Monday 8 July 2024

The Language of Love Embodies Love: The Language of War Embodies War

“What’s Up?!” I was asked this the other day. I was a bit taken back by it. I replied. Well nothing much, I feel quite good actually. A bit tired as it was Sunday evening. I had had a heavy week and had just gone through the emotion of the England game. So I was feeling a bit tired, but generally ok. That said there was nothing the matter and I told her so. Now she was a bit taken aback by this, because she wasn’t asking me a question about my well being. She was asking “What’s up!” as in what I had been up to. A bit like the old “Coca Cola” advert, “What’s Up”. It was an hilarious moment and revealed something rather interesting and amusing to me. It isn’t always the words that we use, but the meaning behind the words we use. As we all know words change in meaning over time. In fact some words can almost mean the exact opposite of what they originally meant.

Like the word awful. Which originally meant to be filled with awe, in a powerful and overwhelming sense. Like awesome means now, but 100 fold. These days awful means a terrible thing, like the worst thing that could happen to a person. So nowadays having a little awe, awesome, is a good thing; but to be overwhelmed with awe, awful, is the worst thing imaginable.

Language, words, connect us, but they can also separate us; words are incredibly powerful things, spoken or written. Words can begin to bring deep healing or can be deeply destructive. What matters is the intention behind them. What seems to matter is the condition of our heart and soul as we speak what we must speak. It is the meaning behind the words that seems to matter the most.

Words are powerful they can be either destructive or creative. Perhaps an example of their creative power comes at the beginning of John’s Gospel and the following lines:

'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.'

According to John the spoken word can literally create life, in fact all life. Now of course in the original Greek, which these opening words were written in the word for “Word” was originally “Logos” which roughly translated actually does not mean merely “word,” but also “speech,” “principle,” “meaning” or “thought.” In Greek philosophy, it is also referred to as Divine Reason or the Mind of God. So, it could mean God speaking life into being, linking it to the first verses from Genesis when God is said to have breathed life into being, remembering always that he saw this creation as “Good”. So “word” here means, in my view, that life is the meaning coming into being and Jesus is the example of this in human form. An example we can all aspire to. For we can all incarnate Love, we can all be a part of the Divine creation. It begins in our words and how we say these words for they are an expression of our meaning. It also begins in how we listen to others. Our ability for each to share, an open loving invitation. This Divine activity. This space between us is the Kin-dom of Love.

When we speak we are not merely flapping our lips, vibrating air we are engaged in Divine activity we are creating or destroying life. It is the same with listening. If we listen with ears of heart we are creating sacred space, this Kin-dom of Love.

So, it is not just about what we say, the words we us, but the meaning behind them. This brings a whole deeper meaning to the phrase “The word (Logos, meaning the Meaning”, became flesh and dwelt amongst us. We embody our meaning through the words we use and how we use words.

Last Sunday afternoon I read a wonderful article in the “i” online newspaper. It was written by Susie Dent of Countdown fame. Susie is my favourite social commentator on social media, she has a gift of commentating on things by the use of language, old and new. She expresses her meaning through words. The article was reflecting on negative language towards the General Election and the England football team, particularly towards Gareth Southgate and the candidates for Prime Minister. Susie suggests this is nothing new and that the English language generally skews towards negativity. A favourite subject for Susie, as I have highlighted before.

As she writes:

“Take the word “happy”, which didn’t appear in English until the 14th century. Until then, you would simply be “glad”. When it did come, happiness leant heavily upon chance. “Hap” meant “fortune” or “fate”, so that “perhaps” means “if fate allows”, a “happening” was a chance occurrence, and “hapless” became a description for someone who never has much luck at all.

The message seems to be that happiness has always been precarious, if not entirely random. In fact, a riffle through a historical thesaurus offers just 12 synonyms for “happy”, and over 50 for the opposite. Just like us, our words seem wired for pessimism.”

She then goes on a journey re words and language for those seeking approval. Stating: “Of course, approval, or the lack of it, is the theme of the moment, whether it involves the England football team or the party leaders seeking our votes. It is also a word with expectation built in: “proof” and “approve” are close relations, meaning that, linguistically at least, approval won’t be given without proof that it is deserved. Without it, many of us stick to the pessimism corner.”

