Sunday, 19 November 2017

Wholeness and completeness

In life there are many things that separate we human beings, often our beliefs and disbeliefs. Whether these be religious or anti-religious, political, social, cultural we separate ourselves through them and yet we are all human. We all love, we all long and we all grieve when we lose those we love. To quote Eugene Ionesco “Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish bring us together.” We are united by a common humanity; we are united by our shared hopes and despairs. We are each of us unique and complete as ourselves and yet we only truly know ourselves through our relationships with one another and with life. To quote Mark Nepo “It is a great paradox of being that each of us is born complete and yet we need contact with life in order to be whole. Somehow we need each other to know that completeness, though we are never finished in that journey.”

We are living in ever more dividing and divisive times. We do not see ourselves as one people. This is dangerous. Not only to ourselves but to our shared humanity. By separating ourselves we will never know wholeness, we will never truly be all that we can be. No one is an island. We need to be at one not only with ourselves, but with all of life and whatever it is we believe is at the core of all life to truly become completely ourselves, to touch perfection. Remember perfection originally meant completeness, I suspect perfect love is in a sense wholeness. This is one way to salvation by the way. To quote Forrest Church. “What I'm talking about…is salvation. The Latin root, salve, means health. The Teutonic cognates, health, hale, whole, and holy, all share the same root. Being an agnostic about the afterlife, I look for salvation here—not to be saved from life, but to be saved by life, in life, for life.

Such salvation has three dimensions: Integrity, or individual wholeness, comes when we make peace with ourselves; reconciliation, or shared wholeness, comes when we make peace with our neighbors, especially with our loved ones; redemption, in the largest sense, comes when we make peace with life and death, with being itself, with God.”

When we experience this wholeness we are as close as we will ever be to perfection, to completeness, although only for a moment as our lives go on. By becoming whole we begin to truly live our lives. Life is the greatest gift of all, the ultimate Grace. So choose life.

This brings to mind those words I so love from the Sermon on the Mount “Therefore be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect.” This is heaven on earth, this is the Kingdom of Love right here right now. This is the purpose of the spiritual life, this is the religion of love, of true communal spirituality. This is what it means to live in perfect love. Perfection is not flawlessness as we often think it is. Quite the opposite perfect love is sincere, it’s about showing our cracks, our flaws, our scars, showing who we truly are. The Latin root of perfection is “perfectus” which meant “completeness”, or wholeness, health in mind body and spirit, wholeness with self, others, life and God.

This is the purpose of spiritual community; this is the purpose of the free religious faith I am honoured to serve. This is what it means to me to be a minister of religion in the Unitarian tradition, in my view at least.

But how do we become whole, complete, perfect? How do we become at one with ourselves, one another, life, with God? Well it begins by being truly present in what we are doing; it begins by not being caught up in worry and fear, our own and others. It’s about not going into things hard, but rather by softly melting into what we are doing, by being who we are in what we are doing, by almost not focusing too hard, by looking through soft eyes. By being natural, who we are, by becoming what we are doing.

I remember when I was learning to drive. I did so late in life, when I was training for the ministry. I was never going to drive. I used to proudly proclaim it. The real reason was fear, fear of ridicule. When I was eleven years old I once had a go on a quad bike and I couldn’t handle it. I kept crashing and the man had to sit on the back of the bike and steer it for me. Everyone seemed to be laughing and I was so ashamed I vowed to myself that I would never allow that to happen again. I also remember another time when I worked in a warehouse and we were given forklift truck training. I was utterly hopeless, I just couldn’t do it. So I was never going to drive. Then when I began training for the ministry it became apparent that I had to learn in order to minister, to become who I am supposed to be. So I did.

Driving did not come naturally to me. I remember the instructor telling me that it would take time with me. I remember him saying “you are a thinker. I get some young men who just do it naturally, but you are a thinker, you analyse everything.” I did, every time I made a mistake I would spend time working out why and then I would make many more.

It took me a long time to learn and each time I had a lesson I would dread it. I got a sickly feeling in my stomach. Prayer alone did not take this away. Instead what took it away was walking and connecting and become one with life around me. Something that would come as I walked and connected to the people and geese in Platt Fields Park. It took my mind off my mind and helped me become more at one with what I was doing.

That said it didn’t help on the day I took my second test. I had failed the first time and the second time I was more nervous. I had to pass, my ministry was starting in two weeks time. I was putting intense pressure on myself. My left knee was shaking and it affected me. I made a minor error immediately. The examiner must have been in a good mood as he asked me to stop. He then said when ready I was to pull off. I checked properly and saw a car pulling out behind me, so I stopped and prepared. The car though pulled up next to me. I looked across and saw a car full of pensioners. One was waving at me to wind my window down. I looked at the instructor and he said to me “Tell them you are on your driving test and that you can’t talk”. I wound down my window, but before I could speak the woman said “Can you tell me the way to Manchester Royal Infirmary please?” I looked at the examiner and he repeated Tell them you are on your driving test and that you can’t talk.” I did to which the woman repeated “Can you tell me the way to Manchester Royal Infirmary please.” I again looked at the examiner, who repeated. It went on and the next time he remained silent, they weren’t going. So I paused, worked out where I was and gave them directions. They then drove off and when it was safe I drove off and completed my test and passed. My mind was no longer on my mind I was at one with the clutch and the wheel, the car and the task at hand. I was not at war with anything, I was at one, I was complete. By getting out of my mind I was better able to become what I was doing and to do so successfully.

Learning how to drive was the hardest part of my ministry training and yet it taught me more about how to live, serve and be. How to be whole and complete more than anything else I did in my time at college.

This brings to mind the following beautiful poem by Hafiz

“Each Soul Completes Me”

Beloved said,

"My name is not complete without

I thought:
How could a human's worth ever be such?

And God knowing all our thoughts — and all our
thoughts are innocent steps on the path —
then addressed my

God revealed
a sublime truth to the world,
when He

"I am made whole by your life. Each soul,
each soul completes

We are never truly whole, complete, unless we are at one with ourselves, one another, life and whatever it is that we believe is the power that permeates all life. We can never truly become ourselves alone. This is why true community is so vital to the spiritual life. We need right relationship to become wholly who we are. To me this is the purpose of the free spiritual communities I serve. Yes it’s about becoming who we truly are, but this cannot be done in isolation. This is the purpose of free religion. It allows the birth of the true spirit in each of us, but no one can completely give birth to themself, by them self. To repeat those words of Mark Nepo: “It is a great paradox of being that each of us is born complete and yet we need contact with life in order to be whole. Somehow we need each other to know that completeness, though we are never finished in that journey.”

There is no end to any of this...We live in the thresholds of life...Becoming whole is just the beginning of the true journey...To where? Well God only knows...I certainly don't...

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