Sunday, 30 April 2017

Shake Off Your Shoes


Barukh atah, Emeth!
Blest are you, o Truth,
Like the fabled Moses,
I too can never claim to have seen you
“face to face.”
Too often, I’ve hung my own face on you
And pretended that I know something I do not.
Indeed my most honest heart confesses
That at most,
I have only caught the briefest glimpse of you
At the very edge of my eye,
And only when I got out of my own way,
My own rush, my own fury.

I sense your cool shadow on me
When I grow hot from the tears
I’ve been holding back,
Or when I notice the sadness or whimsy
Hiding in the silent eyes of those around me.

I sense your closeness when I gaze
At a star suddenly unveiled by a toreador cloud,
Or catch at an early yellowness
In the leaves of the oak.

It’s then I feel a brush of wings nearby,
And realize that I am only a small part of it all.
Then I know that I am not the
Great high power of the world,
But only a puff of breath hidden amid the
Mighty blast of the great whirlwind
Called the universe.
Like a lacewing barely floating
On the tip of a small blade of green grass is my life
From beginning to end, a short footnote to
A vast essay of stars and space unbounded,
An essay neither signed nor fully symbolic.
And yet this truth, your truth,
Is no sadness, but a joy,
No lack but a blessing,
Like the sight of a child at play,
Totally absorbed in the moment, and glad.
Blest are you, O Truth, who plays in the silence
Like a child in the waves of an infinite sea.

Barukh atah, Emeth.

By Mark Belletini 

I awoke last Sunday with this sense that my heart was in a holy place. To slightly misquote the hymn “I felt blessed with love and amazing grace”. It felt like a week of holy encounters; that I had been blessed by the company of some amazing people over the last few days; that I had enjoyed some beautiful spiritual encounters.

Now strangely I had struggled to get up that morning. I was tired; I had gone to bed tired. It had been a very busy week. An intense week, an absorbed week, but a very good week. I had spent many moments when I had truly known “thick time”. It had been a very involved but also deeply moving week. The day before I had hosted something I had wanted to begin doing for a long time now, and finally, it had got off the ground.

I had felt for a long time the need to create the space for people to come and share together their grief, for the loved ones they had lost; to share their love and to share their pain for their loss. I had not known how to do this, but put my faith in the loving spirit that holds me, leads me and sustains me. So I put something together and I created the space. What followed was deeply moving. It feels like the beginning of something special. I was touched by every moment. It was a deeply spiritual experience and it felt we were truly sharing together on Holy ground.

I say it felt like we were on "holy ground", but this wasn’t because the building was anything special, it was the small schoolroom at Dunham Road Unitarian Chapel, Altrincham. No we had made the space holy by blessing it with our presence. In doing so, in such loving and open ways, I felt the presence of the Divine Love holding us through it all.

The time I share with congregations I serve, especially during worship is a deeply holy time, but not because we are in a building that is any more special than any other. It is just bricks and mortar. It is made Holy by what goes on here and what has gone on there for generations now. We are blessed by Holy ground in those temples of Love because what occurs there is, in my view, concentrated love. We share “thick time”, in what has become “thin places”, for me.

Maybe it’s the falling Cherry Blossom, but at this time of year I feel more alive. I suspect it’s because I just seem to pay more attention to places and the ground at my feet. I feel deeply connected to places at this time of year, I feel like I am constantly walking on holy ground. I feel deeply nourished by the ground at my feet. I feel the Spirit of Life rising up through the souls of my feet. So much so that I want to be like Moses and shake off my shoes.

There’s a deeper sense of belonging going on, I feel at home wherever I find myself. When I feel like, my heart is filled with memories. Good memories and painful memories;  memories that allow the moment to truly come alive. Maybe this is why I’ve noticed myself saying “thank you” a lot to the seemingly inanimate. I can’t seem to stop myself offering a constant prayer of gratitude.

