Sunday, 25 June 2017

Love Service and Radical Amazement: Walking your Path with Joy

“Faith” by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

"Faith is not the clinging to a shrine but an endless pilgrimage of the heart. Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement, to get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted.

Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.

Prayer begins at the edge of emptiness. Wonder rather than doubt is the root of all knowledge. Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy. We can never sneer at the stars, mock the dawn, or scoff at the totality of being.

Self-respect is the root of discipline: The sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself. The primary purpose of prayer is not to make requests. The primary purpose is to praise, to sing, to chant. Because the essence of prayer is a song, and man cannot live without a song.

When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people. Know that every deed counts, that every word is power… Above all, remember that you must build your life as if it were a work of art."

~Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
(January 11, 1907 – December 23, 1972)

“Help us fulfil what lies within the circle of our lives – each day we ask no more, no less. Untangle the knots within, so we can mend our hearts’ simple ties to others…Free us to walk your path with joy!” by Neil Douglas-Klotz – “Prayers of the Cosmos”

Towards the end of August I have the honour of serving as “Minister of the Week” at “Hucklow Summer School”. The theme for this year is “‘Walk Your Path with Joy’- Finding Hope & Resisting Despair in Turbulent Times”. I will be serving those present and helping them spiritually, mentally and emotionally through what will be a deeply challenging week. It is not a holiday, I am there to serve, to minister to all present.

I am often amused by people’s responses to what I do as a vocation. I’m even more amused by what they call me. A couple whose wedding I recently conducted called me Father and others assume I am a vicar. I have heard of someone else calling me Pastor Dan. I’m sure I’m called many other things too, which I won’t repeat. Now while my title is reverend I am a minister and this is an entirely appropriate name for what I do. To minister literally means to serve and I believe this is what I do, I serve people, I serve life and I serve God. I am a minister and to minister is to serve. I often wonder when I listen to political leaders if they are truly aware of this, they are there purely to serve “we the people” and not the other way round. The Prime Minister ought to see themself as the number one servant in the land. Sadly power can go to anyone’s head.

Now some say I am an unorthodox minister. I remember a congregant once saying that “I was like no minister she had ever met before.” I remember Rev Bill Darlison’s response to this comment. He quipped “Danny you are unlike any minister that anyone has ever met before.”

So it appears true that I am an unorthodox minister and yet to me I simply do my best to fulfil my role, to simply serve life live through love. To show others the way of love and service and hope in the midst of suffering. I cannot take away anybody’s suffering, but I can walk with them and by doing so meaning emerges and despair is dispelled.

To quote Micah (Ch8 v 6)

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Will you come and walk with me?

So how do we find hope and resist despair in the turbulent times. This is most definitely a pertinent question for everyone right now, we seem to be in midst of incredibly turbulent times. As a nation we are facing the most challenging period in my memory. There are many forces at work that seem to want to divide us. Our political class are at war and economic troubles on the increase, there is violence on the streets from haters of life and extremists of many kinds. Every day the news is filled with chaos and loss of life. Now I am not naive, this is not new. This has been happening all over the world throughout my lifetime, it’s just I’ve never seen it to this extent in this country. It is making us look at life wholly, as of course we should always do so. It is opening our senses to everything and this is painful. It should be painful. If it didn’t hurt then there would be something deeply wrong with us. Hell is indifference.

It is easy to feel powerless against this tide of suffering. How do we keep our heads up and our eyes and hearts open to one another and life, how do we find Hope in the midst of all of this? How do we transcend despair?

Well I believe it begins with what I have already witnessed. It begins in and through service. Rabindranath Tagore said “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.” It begins by baring witness to the love and service and the coming together I have witnessed on the same tv screens and also very close at hand as I have seen ordinary people helping, holding and inspiring one another. People walking together in their suffering, in love. I see it in the little things as well as the bigger things. It doesn’t take away the suffering but it brings to life the love present in each of us, a power that will always overcome the powers that divide us. To quote Jo Cox “There is more that unites us than divides us.” or in the words of Harry Stack Sullivan “ We are all much more simply human than otherwise, be we happy and successful, contented and detached, miserable and mentally disordered, or whatever.” We all live with the same struggles, we are all born from the same earth, live under the same sun and I believe have the same spirit running through us all.

As we serve others meaning emerges and we discover our own true hearts. It does not end the suffering but it creates Hope and meaning from the suffering and in so doing we build a legacy of the heart for those who follow. As we serve others we develop our own hearts and souls, in serving others we are working on ourselves, on our own souls; every act, every word, every gesture of genuine compassion naturally nourishes our own hearts and minds and souls. Service is soul work, it is the heart in action and it brings us fully to life. In so doing we transcend the very real suffering that is an aspect of all life; in so doing we transcend despair.

Through faith in life itself, by giving ourselves fully to life, we know joy. Joy is an attribute of a full, rich and deeply meaningful life. It is radically different to fun, pleasure and happiness, these are merely emotional qualities. Joy is a spiritual quality that is present within us, despite life’s circumstances. Joy is about connection, intimate connection. When I know joy I am at one with life and with myself. Through love and service we can begin to once again awaken to the amazement of life and know joy.

Joy for life itself can be known even during life’s troubles and difficulties. The people Jesus spoke to 2,000 years ago were not living easy and comfortable lives. Those people knew about conflict, oppression, tragedy and almost constant grief. He told them that all that was wonderful, life-giving, life affirming, all that is meaningful was theirs. He said to them “Enter into my kingdom with joy.” And “This is my commandment, that you love one another.”

