Sunday, 29 January 2017

Be Still & Don't Forget to Breathe

I recently came across the following, taken from “No enemies within” by Dawna Markova. It moved me deeply and tied in with quite a few thoughts that had been forming within me as I breathed...

"When I was in the hospital, the one person whose presence I welcomed was a woman who came to sweep the floors with a large push broom. She was the only one who didn't stick things in, take things out, or ask stupid questions. For a few minutes each night, this immense Jamaican woman rested her broom against the wall and sank her body into the turquoise plastic chair in my room. All I heard was the sound of her breath in and out, in and out. It was comforting in a strange and simple way. My own breathing calmed. Of the fifty or so people that made contact with me in any given day, she was the only one who wasn't trying to change me.

"One night she reached out and put her hand on the top of my shoulder. I'm not usually comfortable with casual touch, but her hand felt so natural being there. It happened to be one of the few places in my body that didn't hurt. I could have sworn she was saying two words with each breath, one on the inhale, one on the exhale: 'As . . . Is . . . As . . . Is . . .'

"On her next visit, she looked at me. No evaluation, no trying to figure me out. She just looked and saw me. Then she said simply, 'You're more than the sickness in that body.' I was pretty doped up, so I wasn't sure I understood her; but my mind was just too thick to ask questions.

"I kept mumbling those words to myself throughout the following day, 'I'm more than the sickness in this body. I'm more than the suffering in this body.' I remember her voice clearly. It was rich, deep, full, like maple syrup in the spring. . . .

"I reached out for her hand. It was cool and dry. I knew she wouldn't let go. She continued, 'You're not the fear in that body. You're more than that fear. Float on it. Float above it. You're more than that pain.' I began to breathe a little deeper, as I did when I wanted to float in a lake. I remembered floating in Lake George when I was five, floating in the Atlantic Ocean at Coney Island when I was seven, floating in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa when I was twenty-eight. Without any instruction from me, this Jamaican guide had led me to a source of comfort that was wider and deeper than pain or fear.

"It's been fifteen years since I've seen the woman with the broom. I've never been able to find her. No one could remember her name; but she touched my soul with her compassionate presence and her fingerprints are there still."

...It's amazing what healing can come by simply connecting...The connecting, of course, begins with that one thing that connects all life...the breath...Sometimes, of course, we need another to remind us to simply connect, once again, through the breath...Sometime we need someone else to remind us to simply be still and to not forget to breathe...I offer thanks and praise for the many that do so in my life...Thank you...

I recently began participating in a core-physio class. It’s quite tough due to my troubles with flexibility etc. I’m sticking at it though and it is helping. I'm even beginning to enjoy it. As in so many things in my life these days I try really hard, perhaps too hard. The woman leading the class kept on teaching us various exercises during the hour and kept on having to remind us of something vitally important, I say vital because it truly is life giving and life sustaining, she kept on saying to us “don’t forget to breathe”. She also pointed out when we had our pain faces on and I seem to remember that she called me Elvis a couple of times, due to me curling my lip while attempting the different movements. This brought laughter which of course helps with relaxation and breathing…Mainly though she kept on saying “Don’t forget to breathe.”

 ...Don't forget to breathe...

It brought to mind a favourite film that I had only been discussing a few days before after I had been given the privilege of travelling over to Yorkshire to conduct the blessing and naming ceremony of a dear old friend’s son. Afterwards of course we got talking about the old days and one of the things we reminisced about was going to “the pictures” in Dewsbury. The film “The Karate Kid” came up in the conversation, it was one of my favourites. In some ways I identified with the lead character Daniel, or Daniel-San as Mr Miagi called him. My sister even called me “Daniel-San”. Now in the film the old Karate master Mr Miagi teachers Daniel-San Karate by a strange method which seemed more like household chores “Wax on, wax off” and “paint fence”, while he was doing so he kept on saying to him “Don’t forget to breathe”

 “Don’t forget to breathe” you can’t really, although at times it can seem like it, especially if your mind is so focused on something that your body stiffens up and almost freezes. 

Most of us rarely think about breathing, unless we are attempting some kind of spiritual exercise or your exercise teachers mentions it, or you have some kind of respiratory illness. We breathe without thought we just do it naturally all day every day and at night too while we sleep. We breathe something like 23,000 times per day. It is a natural function of our physical being. We don’t even notice ourselves doing so unless we pay attention to it. We can’t even stop ourselves from breathing, it is beyond our capacity to control. So when the teacher reminded us not to forget to breathe it was not so much that we had stopped breathing it was more that our physical being had stiffened up. We are constantly breathing, we just rarely ever notice it. Breathing is something that we all do unconsciously.