I feel it powerfully in the houses of love that I lead worship in, they are special places of love and attention. I think attention is the key by the way; it is attention that allows us to bless the space in which we find ourselves. As Wendell Berry once said, “This place, if I am to live well in it, requires and deserves a lifetime of the most careful attention.” The key is attention. It is by giving a time and space attention that we make it a Holy place. I felt this powerfully last Saturday as I shared attention with others as we opened ourselves to our shared experiences of love and loss. In that time we made space for the Divine, for the presence of God. In so doing we all make the ground at our feet Holy.
Perhaps the best known reference to "Holy Ground" can be found in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Book of Exodus. It describes Moses, who is out tending his flock near the Mountain of Horeb, he sees a bush which is on fire and yet not burning up with the flames. It must have seemed an odd sight to Moses and it drew him nearer. So he turns away from his flock to get a closer look at the bush. As he turns “God calls his name from the bush.” “Moses, Moses.” When Moses answers, “Here I am,” He is told to remove his shoes for he stands on holy ground.

Moses is called to deliver the Hebrew people out of Egypt, to free them from slavery. God says to Moses, “I have seen the misery of my people. I have heard them crying out and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come to rescue them from the land of the Egyptians. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharoah to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

Now Moses wondered why on earth the people would follow him, so he asked for a sign, he asked for a name that the people would believe. To which God told him to tell them that “I am” had sent him.

In saying "I am has sent me" Moses was not offering them certainty, just mystery. They would have to risk everything in order to reach the promised land.  This they did I suspect because the mystery of the unknown was more attractive than the slavery they were currently in. This speaks powerfully to me about experiences I have had in my own life. How many times have I stepped into the unknown?

Now you may well ask what can this mean to we who live now? Well like a lot of scripture I see a beautiful universal mythos, a truth that can speak to all of us. I do not read scripture as history, I read it as meaningful mystery. For me the burning bush is about Moses uncovering his own meaning, his own purpose. It’s about him being caught by the flame. It’s about him paying attention to the ground at his feet and the people he lived with. It’s about him seeing that the ground at his feet is holy ground and that his task was to lead his people to the Promised Land. So they wandered for forty years in the desert looking for the Promised Land. Something we can all do in our lives searching for Heaven, for Nirvana when the truth is we are already in it. All we have to do is truly live on the land in which we find ourselves and to truly bless it and one another with our loving presence. We don’t need to be led to the promise land we just need to realise that we are already standing on it. We just need to bring this space and place alive.
We can all be caught by the flame as Moses was, we can hear the call of the Holy from deep within us and from all around us, all we have to do is to listen; all we have to do is to pay attention; all that we have to do is to live fully alive, to open our senses; all we have to do is risk everything by giving our love away. We too can be like Moses and the Hebrews. We can come to find ourselves, after many trials in the Promised land, by learning to live in the ground that are feet are firmly planted in.

We can live our lives with our hearts in a holy place. It’s quite simple really , holiness is a life fully lived, a life where we truly pay attention. The holy is not some separate place, the spirit is not separate from the body, “sacred the body”; our physical lives are not in exile from the spiritual. All we have to do to awaken the holy is to truly pay attention to the world and the people around and truly inhabit the space in which we live and breathe and share our being. All we have to do is come to believe that we all walk on holy ground. All we have to do is wholly live our lives. It is interesting to note the word holy is derived from the old English word “Hal” which meant whole. To stand on holy ground it to live our lives wholly. The Promised Land is not out there or up there, it’s not some faraway place it is right here right now. All we have to do to find it, is to pay attention. All we have to do is to feel the ground at our feet. Shake off your shoes.

There is something very powerful about coming together in love, there is something very powerful in opening ourselves up to one another and recognise what connects us what makes us wholly human, this is what it means to be holy. I experience this in worship, I recognise this in the deep encounters I experience with people. I felt it powerfully last Saturday as I opened my heart to my love and loss with others. I have never felt more alive. This is holy work and it allows me to live more lovingly with the people I find myself in the company of. Whenever I do, as I look down at the ground at me feet, I want to shake off my shoes for I recognise that what I find myself in is indeed “Holy Ground”.

We can all bless the space in which we inhabit All we have to do is to open our hearts and connect to the Greater mysteries of life, to the Web of being, to know the spirit of life and love, to experience God. In so doing we begin to connect to the greater realities and mysteries of existence. All we have to do is to pay attention to the life around us and to touch the people we meet in our daily living. In so doing we make the ground at our feet holy.

All we have to do is shake off our shoes, to feel the spirit rise up through our feet, to recognise that all ground is holy ground, that all life is formed of the spirit and recognise the sacredness of each person that we meet, in so doing we will bless all life with our loving presence.

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