The kingdom he spoke of can be with us right here right now, we can know and experience the commonwealth of love right here, right now. And how can we know it? Well by fulfilling the commandment to love one another. Love though is not some mushy sentiment, it is an act, it is a way of being. The commonwealth of love comes into being by giving ourselves fully to life, to one another; through giving ourselves fully to life and to one another we truly realise the joy of living. In so doing we will be awakened to the true amazement of what it means to actually be alive.

Tagore said: “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”

This is the purpose of the religious life to awaken joy through service to and for one another. Joy is about connection, intimate connection. When we give of ourselves to others and to life we know the joy that is truly living. That said when we live only for ourselves and live dis-connected from life, we quickly become joyless once again, we lose faith in God given life, our experience of life becomes dulled and meaningless.

Some people say “everything happens for a reason”, in so doing suggesting it is all part of God’s plan. I have never believed this and believe it simply opens the great theodicy question “How can an all-powerful and all loving God allow suffering? A question that comes into my consciousness constantly as a minister of religion.

My truth is that I do not believe that everything in life is pre-ordained or pre-determined, the future is unwritten. I do believe in the Lure of Divine Love, that all life is given free will and it is our task to bring love alive in life and to encourage others to do the same through our example, in this sense we are not powerless against the tide of despair. It is our responsibility to become beacons of hope to others in their suffering, to become the light of the world. Hope rises from the ashes of suffering and meaning emerges through our living and breathing. This is why everything matters, every thought, every breath, every feeling, every action, and every word. This is also one way in which joy can be found in life, through love and service for others, despite the very real turbulence all around us. I believe in life I am constantly in awe and amazement at it, despite the very real suffering present. I live with my eyes, with all my senses including the sixth sense fully open. It is the only way I know how to live fully alive.

Some may ask how and why can I believe this? My simple answer to this is “This is what my 45 years of living breathing and waking up has taught me.” I believe in life, it constantly amazes me.

Life amazes me, constantly. Despite all the darkness and destruction that is present, that can overwhelm it all, life and love always seems to find a way through. Like that little shoot that finds its way back to life every spring time, finding its way through all the obstacles in its way, insisting on reaching out beyond and finding life. That amazes me; I find that utterly amazing.

Abraham Joshua Heschel said that:

“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. ....get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

Through living in love and service I am awakened to the amazement of life. My senses are fully awake. But what is amazement you may well ask? What is radical amazement?

“Radical Amazement” captures those moments, those deeply human moments when we find ourselves intensely connected to the mystery and the majesty of existence. It is found not so much in the big moments, when we mark life’s achievements, it is more about what Heschell himself describes as “the common and the simple” those small things that reveal “the infinite significance” of existence. In many ways “radical amazement” is about paying attention and looking deeply at the routine moments of our lives and experiencing just how incredible they are. There are parallels to mindfulness here, but I think there is more to it than that, there is a sense of eye popping awe and wonder in looking through radically amazed eyes. It’s about seeing the miracle in existence. How many of us truly recognise and acknowledge just how amazing it is that we exist at all?

“Radical Amazement” is about looking into the familiar with what Rumi called “fresh eyes”, it’s about recognising that even the most routine moments are in actual fact outrageous. Just think about our existence here on this spinning planet rushing through a universe some 13 billion years old, or so they tell us. We are formed from stardust and yet made from flesh that are homes to entire eco-systems and billions of cells that are neatly balanced so as to allows us to exist, that are constantly altering and changing and adjusting to all that we experience. We who are made from stardust are more than merely stardust though, we are made up of complex thoughts, emotions and experiences and there is a spirit within each of us. We are more than merely our biology; we are more than merely thinking meat. It is amazing and marvellous to truly be who we are.

We need to look at all life with eyes wide open, through “fresh eyes”, something that can be hard to do when turbulence strikes, when we experience and witness suffering, but we must if we are to live in the full amazement of existence. When we see life through such eyes all this that we are made from reacts in positive and powerful ways, something we can feel with real intensity at times. I know that there are times when our whole make up responds to the whole of the make-up of the universe and that this occurs every time that we see the miracle in existence, in a new way. This blows me away. It is amazing that we exist at all; it’s amazing that everything came from the same nothing.

Bang…and here we are in a fabulous place…what are you gunna do here…in this sacred place, in this sacred time, in these are sacred bodies, in these our sacred lives…

“Radical Amazement” is about looking into life with truly open eyes, it is an ethical act and an intentional decision, it is the ultimate spiritual practise and as such it is one that involves great risk. This is because it opens us up to all that is, as it truly is. This requires courage, because to see the beauty also requires us to see the horror too. This may seem too awful for some, but it is the awe that accompanies vulnerability that is required to be awakened to radical amazement.

To see the world with awakened eyes, fresh eyes, open eyes is look into life in “Radical Amazement”. It is life as it truly is in its awe filled beauty. It is to truly let life in and to fill us to the brim.

It seems to me that “Radical Amazement” is how to live and breathe our human spirituality. At its essence spirituality is about being amazed it is about cultivating greater openness and deeper awareness of the beauty, blessing and mystery of life.

Suffering is an aspect of living, it cannot be escaped. Everybody suffers. Life itself though is not suffering, love and joy are also an aspect of life too. How do we experience love and joy? Well it’s quite simple really. It comes through living with all our senses wide open. It begins by simply opening our eyes and our arms. It begins in love and service. It begins by simply walking humbly with one another and humbly giving thanks that we even exist at all. This is what it means to live in and through Hope and it is this that will lift us from despair despite the very real suffering in life. It begins by simply looking into the eyes of our neighbour and recognising the amazing thing that is their existence and continues as we look at the world in which we live and by simply giving thanks for life, for it truly is amazing that life exists at all.

May love guides us in the weeks ahead, may it lead us to Hope and away from Despair in spite of the very real suffering present in life.

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