I have been thinking about breathing and the breath a lot recently. Thinking about times when I have had to focus on breathing and it helped me greatly. I remembered a time many years ago when I suffered from a terribly racing mind and was constantly anxious. My mind would flitter from painful memories from the past that would fill me with shame and or anger or fears about the future. I was deeply restless and would often find myself dripping in sweat even in the middle of winter while I would have rushes of feeling running through my body, there was no stillness in my heart. It was at this time that I began to practice prayer and meditation and other spiritual practices including a relaxation techniques that would loosen me physically. I also remembered how serious, or how seriously I took myself in those days. I smiled and laughed as I remembered myself. I shared this with a friend who was also struggling with similar feelings and who I know will also loosen up about these things if they stick with it.

It’s funny but as a result a phrase has been ringing in my ears ever since…”Be still and don’t forget to breath. And when you breathe, do it from way down below…laugh and let your whole being let go…Let yourself loose…”

Brings to mind this little extract from “How to Want What You Have” by Timothy Miller

"I went with my wife to see the opera La Boheme. I wasn’t familiar with the plot, the acoustics in the hall weren’t quite right, and I needed to read the supertitle translations but found them distracting. I was physically and mentally restless; soon my mind was wandering back to problem solving and reviewing tasks I was working on earlier in the day. It struck me that when I was working on them, I was thinking about going to the opera. So I tried using breath-awareness. It was difficult at first because it forced me to confront my restlessness. After a few minutes I figured out a way to glance occasionally at the subtitles, not to worry about every detail of the plot, and to enjoy the beauty of the voices even if I couldn’t understand what they are singing. Pretty soon I was swept into the story. Breath-awareness prevented me from being lured back into pointless fantasizing about other times and places. As the poignant story reached its climax, I wept at least a pint of tears. I left the theatre with a pleasurable sad-achy sensation in my heart that lingered for hours."

...The breathe has the capacity to brings into a fully lives experience of reality...It brings the spirit to life...It brings us fully to life...

Now it should not surprise me that the breath had the capacity to do more to my being than physically keep me alive, that it actually has a healing quality. In the great spiritual traditions this is recognised. It sustains more than merely physical existence but enables a person to be fully alive. Within the Judeo-Christian tradition it was thought that the soul entered the body through the breath. Breath and spirit meant the very same thing. Ruarch in ancient Hebrew meant spirit but it also meant air or wind. It also meant passion and emotion, a state of the soul, thus denoting the passion of God to create life. It gives birth to inspiration which comes to us invisibly much like the air, it seemingly just rushes in. We breathe in inspiration just as we breathe it out on one another. Every word I speak comes alive in my breath and every word I hear is drunk in through my senses.

 You see something similar, to the Judeo-Christian understanding of "Ruarch" in Hinduism where the sound of the divine creation is invoked and chanted on a regular basis. When the Hindu’s chant “Ohm” they are exhaling breath and thus echoing creation. They are merging themselves with all that exists. Similarly to the Abrahamic faiths in Hinduism creation, sound, speech and the breath are bound together. In this there is a recognition that all is sacred, that everything is divine. The Lakota Native American people speak of a supreme entity Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit, the Great Mystery that exists in everything, that is the fabric of the material world and the unseen source that sustains all life…The air we breathe, the breath of all life, the spirit of life.

We are all united, tied together, by the one breath of all life. It sustains us physically but it does more than this it fills us spiritually. It also humbles us and therefore opens us up to more than we could have ever dreamed of. Not just in the sense that we need to breathe just to live but also it confirms our interdependence on one another, the earth in which we share our being and that spirit of all life that ties it together.

When life gets too much, when the mind races or we feel separate and alone, when something happens that takes our breath away with fear. All we have to do is relax, open up and connect once again with the one breath that sustains and connects all life…Be still and don’t forget to breathe...

Neil Douglas-Kloz wrote in “Blessings of the Cosmos”

“Breathe easily and naturally with the Aramaic word for deep, creative peace: SHLA-MA. By placing one hand lightly over your heart, feel your heartbeat coming into rhythm with this word. Then use the feeling of the word as a doorway into a connection with the peace and potential that was there before the beginning of the universe. Feel the whole sweep of existence — all of the plants, animals, stars, and galaxies that are traveling ahead of you. Find your place in this moving, cosmic caravan of life and affirm that the same potential that began the universe can be felt in your life, here and now.”

 Be still and don’t forget to breathe. We are not alone in life, there is nothing to be anxious about, just pause and connect to that one breath of all life that breathed all life into being.

The Psalmist wrote (Psalm 46 v 10), “Be still and know that I am God!” The being still begins by simply returning to our breath, for it connects us beyond our small selves to the whole of existence. Once the stillness comes we can then act appropriately and bring this love alive in existence. Once we have awakened to the inspiration we can begin to act and begin to inspire those around us. It begins though by being still and not forgetting to breathe.