Finally she turns to language and particularly testimony, with reference to the political class, ending with a little humour. She stated:

“Given the chance, our language veers instinctively to the dark side. Perhaps we need more proof and fewer promises to guarantee our approval. Truthful testimony can be hard to find amongst the fakery – on which note, it’s worth saying that “testimony”, from the Latin “testis”, “witness”, and “testicles” are all etymologically one and the same. A man’s testicles were believed to be “witnesses” to his virility. Perhaps talking bollocks has always been part of the deal.”

What we say and the meaning behind our language really matters. Our words are our meaning. It is not just about the words we use, but the meaning behind them. It can be deeply creative or destructive.

Ursula K Le Guin the great 20th century novelist wrote:

“Words are events, they do things, change things. They transform both speaker and hearer; they feed energy back and forth and amplify it. They feed understanding or emotion back and forth and amplify it,”

Words express our meaning and they amplify the meaning of our society and culture. This is why the meaning of words change over time. Remember Logos meant both word and meaning and yet in English translation of the Bible it is always translated as word and not meaning. We need to understand the meaning behind the words we use.

I was admonished the other day for saying something that was considered unkind. It was not meant that way. I was asked a direct question and I gave an honest and thoughtful response, I was actually agreeing with the questioner. That said someone overhearing what I said, replied with the thought that what I said was unkind. On reflection it probably was, although it was not the meaning behind what I said, it was not my intention.

There is a song on the latest New Model Army album “Unbroken” it is called “Language”. The chorus goes something like this.

The language of love will bring us love
The language of war will bring us war
The way that all the words become true
The way that all the words become true
The language of love will bring us love
The language of war will surely bring us war
We choose it, we own it, we choose it, we own it
We choose it, and we own it.

We have to be responsible for the words we use and the meaning behind them. Are they words of love, that play a role in the creation of life. Or are they words of war that play a part in the destruction. Words express our meaning. This something that has disturbed me these last few weeks of the general election and public life in general. We need to be careful with the language we use and what we mean by what we say. No one wins in war, its just that one side loses a little more. I hope that the public discourse will improve now that the electioneering is over.

Now of course language is subtle and complex and often not direct. Metaphor is important, this is particularly true when speaking of the great religious stories. To me they are trying to teach deep truth, but should not be taken as historical fact. Remember mythos originally meant universal truth, not fact.

We all of us, whether we are aware of it or not, use metaphor to name our own experience of life. Such metaphors express our “meaning”. Our personal metaphors, the language we use express our meaning, who we are. I was thinking of this as I thought about the language of war. Such as “Life is like a game of chance — some win, some lose.” Or “Life is like a battlefield — you get the enemy, or the enemy gets you. ”Such metaphors see life as conflict. They are very much Hobbesian world views. Very much the language of the last few weeks.

The metaphor that speaks to me personally, that expresses my logos, my meaning is the weather, or perhaps more accurately the changing seasons of life. I see life as neither strictly one thing or another, this allows a richness of language too. Life is an eternal cycle, ever changing and transforming. You can experience four seasons in one single day. There is joy, there is pain, there is loss and there is gain. There is darkness and there is light. It is important to me to become light in the dark, so that the dark does not overcome the light.

I wonder what are the metaphors of your live?. What is the language you use to speak of yourselves and of life? What is your meaning and how do you bring the meaning to life? Do you speak the language of love or the language of war?

It matters the words we use and the meaning behind them. Are they part of the creation or the destruction of life. Do we speak the language of love, or the language of war?

Please find below a devotion based on the material in this "blogspot"

Monday 1 July 2024

Radical Amazement: Walking Your Path in Service and Joy

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. Alex the flower man in Altrincham often refers to me as father and a friends sister introduced me to her boyfriend as a priest the other. I made it very clear I am not. 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 title 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 our political leaders if they are truly aware of this, that they are there purely to serve “we the people” and not the other way round. The Prime Minister ought to see them self as the number one servant in the land. Sadly power can go to anyone’s head. If I was to appear on Question time or to question the current candidates at the general election this is what I would put to them. As Prime Minister how do plan to serve we the people? Can you explain to me what it means to be the number servant in the land, the Prime Minister. That said enough of that. I am a minister of religion.

To minister is to serve. 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 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), the inspiration to the second hymn we sang earlier.

“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?

