties and my life in general. Thank you.

This all got me thinking about "thank you", just those two simple words. I say thank you a lot if truth be told. I have this odd habit of thanking things, it seems I’m not alone as I’ve found others do it too. I thank the tram and the train as I get off and I thank the cash machine after using it. I thank people constantly and I offer silent thanks of praise and prayer throughout my day. It’s funny but after particularly frustrating and challenging spells in my life I find myself saying thank you an awful lot. It’s not the only prayer of course. I have noticed another prayer as I walk faithfully through the difficult times and that prayer is “Help me, please help me.” I offer thanks and ask for help to the great mystery but I also offer thanks and ask for help from the people I share my life with. This act of humility, of opening up connects me to all that is…

They do say that you should watch your “P’s” and “Q’s”, your please and thank you’s, well perhaps that is simply what prayer, or the act of prayer is about, recognising the need for assistance and reaching beyond ourselves. Maybe it is also a simple thank you and acknowledgement for all that life offers us, an acknowledgement of gratitude. The prayers in themselves do not change anything, other than perhaps our attitude, but they do play a vital role. Never forget that the action is always ours.

Meister Eckhart said “If the only prayer you said the rest of your life was thank you, it would be enough”. I see a great deal of truth in this, but not the whole truth. It does come close, but I have also come to believe that another prayer is just as vital; the other prayer is “please help”.

In terms of prayer these two are enough. That said prayer alone is not enough, faith without works is meaningless. It’s ok saying thank you, expressing gratitude but these are just empty words unless this gratitude is shown in how we live our lives. Meanwhile asking for help means nothing unless it is followed by appropriate faithful action. Prayer is the beginning and perhaps end of something, but what goes on in between is what really counts.

For me the spiritual life is about connection and interdependence. No one is an island, no one lives wholly from and by themselves. I was chatting with a friend the other day about how often in my life people have so freely given things to me, especially food. And yet I often hear it said that “There is no such thing as a free meal”. What utter tosh, I’ve received many free meals in my life, people just giving to me from their hearts without expectation. We are given free meals from the moment of our birth until our deaths. If we honestly look at our lives how many times have people given us free meals? Think about your first meal, given by your mother, that’s the ultimate example of a free meal. No one is purely self-reliant, we need one another and the world needs us to give freely of ourselves.

We constantly live lives of please and thank you, it’s that we do not always recognise these two and we don’t always show it. It is oh so easy for us to see what is wrong. I actually think when we offer thanks, when we offer the gift of ourselves and when we ask for help from each other, from the spirit of life. what we are doing is blessing the world by our presence, what we are actually doing is gracing life with our presence, we are actually living in a state of grace.

From the cradle to the grave we need to keep asking for help and we need to make ourselves available to be of assistance to others in their need. This is not to say that we become unhealthily dependent on others and society as a whole, no not at all. We are though a part of a whole, a complex whole, that makes life and community. As we grow and change and become the people that we are this changes shape and reforms constantly, it seems that we are being born again and again to new versions of ourselves. Of course we cannot do this alone. We cannot give birth to ourselves, no one can. We need help and sometimes we need to ask for help from others and in so doing we are of course doing not only a service for ourselves, but for them also.

No one is an island. We are communal beings entirely dependent on each other and life itself. We are interdependent and all life is interrelated, what affects one affects all. This has never been more true. When someone reaches out in a time of need it is our God given duty to help and when we need help we need to be faithful enough to ask for help too. Interdependence is a physical fact, but it is also a spiritual reality. And when we receive the help we need to offer thanks and praise for the gift freely given, not just merely in our words, but in deeds and in our simple daily living. This is what it means to live in a state of grace.

This to me is the whole point of spiritual community, of religious living, to create states of Grace. To see, understand and experience this oneness, this Divine Unity. To see that we are all one. To be of help to one another and to seek the help when it is needed. In this way we all grow and become the best that we can be and serve life to the utmost of our ability. In so doing we bring into being a state of Grace.

By minding our “P’s” and “Q’s” by asking for help and giving thanks and living with these attitudes to the for front of our lives we begin to create the Kin-dom” of love here, we create a state of Grace. We not only see that we are all one, we live in this oneness and in so doing we will begin to recognise life as the ultimate gift that it is, the ultimate free meal.

Life is the greatest gift of all, the ultimate Grace.

Grace comes to us unbidden. It does not come because we have done anything to deserve it or not deserve it, it just comes. Life itself is probably the ultimate of graces. Think about it we did absolutely nothing to deserve the gift of life itself, in all its joy and suffering, in all its blessings and curses. Grace is about what we do with the gift we have been given; Grace is what we create from what we have been given; Grace is what we bring to the table of life with this gift we have been given.

Grace works in and through us. While we need not do anything to deserve it, we must do a great deal to bring it to life. As the Buddhist Joanna Macy observed “Grace happens when we act with others on behalf of our world.” Grace an unseen force exists in those spaces between our lives and we experience it as it works through our lives, encouraging others to engage with it too. To dance in the spaces as the music of life plays. Grace creates the interconnection.

We can experience the Grace present in life if we are open to it, if we would just let go of the need to control, to open our clenched fists just a little and dance with it in the spaces that contain life. We just need to pay attention, to notice it in life and in the lives of those who live in a Graceful state. You see all life can become a disclosure of Grace. We can experience it in every moment of life. In the wild embrace of one we hold most dear, in those flocks of wild geese that fly overhead, in an act of reconciliation and forgiveness, and in a selfless act as we give of ourselves to life.

We can all live in a “State of Grace.”

It begins quite simply, by simply minding our “P’s” and “Q’s”, our please and thank you’s. By simply asking for help when needed and offer thanks for what is given and returning this in our daily living.

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