 It really is that simple. Our lives and all life begins with that first breath. This never changes. Everything begins by returning to that first breath. It humbles us, it opens us and it helps us to connect to all of life and that spirit that runs through it all.

 Do not worry…Be still and don’t forget to breathe…

I’m going to end this little chip of a "blogspot" with these words of blessing by John O’Donohue

“In Praise of Air”

Let us bless the air,
Benefactor of breath,
Keeper of the fragile bridge
We breathe across.

 Air waiting outside
The womb, to funnel
A first breath
That lets us begin
To be here,
Each moment
Drawn from
Its invisible stock.

Air: vast neighborhood
Of the invisible, where thought lives,
Entering, to arise in us as our own,
Enabling us to put faces on things
That would otherwise stay strange
And leave us homeless here.

Air, home of memory where
Our vanished days secretly gather,
Receiving every glance, word, and act
That fall from presence,
Taking all our unfolding in,
So that nothing is lost or forgotten.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Become what you are

"Do I Matter? "

Standing before the One who is all the world,
can it be that I matter?
Can it be that such a small thing as me
has a place in such a grand scheme?
And yet it is so.

I am empty of permanence.
I don't endure.
My days are limited and too few to fulfill the desires of my heart.
I am so small and temporary. And yet so important.

This pile of dust speaks!
This bag of skin thinks!
This frail body acts and makes a difference!

I am the only me that has ever been.
I am shaken by the knowledge that
I never existed before and will not again.

The Source rebirths, but never repeats.
Infinite possibility demands infinite diversity.

Whatever I must do I must do here and now.
Whatever gift I am to give I must give it here and now.
Whatever purpose I am to fulfill I must fulfill it here and now.

I am what I am here and now.
I am what I do with who I am.

By Rami Shapiro

I like to talk with people, to be with people to listen to people. Generally I don’t do much of the talking. I was like this as a child in the company of family. Mostly I watched and listened. I paid attention. In many ways I suspect this is my natural state, the way I like to be. Now don’t get me wrong I like to talk, I love to be listened to. But the majority of the time I watch and listen. Maybe that is why ministry suits me, it’s mostly about listening and observing, opening all your senses, absorbing it all, digesting it and then bringing something from all of this. It’s almost as if all that I experience in the week feeds into those times when I share with those I serve whether physically or virtually. I offer thanks to those who read and listen. Thank you for listening and reading, but most importantly thank you and all the other people who have spoken with me this week. Thank you to all that I have listened to.

I was listening to someone the other day who was talking to me about identity and how your upbringing shapes who you are, good or bad. He told me something rather wonderful, which I hope is true, but I have not yet been able to verify. He told me that there is a tradition amongst some of the Bantu people of Southern Africa. He told me “that it is said that the Bantu people sneak into the rooms of their children at night, as they sleep, and whisper in their ears, 'Become what you are.'

“Become what you are.” Not become who you are, but what you are. I thought to myself how wonderful it must be to have that song singing in your soul as you grow and develop. It got me thinking about who or what I am? Who or what I have been and who or what I might yet become?…The truth is throughout our lives we never stop becoming or maybe un-becoming…I try not to be too un-becoming these days.

I was out visiting the other day, I again spent most of the day sitting and listening with people. I then drove home and spent another hour or so on the phone catching up with family. Oh I wish I had more time and energy to do more of this. I was on the phone with my brother, someone who has known me from the first day of my life. My big brother. We talked about many things. The state of our lives and what his kids were up to. They actually let him speak, which is not always the case. We talked about music, the world, faith and cricket…mainly cricket (We are good Yorkshire exiles). He then asked me what I was going to be doing that evening. I said I was going to relax and eat and watch the Chelsea v Leicester City game and then watch an Italian football game on BT Sport. He then said something I found a little strange “Where did you get your love of football from? I was never that into it. Our dad certainly wasn’t interested and Dave (our stepfather when we were children) wasn’t into it either.” I remember feeling a little defensive at the time and thinking not everything I did in my life was following you or the other older males in the family. I thought even “Our Allen our older step-brother who was mr super sportsman was more into rugby and cricket than football and even my grandad was more into rugby league than football. That said we talked about football a lot in the last few years of his life, I remember just a couple of days before he died, when he was very weak, one of the first questions he asked me was how “We” were getting on? “We” being Leeds United of course.