I do not think that there is any doubt that we have lived through some difficult days, some challenging years. Most of us have had some difficult personal challenges in our lives and the lives of those we love. This has always been thus, there is always challenges in life. That said this does not mean we cannot find joy. Something that was so beautifully explored in the wonderful conversation John Poskitt led at Urmston last week. We all experienced Joy as we remembered and shared about past pleasures. It is vital to remember and to share our joy, just as much as it is to share our suffering

I was out with some friends on Monday. We were supposed to be walking Molly and Ronnie. Not that they needed us, they just enjoyed one another. One of my friends was suffering as his grandmother had just died. Two others talked of the struggles with siblings in their family and how they can help them. In sharing together some of the struggle was lifted. In fact, the conversations soon turned to joy. The dogs wrestling in utter bliss also helped. This is not to make light of the real suffering, we walked and we talked and we shared together. There is real faith and healing in this. In so many ways this is what gives birth to joy.

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 in being together; I believe it begins in ministering together; I believe 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 bearing witness to the love and service and the coming together, 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 those words that Jo Cox left us with “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 one another 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 one another we develop our own hearts and souls, in serving one another 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.

I witnessed a beautiful example of this the other day as I walked with my grieving friend. He told me he had spent two hours the previous evening listing to his auntie. His auntie had spent the final few hours with her mother, his grandma and she simply shared about the experience as he listened. He said little, all he did was bare witness, he helped bare her pain and suffering. It seems she hadn’t really spoken of this with anyone else. It brought him close to his aunt and of course to his beloved grandmother. He also allowed his auntie to share her suffering too. She had since the death been too caught up in practicalities, to speak of her own grief. As I listened to my friend I thought to myself. This is what Jesus was speaking of on the “Sermon on the Mount” This the Kingdom of Love” right here right now. Not some mysterious state in another dimension, but this walking side in this spirit, in the kin-dom of love, this commonwealth of love, coming alive through our humble human being.

.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 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 52 years of living breathing and waking up has taught me.” I believe in life, it constantly amazes me. It has done so again this week, as I have walked side by side with others.

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 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 walk out of this chapel, 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.

Below is a video devotion based on the material in this "blogspot"

Monday 24 June 2024

Sabbath Time: Becoming Human Beings Rather Than Human Doings

“The peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

I vital it is to rest in whatever grace, with whatever peace we can find in this world. So often in life we find ourselves wrestling with someone or something, often ourselves. Like Jacob at the river side. In the end though I usually surrender and find myself resting in the presence of still water and find peace.

I have been somewhat tired and a little run down of late. This was probably caused by a bout of ill health, that was stomach related and drained a lot of my energy. I also had one or two difficult situations that drained my emotional, mental and spiritual energy somewhat. I have been physically resting, including avoiding the gym. I returned on Monday and I have to say it was a real slog. In fact last Monday was a slog in general. Later in the day ideas about what I might want to look this week began to form. I thought about the need to find, space, to rest, the need for sabbath time.

I felt much better on Tuesday. It began in silence in my meditation group. It felt wonderful to sit in silence with others, to rest and not wrestle. I then went to Urmston to join the “Common Search for Meaning” group. John Poskitt led a wonderful conversation on “Pleasure”, the things in life that bring us pleasure, especially in difficult times. It was a real joy for all who were there. I found it hit that lovely spot. It got me thinking not just about sabbath and rest as a form of recuperation, but also how much leisure and pleasure are vital to the soul. In some ways my greatest pleasure comes from space, from pause. I have also found that sometimes the greatest pleasure is pleasure delayed. We live in an age when we want things and we want them immediately, right here right now. We live in such an instant culture where pleasure must come on demand. There is though a joy and pleasure in patience and in waiting. In many ways this is essence of sabbath time and living by pleasure. We want it, we want it all and we want it now. So much so that we can race through life, feeling nothing.

This is wonderfully illustrated in a favourite story of mine. It is of a workaholic businessman who decided to take an African Safari. He plotted a course and determined a time-table. He hired workers from a local village to carry the various containers and cases. On the first morning, the entire party roused early, travelled very, very fast and went very, very far. On the second morning, they roused early, travelled very, very fast and went very, very far. On the third day, the same. On the fourth morning, the local tribesmen refused to move. The man gestured irately and fumed at the translator to get them going. “They will not move,” the translator relayed.

“Why not?” the man bellowed, thinking of all the time wasted and money spent. “Because,” the translator said, “they are waiting for their souls to catch up with their bodies.”

The story brings to mind a fantastic line from wonderful film “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” when the hero of the film Ferris Bueller utters “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

The pace of modern life can be quite frightening. People are always on the move. They always seem to be doing something or nothing, so long as they are not standing still or idling around. People always seem to be in a rush to be anywhere, but where they actually are, to be doing anything other than what they are doing and to be feeling anything other than what they are feeling. Seemingly we need to always be on the move; for fear that life might just catch up with us. So often we try to force things through, wrestle with everything to get our will, so much so that we tie ourselves and all around in knots. Sometimes we need to pause and to simply rest into the Grace of life.