I paused for a few moments and considered my brother’s question and retraced where the love for football came from. The truth is though I do not know. It has always been there. It is just something I love and have always done so. As a young boy I was obsessed. As I told him all we ever did at school was play football at break time and dinner time. I was never any good but I loved to play. Interestingly many people these days are surprised when they discover this about me as I don’t go on about it. I love it though. It’s not really very strange either. It is hardly a minority sport…(Muttley laugh)

Now I think what really got to me about the conversation and the questioning of my love is the assumption that I only love and like what I do due to the influence of others. That who I am and who each of us are is based on the influences of the elders in our communities etc. That who we are uniquely is shaped by external influences. That to be who and what we are is based primarily on the senior influences in our lives. It got me thinking and feeling and watching and most of all listening…It awakened my homiletic consciousness. Hence this "BlogSpot"

It got me thinking about who are we, what are we? What shapes us? Is it our environment? Our ancestry? Our culture? How do we become who or what we are? As time went by someone or something kept on whispering in my ear “Become what you are.”

The first thought was from one of my ministerial influences Forrest Church and his little mantra for life “Want what you have, do what you can, be who you are.” It was the last bit “be who you are, or what you are” that was singing in my ears, my song for the week. It brought to mind Rev Peter Friedrich’s reflection on “Be who you are”. He suggested that most of what we learn to be comes from childhood emulation, that despite being rational discerning people we learn most of what we know by copying the elders in our lives like a giant game of “follow my leader”. In many ways our whole culture is based upon this that to be successful we have to look and be a certain way. Just think about the whole advertising industry that is driven by this sense of dissatisfaction because we are not living up to what we’re supposed to be. This is supposedly a good thing, that by seeing what is wrong with us we will somehow become better. We are visually bombarded and our ears are sound blasted by this ideal of what we ought to be. We all of us follow to some degree or another. If only someone or something was whispering in our ears, as we slept at night “Become what you are.” Never mind who you are.

“Become what you are.”

There are two very different ways that most folk seem to view life, either everything matters or nothing really matters. I was once one of those folk who believed, for a long time, that nothing really mattered, that there was no meaning to life. Now I no longer see life this way. In so doing I have become something else. I believe that this is what I’ve become. You see to live in such a way that everything matter is to become what I am. This is the voice I hear speaking to me through all life, whether awake or asleep, that everything matters. That every single one of us matters, as does everything out there. That everything is sacred, every feeling, every thought, every word, every deed matters.

It matters what you are, it matters what you are, it matters what you are…

Each of us belong here, we each have a place here, we each have gifts to offer life, we each have a bliss that we must follow…to me this is becoming what you are, following your bliss…

While we are all part of a greater whole and we all make this greater whole at the same time we are each of us sacred and unique and in order to truly serve life we need to truly become who and what we are. We need to fully embrace what we are exactly as we are. This is not easy and it is certainly not painless, but it is absolutely vital both to ourselves and all life.

We need to truly become what we are; to truly become what we are is to take our place fully in life. You see we never take this journey of becoming what we are alone. We do need others to accompany us, to whisper in our ears, especially when we are asleep “Become what you are”, just as they need us to keep on whispering in their ears “Become what you are”. We do not sail the ship of life alone, we are relational beings we are co-created and we a part of the on-going co-creation which continues way behind our life spans as it began way before we were here. We are all a part of this amazing thing called life, a tiny but vital aspect and the whole of life keeps on whispering to us “Become what you are”, we are needed and wanted and loved by life itself. Life needs us to become what we are. To dance the dance of life, to take our turn in leading and following.

Life needs us to become what we are and put our whole selves into becoming what we are. For in so doing the very ordinariness of our daily living will become truly extraordinary.

Now I’m going to end this chip of a "blogspot"with a short tale from the wisdom of Anthony DeMello, it goes by the title “Most Wonderful Hash”

" 'What's so original about this man?' asked a visitor. 'All he gives you is a hash of stories, proverbs, and sayings from other masters.'

"A woman disciple smiled. She once had a cook, she said, who made the most wonderful hash in the world.

" 'How on earth do you make it, my dear? You must give me the recipe.'

"The cook's face glowed with pride. She said, 'Well, ma'am, I'll tell yer: beef's nothin'; pepper's nothin'; onion's nothin'; but when I throws myself into the hash — that's what makes it what it is.' "

So let’s throw our whole selves in, our whole selves out, in out, in out and shake it all…for if we do we will make something extraordinary…Let’s become what we are…

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Called to care

This "blogspot" explores "care" it begins with a story, versions of which can be found in many cultures and traditions. Following this is a reflection by Henri Nouwen...And finally a reflection, inspired by so many and so much, but written by myself...

Once upon a time...long long Japan, a woman prayed that God would show her the difference between heaven and hell. She wanted to know whether there were fires in hell, and whether the people in heaven sat around on clouds all day playing harps. She didn’t fancy going to either place if that was all they had to offer.