I noticed myself doing this on Monday when I was out walking with Molly in the park. Instead of enjoying the experience of her enjoying herself. I was preoccupied with what I needed to do that day. I was wrestling and arguing with myself. Thankfully I let go of control and got chatting with folk there, while she ran around and played with the other dogs. I get great pleasure form Molly’s natural joy, friendliness and playfulness. It helps me to connect to and to allow my soul to catch up with my body, it feels like such a Grace. It is a spiritual practice as it increases my sensitivity to life, as I rest into life. Prayer and meditation do the same. They slow down my being and enable me to connect and somehow in that space I get to hear that still small voice of calm, that voice Divine, the “I am in everything”, including little dogs in the park. This Sabbath time in my daily life allows me to live more fully in the world, to rest into the Grace of life.

I remember a few years ago a friend invited me to Hale Synagogue to attend Friday evening Shabbat (pronounced Shabos). It was powerful, beautiful and moving, especially the singing as Shabbat was welcomed, like a bride. During the ceremony I felt like I was allowing my soul to catch up with me. I found myself resting in the Grace of the day and not wrestling with everything. I have also been in Jerusalem on the Sabbath and experienced virtually the whole sitting resting in silence. It was quite an experience, something we who live in the UK will probably never experience again. This shows to me how important it is to rest in sabbath in the busyness of life.

The Sabbath relates back to Genesis I, which depicts six acts of creation and on the seventh day, the climax, God rests, looks at his creation and sees that it is very good indeed. He pauses; he smells the roses and allows his soul to catch up with him. Why on earth would God need to do this? Why do we need to pause and look at our own creations, our own lives? Well maybe because it is only when we stop and look at our lives and our work that meaning begins to emerge. If our hearts, our souls, are not in what we are doing it is unlikely that we will make a good job of it.

How often do any of us stop and look at the meaning behind what we have created, what we are creating? How often do we actually spend time increasing our sensitivity to our own lives? When we do take time to stop wrestling with something and begin to rest into the Grace of life.

Rabbi Abraham Heschel claimed that “The Sabbath as a day of rest is not for the purpose of recovering one’s strength and becoming fit for the forthcoming labour. The Sabbath is a day for the sake of life.”

Maybe by welcoming in the Sabbath, we allow our souls to catch up with our bodies. It allows us to connect to life and I have found that in life itself the Divine speaks to me, through reality, somehow in that still small voice of calm, something incredible happens.

The Jewish people invented Sabbath, but it didn’t make them popular. Again according to Rabbi Abraham Heschel “When the Romans first encounted the Jews and noticed their habit of keeping the Sabbath, of refraining from labour every seventh day, their reaction was nothing but contempt.”

The Jewish people had escaped slavery. Exodus recounts their wanderings in the wilderness as they searched for a home. They knew that slaves never rested and perhaps, during their time in the desert they never rested too. Maybe on Sinai they realised that although they had escaped Egypt and slavery, they were still slaves in so many other ways. Maybe this is why Sabbath was created

Maybe the rejection of Sabbath is not progress at all, but a return to a more de-humanising culture, where human beings are seen as nothing more than commodities who do without ceasing; “human doings, not human beings”. Perhaps we have all become enslaved by this need to constantly be doing. By constantly doing have we actually enslaved our souls. Maybe we don’t actually need to let our souls catch up with us, what we really need to do is free our souls once again. We need to find ways to stop wrestling with everything all the time and simply learn to rest in the Grace of life.

We live in an instant culture, which demands instant results. I think we even demand this with our leisure and pleasure time. We have lost patience with everything it seems.

They say that patience is a virtue, but it seems it is one that most of us still seem to need to learn. When things seem difficult I think patience is the hardest spiritual practice of them all. We want all our troubles over and over soon. Something I’m feeling in this run up to the election, it seems to have gone on for ever.

Patience, silence, stillness, quietly, humbly and passively waiting is considered almost inhuman, uncivilised in our age, like the businessman in the earlier story. Something I experience when stuck in queue or in traffic, or waiting on the phone for some operative to finally answer.

This brings to mind a wonderful piece of wisdom from Wayne Muller from his book “Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest and Delight”

Here is tells a wonderful story about the wisdom of waiting and resting.

He writes:

“I was speaking with Hans-Peter Durr, who for twenty years collaborated with Nobel Prize winner Werner Heisenberg, discoverer of the famous Uncertainty Principle in quantum physics. Himself a noted quantum physicist, Hans-Peter told me that he often had long, impassioned discussions with Heisenberg when they were working together on a particular problem. "We would be talking excitedly about the problem from every angle, and then suddenly Heisenberg would say, 'Wait, I think we have touched on something very important here. Let's not talk about it anymore. Let's wait for two weeks, and let it solve itself.' Then, when we got back together two weeks later, it would invariably be solved. We would begin talking, and we both knew we had the answer."

There is something deeply humble about sabbath time, about rest, about not wrestling, fighting with everything, about waiting. This in many ways is the power of spiritual practice, as it is this humility that opens up to something more, to something beyond ourselves. Something that is so easily missed as we rush around frantically trying to get from where we are to where we want to be or to solve all our troubles in an instant. Instead of constantly struggling and striving, sometimes all we have to do is be still…be still and know we are not God, and to rest in the Grace of the world. Then suddenly, in time and rest and space the answers come. We let our souls catch up with our bodies, we connect with reality and find we can be of use once more.

We need Sabbath. We need to stop and take in life. We need to feel our feet on the ground. We need to be still and silent enough to hear that still small voice. We need to rest in the Grace of the world. We need to allow our senses to sense life and then and only then we will see the riches in our lives and give thanks for life. We need to practice patience And then what ever our work may be, we will do it well, heart and soul.

Patience my friends, patience. Let us find peace and rest in the Grace of the world.

I am going to end with a wonderful poem “First Sabbath” by Nancy Saffer. A wonderful reflection on that first Sabbath, that beautiful mythos that was the first creation story in Genesis.

“First Sabbath” by Nancy Shaffer from “Instructions in Joy”

Tell me: did you really rest?
You who made day and night
and sky that separated
waters above and below,
you who told the waters
below the sky
to stay in one place
and out of them
asked dry land,
who told the earth
to send out growing things
and then made sun
and moon and stars,
who made birds that fly
and everything that swims,
and cattle and all creeping things
and every animal untamed
and then made man and woman
and finally, supposedly, rested:
tell me: how —
in the midst of all that buzzing
and flapping
and slithering and stepping,
all that bursting forth of leaf
and fruit and stem
that never had known themselves
before — tell me:
how could you possibly have rested,
after seeing what no one
ever had seen before:
beak, hoof, pebble,
after losing yourself
in a thousand versions of blue:
water in sun,
sky against sky,
the horizon where
sky and water meet:
how did you shut your eyes,
how not keep
turning and looking?
Didn’t you long to caress
each small thing — notice
how toes work, and
stamens, and fingers?
Weren’t you hollering out in amazement?
Weren’t you so filled up glad*
you couldn’t sleep?

Please find below a video devotion based on the material in this devotion 

Monday 3 June 2024

Living Spiritually Alive: With Open Hands, Eyes, Hearts & Minds

I will begin with a short extract from an interview of Kurt Vonnegut discussing his book “A Man Without a Country” when it was first published in 2005.

DAVID BRANCACCIO asks Vonnegut : There's a little sweet moment, I've got to say, in a very intense book-- your latest-- in which you're heading out the door and your wife says what are you doing? I think you say-- I'm getting-- I'm going to buy an envelope…What happens then?

KURT VONNEGUT: Oh, she says well, you're not a poor man. You know, why don't you go online and buy a hundred envelopes and put them in the closet? And so I pretend not to hear her. And go out to get an envelope because I'm going to have a hell of a good time in the process of buying one envelope.

I meet a lot of people. And, see some great looking babes. And a fire engine goes by. And I give them the thumbs up. And, and ask a woman what kind of dog that is. And, and I don't know. The moral of the story is, is we're here on Earth to fart around.

And, of course, the computers will do us out of that. And, what the computer people don't realize, or they don't care, is we're dancing animals. You know, we love to move around. And, we're not supposed to dance at all anymore.

I came across this marvellous little piece the other day. In some ways this attitude is central to my view of what it means to live spiritually alive in this world. The spiritual life for me is about meeting life and each other in this way. It is about openness. It is central to my view of ministry in so many ways. I try to live by invitation, by inviting the other to be who they are. People think that openness is about telling people who you are, being open about who you. I’m not convinced. Openness to me is about inviting others to be who they are with you. Openness is about invitation.