She prayed so hard that God decided to answer her prayer, and he sent an angel to give her a guided tour of both places...angels are good like that...first she went to hell. It wasn’t hot at all; in fact it looked quite pleasant. There were long tables laden with food of all kinds – cooked meats, vegetables, fruit, delicious pies, and exotic desserts. “This can’t be hell,” she thought. Then she looked at the people. They were sitting some distance from the tables, and they were all miserable – emaciated, pale, angry. Each of them had chopsticks fastened to their hands, but the chopsticks were about three feet long and no matter how hard they tried, the people just couldn’t get the food into their own mouths. They were groaning with hunger, and frustration, and anger. “I’ve seen enough of this,” said the woman. “May I see heaven now?”

The angel took the woman to heaven. They didn’t have far to go. It was just next door. It was almost the same as hell. There were the same kind of tables, the same kind of food, and here too, the people were sitting a little distance away from the tables with three-foot long chopsticks fastened to their hands. But these people seemed happy. They were rosy cheeked, and looked well fed. They were smiling and chatting merrily to each other. They couldn’t put the food into their mouths either, but they had discovered how to be fed and happy: they were feeding each other.

The animation below is another telling of the story...from another tradition...

Henri Nouwn on "Care"

"...Real care is not ambiguous. Real care excludes indifference and is the opposite of apathy. The word “care” finds its roots in the Gothic “Kara” which means lament. The basic meaning of care is: to grieve, to experience sorrow, to cry out with. I am very much struck by this background of the word care because we tend to look at caring as an attitude of the strong toward the weak, of the powerful toward the powerless, of the ‘haves’ toward the ‘have-nots. And, in fact, we feel quite uncomfortable with an invitation to enter into someone’s pain before doing something about it.

Still, when we honestly ask ourselves which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not-knowing, not-curing, not-healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is the friend who cares.

You might remember moments in which you were called to be with a friend who had lost a wife or husband, child or parent. What can you say, do, or propose at such a moment? There is a strong inclination to say: “Don’t cry; the one you loved is in the hands of God.” “Don’t be sad because there are so many good things left worth living for.” But are we ready to really experience our powerlessness in the face of death and say: “I do not understand. I do not know what to do but I am here with you.” Are we willing to not run away from the pain, to not get busy when there is nothing to do and instead stand rather in the face of death together with those who grieve? . . ."

...We are all called to care...

I think one of the saddest words you will ever hear in the English language is “I don’t care” Who amongst us can say that they have never uttered them? If not out loud, so that others could hear them, at least inwardly to themselves. I’ve said it. I said it many years ago and later denied doing so. I said it though and have regretted it ever since. It was at a moment in my life when I had sunk so far into the pain of my lost little self that I did not care anymore. I was in hell and the uttering of those words proved it at that moment in time.

Thankfully, although at times I do feel weariness towards life it has been many years since I did not care; it has been many years since I experienced the pain and loneliness of indifference.

There’s another phrase along this theme, which I often hear spoken “I don’t care what people think of me.” Now while I think I understand what people mean by this, that they are no longer ruled by the views of others, what matters is how they see themselves, there is something in this phrase that still bothers me. I never want to reach the point where I do not care at all what people think of me. I never want to, once again, experience indifference. While I am not ruled by the views of others, it matters to me what they believe about me, about life, about one another and about themselves. I care a lot.

As a child I was considered overly sensitive, that I felt too much and that I took things personally. While it was thought of as a likable quality I know it was seen as a serious handicap too. I remember my step father telling me I needed to toughen up and he certainly tried to in ways that were not healthy. All this really led to was me closing part of my humanity down. This did lead to a sense of indifference at some later stages of my life which led to some horrific feelings of loneliness, isolation and disconnection. Thankfully I eventually saw the truth of this and through love I began to connect and care again. This seeming blight became an asset as I was able to care once more. It wasn’t so much that I lost the sensitivity, that I felt less, it was more that I recognised that these feelings were not about me. I basically took things less personally and it was this that allowed me to begin to serve, to minister.

To minister is to serve and to serve is to care. It is about connection it is about relationship it’s about bringing that loving space alive. I learnt this through the example given to me by John Midgley when he came and tried to be with both myself and others during an horrific time in our lives. John couldn’t heal or change anything. He was as powerless as we were, but he was able to be with us in our shared powerlessness and somehow in this space the healing power held us together.

This is heaven, this is love, this is what it means to care. This is what it means to turn to as opposed to turn away despite the pain, fear and confusion. This is courage. To care takes courage, it comes from the heart, it is the heart alive and on fire. To not care is the way of the coward; to not care is a frozen state, indifference requires a frozen heart.

I have heard hell described in many ways, what it means to be living in a state of hell. I think the most accurate experience of hell is that it is indifference. It is a sense of disconnection from the feelings and concerns of others. Hell is indifference. To live in hell is to be indifferent to sufferings of others. Dante’s Inferno described it thus.

Extract from Dante Alighieri’s “The Divine Comedy” Inferno (Hell), Canto III

"ARGUMENT.—Dante, following Virgil, comes to the gate of Hell; where, after having read the dreadful words that are written thereon, they both enter. Here, as he understands from Virgil, those were punished who had passed their time (for living it could not be called) in a state of apathy and indifference both to good and evil. Then, pursuing their way, they arrive at the river Acheron; and there find the old ferryman Charon, who takes the spirits over to the opposite shore; which, as soon as Dante reaches, he is seized with terror, and falls into a trance."

Hell is indifference. Hell is not fire but in actual fact a frozen state, a state where a person no longer cares and has grown cold towards, others, towards life itself.

In the story that began this "blogspot" “Heaven and Hell” appear exactly the same and yet they are experienced oh so differently. In Hell all go hungry because everyone tries to feed themselves only, they are purely self focused and fail to recognise the hunger in their neighbour sat opposite them. And yet in heaven they attempt to feed one another and are therefore fed in abundance. To me this is as much about the relationships as the food going into one another’s mouths. I believe that we all possess an innate need to serve one another that if we do not do this part of our natural humanity withers away and dies off. By not serving one another we starve our souls.

By living with indifference towards others we live frozen, unfeeling lives…Yes hell is not a firey place, but a frozen state of being…One where nothing touches. Where one is cut off from others, from life itself…Yes hell is indifference, but it is also dis-connection…Hell is a place where nothing connects.

You see something similar to the "chopsticks" story happening in the feeding stories told in the Gospels. Accounts that are more about the relationships between Jesus, his disciples and the people in the crowds, not whether a few loaves and fish could feed so many. There is a deep truth being revealed in the universal mythos found in these stories. They are talking about abundant love being poured out in these deeply connective and connecting relationships. The key phrase in the account found in Mark (Ch 8 vv 1-9) are the words “They ate and were filled”. In this account the crowds hunger is acknowledged, compassion is recognised and care shown. The crowd are invited to stay and sit and the disciples are asked to feed them face to face. Thus they are truly cared for, their common humanity is cared for, they eat and they are filled. They mattered, every single one of them.

This is what it means to truly care…To recognise one another face to face, this is just like heaven in the story that began this "blogspot"…Heaven is to care and Hell is to be indifferent. Heaven is connection and Hell is disconnection. It is heaven that is the warm place and hell that is frozen over.

Following the "Heaven and Hell story" is a reflection by Henri Nouwen on the word “care”. He highlights it’s origin from the old English word “caru” meaning “sorrow, anxiety, grief” as well as "burdens of mind; serious mental attention," from the Proto-Germanic word “karo” meaning "lament; grief, care". To really care is to truly feel another’s sorrow to cry out with them and to truly be with them. To care is to truly empathies and not merely sympathies. To truly care is to be with another, it is about meeting another in common human relationship. This is why indifference, to not care, is hell as it is about breaking that sense of relationship, it is emptiness it is loneliness. It hurts to care, which is why so often we turn away. No one likes to feel powerless and to care is about recognizing our singular powerlessness at times. It’s also about recognising the healing power that can begin to grow from this powerless state, as the common grief is recognised and shared and the healing comes in that very space. This is the power of love. This is the miracle of healing that is recounted again and again in the gospel accounts and it is the same love that comes alive once again when we recognise one another and truly care. We make heaven. We create the kin-dom, the one-ness of love right here, right now. For heaven is a place where everything connects

Many people say they feel lonely, that they experience a sense of disconnection. This can become even stronger at this time of the year, early January. The weeks, in the deepest part of winter, following the Christmas festivities. These are cold, frozen days. Sometimes these frozen feelings are not caused by the temperature of the air.

So how do we overcome this? How do we warm our own hearts and those who we share this world of ours with. Well it begins in and through care. It begins by recognising what we have in common. It comes in recognising our shared sense of powerlessness at times, for here is where the power comes alive, in this deep relationship of care.

It begins by reconnecting in and through care…Let’s not become frozen people, indifferent people, let us live in and through care…For in so doing we will bring warmth to our lives and those we share our lives we…

Let’s care a lot…

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Well-Being, Health & Humour

I had a bit of a lie in on Monday morning. I needed it, I was following doctor’s orders actually, as Aled Jones (retired doctor) commanded me to do so. The last four weeks of Advent, Christmas and New Year have been the busiest I have ever known. I have loved them for their fullness, but they have taken their toll physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. So I went to bed on Sunday night and decided not to set my alarm. I awoke naturally the next morning at 9am, and I felt great for it. I showered and ate a good hearty breakfast. As I did I turned on my computer and instantly read a post on Facebook pointing to an article in Daily Mirror featuring myself and the other Slimming World Awards winners and our top tips on weight loss. Top Tips from Weight Loss Champions It is obviously aimed at those attempting to be healthier for the New Year, following the over indulgence of Christmas. I then received a text message from my personal trainer saying he was back working following his back injury and asking if I wanted to book a session. I did and booked in for the next morning. By 11am I wandered down to the gym to get started back into fitness. Well when I arrived I was utterly overwhelmed, I’ve never seen the place so full. I felt this strange first day at school feeling, very uncomfortable. I tried to get going but couldn’t really and left before too long. Thankfully I felt different the next day and soon got back into things. I also know that very soon attendance at the gym will return to its normal levels.

At the beginning of the year so many of us resolve to live healthier lives, gym membership sores at this time of the year. As does attendance at slimming groups and their like. General physical well-being is often on our minds during the winter months, especially early January. We all seem more vulnerable to ill health at this time of year. I remember well two winters back when I, along with many others, suffered a severe bout of illness, gastric flu in my case, which took over a month to fully recover from, I have never felt so ill. So yes physical well-being is definitely on my mind as it is on so many of our minds at this time of the year.

Now while there is a great deal of talk of improving our physical well-being, which is of course vital, there seems to be less talk of taking care of our spiritual well-being, which actually may well be more important. If I have learnt anything in life I know that my emotional, mental and physical well-being rests on my spiritual health. I discovered that if I take care of my spiritual well-being, as a result, the rest just seems to take care of itself. I never forget the importance of first things first.

Now this might sound a little funny to some, but one of the many measures of my spiritual well-being is my sense of humour. I know that during the most barren periods of my life I was almost completely devoid of humour, I was utterly self - absorbed and took myself far too seriously. I was weighed down by life, by myself, everything just seemed so heavy going. Improving my spiritual well-being has enabled me to lighten up or maybe lightening up has helped me to become spiritually healthier. As Forrest Church stated “"Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly," wrote the English author G. K. Chesterton. By the same token, surely the devil fell on account of his gravity. What works for angels can’t help but be good for us. Levity addresses worry’s tendency to obsess; scoffs at the demon of perfectionism; and exposes (as our enemy, not our friend) the self-absorption that lies at the root of insecurity and unhappiness. When we laugh—especially at ourselves—we fill the present with instant joy.”

Life is far too serious a business to be taken too seriously. I remember at school an old biology teacher telling me that a man who cannot laugh at himself will always struggle. It is something I have never forgotten. I hated him for it at the time, because I knew I took myself far too seriously and just couldn’t free myself from this blight. I just took everything so personally. Thankfully I learnt a long time ago that if ever I want a good laugh I just have to listen to myself.
More and more I see clearly that one of the key barometers of my spiritual well-being is the health of my humour. When I am in good humour I find that I am in good health.

It seems I am not alone. To be in good humour is to enjoy good health or at least this is once what “good humour” literally meant. The very word “Humour” is actually derived from a medieval medical term for fluids of the human body. It has its roots in the ‘old’ French word ‘humor’, derived from the Latin ‘umere’. Physicians of the day believed that we had four different types of internal fluids that they called ‘humors’ and it was these that determined our physical and mental health. Therefore if a person became ill it was believed that their humors were out of balance. So to be in good humour is to literally be in good health, or at least that’s what it used to mean.

Now I’m not someone who is very good at poker. Why? You may well ask. Well because I don’t have a very good poker face. How I am feeling and experiencing life is written all over my face. You can tell just by looking at me if I’m a bit too lost in myself and my seriousness and whether I’m living openly and in life, in the joy of life, in good humour, good health. I know I aint much fun to be around when I’m not in very good humour.

I love the human face, especially when it is caught up in laughter in humour. There is something beautiful about the comedic face. It seems I’m not alone in this. John O’Donohue, who died this very week in January 4th 2008, loved the human face, he saw in it a Divine quality and loved it when it was caught up in laughter.

He said that:

“There’s something really subversive in laughter and in the smile on the human face. It’s lovely and infectious to be in the company of someone who can smile deeply.

I think a smile comes from the soul. And I also love its transitive kind of nature—that if you’re in the presence of someone who has a happiness and a laughter about them, it’ll affect you and it’ll call that out in you as well.

Your body relaxes completely when you’re having fun. I think one of the things that religion has often prevented us from doing is having really great fun. To be here, in a way—despite the sadness and difficulty and awkwardness of individual identity—is to be permanently invited to the festival of great laughter."

Like John I see a quality of the Divine in humour and laughter. I believe that this is because it is a quality of being fully alive. It is an expression of unguarded abandonment and it is infectious in a healthy and loving way. It encourages this aliveness in others too. Laughter comes from that eternal spirit that is a part of our common humanity.

Humour can not only brings healing but it can also bring people can be infectious...Here are a couple of wonderful examples...One from Test Match Special


I have heard it said that God is the greatest comedian of them all and that if you truly want to experience God it is through laughter. I’m sure that you’ve all heard the expression “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”

This brings to mind that old Depeche Mode song “Blasphemous Rumours”, “I don’t want to start any blasphemous rumours, but I think that god’s got a sick sense of humour”. Many see God as a creative mishevious artist and that it is through such activity that we ourselves can become intune with the Divine. As Sara Maitland wrote in “A Big-Enough God”

“God is not careful. Theology is careful, and it ought to be; but God is not careful, is not bound by rules. This double-dealing magic-weaving careless God, this God of strange codes and complex twistings of imagery and power, this God whose sense of humour so often seems to outweigh any sense of ethical propriety, this playful God: this is the God of the artists.”

This brings to mind a Meme I recently saw posted on facebook, which mischievously asked the question: “How enlightened are you?”


If you can live without caffeine,
If you can be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains,
If you can resist complaining,
If you can understand when your loved ones are too busy to give you any time,
If you can take criticism and blame without resentment,
If you can ignore a friend's limited education and never correct him or her,
If you can resist treating a rich friend better than a poor friend,
If you can face the world without lies and deceit,
If you can conquer tension without medical help,
If you can relax without liquor,
If you can sleep without the aid of drugs,
If you can honestly say that deep in your heart you have no prejudice against creed, color, religion, gender preference, or politics,
Then you have almost reached the same level of spiritual development as your dog!

How many of us can honestly say we are as enlightened as our dogs, as spiritually healthy? There is something humbling and beautifully amusing about this little bit of wisdom. Made me laugh too…It came at a perfect time when I was getting a little too serious and lost in my own and the underwear of others…It doesn’t help getting lost in such things…
It;s a bit messy and not very pleasant...

Humour is so vital, remember it means to be in good health and it is healing too…It’s amazing what healing comes when I’m in good humour or maybe actually when I’m in good humour it is surely a sign of good health…

Voltaire wrote “The art of medicine consists of keeping the patient amused while nature heals the disease.”

He recognised, as my biology teacher did, that humour and laughter are good for your health. We all feel better after a good old laugh, it must be because those humours are really flowing. The problem is though that our sense of humour can abandon us often when we need it the most.

If only we could get our “humours” flowing again. If we could our bodily health would improve immeasurably. To quote Josh Billings "There ain’t much fun in medicine, but there’s a heck of a lot of medicine in fun." We would relax more and as a result our stress levels would lessen and as a result it would seem that our immune systems improve. Research has revealed that laughter has a positive influence on our immunoglobin levels and immune system in general. As I look back at my last bout if real ill health, two January’s back it was at a time when I’d lost my sense of humour somewhat, I’d gotten a little too serious and self absorbed and had worn myself out with “stress of it all”. I became really ill and once again had to surrender to it all. This did eventually lead to positive things as I began to look after myself better. Included in this was to play a little more and spend a little more time doing activities that bring me joy, that make me happy.  This helped me on my general getting physically fit and healthy journey. I know I would not have been able to sustain it with out first of all getting spiritually fit.

I have discovered that spiritual freedom brings with it the ability to laugh and not to take yourself too seriously, or is it laughter that helps bring about spiritual freedom? Life is a very serious business, far too serious a business to be taken too seriously in fact. Now please don’t get me wrong I’m not suggesting that we ignore the troubles present in life, my word I certainly do not. What I’m actually saying is that we must be careful not to get too caught up in them or weighed down by them. In order to be of service to life and others requires us to be in good health and good humour. We need to take care of ourselves wholly, body, mind and spirit. It begins with spirit I have learnt. To enjoy good mental and physical health requires good spiritual health and a healthy spirit requires air to breath. It enjoys freedom and aliveness and it often begins with laughter.

I’m going to end this little chip of a "blogspot" with a story…I hope it leaves you in good spirit, in good health, in good humour…

A burglar broke into a house one night. He shined his torch around, looking for valuables, and when he picked up a CD player to place in his sack, a strange disembodied voice echoed from the dark saying, "Jesus is watching you."

He nearly jumped out of his skin, clicked his torch off, and froze. When he heard nothing more after a bit, he shook his head, promised himself a holiday after the next big job, then clicked the torch back on and began searching for more valuables. Just as he pulled the stereo out so he could disconnect the wires, clear as a bell he heard, "Jesus is watching you."

Freaked out, he shined the torch around frantically, looking for the source of the voice. Finally, in the corner of the room, his torch beam came to rest on a parrot. "Did you say that?" he hissed at the parrot.

"Yep," the parrot confessed then squawked, "I'm trying to warn you."

The burglar relaxed. "Warn me huh? Who are you?"

"Moses," replied the parrot.

"Moses?" the burglar laughed. "What kind of stupid people would name a parrot 'Moses'?"

The bird answered, "Probably the same kind of people that would name a Rotweiller 'Jesus'."

I wish you good health and good humour.