My car has been in the garage for a few days. This meant I have had to make use of taxi’s. I experienced four very different taxi rides. All of the drivers spoke freely and openly with me, all in different ways. My invitation enabled them to do so. They talked a lot about their views of the world, about religion and spirituality. I had a particularly fascinating ride with one between Urmston and Altrincham last Sunday. He had very strong views about religion, formed from his upbringing. I listened with interest and interjected very occasionally. By the end of the ride, just twenty minutes later, we had openly shared so much with each other. His parting conversation went something like this, I have never met a clergy man like you before. I thoroughly enjoyed this conversation. I felt listened to and understood, thank you.

I felt blessed by our open conversation. We were simply meeting one another, but it felt like the spirit was alive and well between us. As I got out of the cab I felt spiritually alive and led the service in the same spirit.

If I have learnt anything about spiritual living I have learnt that the key is openness; the key to spiritual living is to live with open hearts, open minds, open eyes and open hands. These four are spiritual living in practice, which I have come to believe is true essence of religion. Not creed like religion but truly living breathing practising free religion. True religion, intentional spirituality in community, should not only bring us to life as individuals but enable us to live truly alive and awake in this our shared world.

Unitarian minister James Vila Blake (1842-1925) wrote, "Love is the spirit of this church, and service its law. This is our great covenant: To dwell together in peace, To seek the truth in love, And to help one another." I think in many ways this covenant articulates the essence of what it means to come together in love as a worshipping community. It has been adopted by many Unitarian Universalist and Free Christian communities. It expresses beautifully what it means to live in an open, living breathing spiritual community, what free religion ought to be about.

When I am asked what it means to be a Unitarian, the first word that comes to mind is “openness”. It seems to me that we are an open tradition. Now as I have come to believe the essence of openness is humility. We are a humble tradition.

Openness is very much a doing word. It’s not so much that you are open, more that you live openly. To do so religiously, is to be open in four ways. It is to live with open eyes, open hearts and open minds and open hands.

Now to live with these four open eyes, open minds, open hearts and open hands is no easy task. In fact to master them is virtually impossible. The key is to begin and to continue; the key is intentional practice.

To live with open eyes is to see the world as it truly is; to see reality as it really is, warts and all and in its beauty spots too. To live with open eyes is to not turn away from the suffering present in life but also to pay attention to life’s beauty too. To live with open eyes is to see the reality of the whole of life. This is not easy, so often we are tempted to turn away. To live fully connected lives, we need to live with open eyes, to see life with all its blessings and curses.

To live with an open mind is to be able to search for truth and meaning, while maintaining an awareness of the tension between certitude and curiosity. It is the balance of being receptive to what is new and alien, while at the same time holding onto what is most dear. It is to try to know while in the presence of the unknown and the unknowable. This can make others feel uncomfortable and others may try to close an open mind or fill it with their things. To live with an open mind does not mean that we do not discern that we don’t come to conclusions. Quite the opposite actually. It is vital to come to conclusions, so that one can act in the world it’s just that after the decision the openness must be maintained, it is never too late to change our minds. So, keep your minds open but please do be careful what you put in it.

The key to living with a loving and open heart is live with all our senses, including our sixth sense, our soul, open to all the wonders and mystery of life. This too brings its dangers. Living with an open heart exposes us to pain and fear. You see to truly live with an open heart is to allow ourselves to be touched in the most tender of places. This can hurt sometimes. Remember Cupids arrow had to first of all pierce the flesh before it could penetrate the heart, love hurts. To live with an open heart is to follow the great commandment, it is Agape. It is to love others, no matter who they are what they have done, where they have come from, it is to love without condition. It is to follow the Golden Rule. It is to love our neighbour as we would wish to be loved ourselves. This requires love and compassion for ourselves of course, which can at times be the greatest challenge. It is to feel a deep connection with all that is, all that has been and all that will ever be. It is to recognise that in order to feel this connection requires that we share ourselves. To love is to practice forgiveness, over and over again. Practicing living with a loving heart is to live willing to be transformed by what we encounter in our daily lives.

By living with these three open eyes, open minds and open hearts we can then practice living with open hands. Hands that welcome, hands that humbly accept our interconnectedness. Open hands are willing to do what they can do to serve, to play their part in the world. It means committing and recommitting to use our hands, our abilities, in the service of life. With our hands, our actions, we take responsibility for our part in working for what is just, to create the kin-dom of love right here right now, to create a better world, the beloved community. With open hands, we offer what we have and do what we can.

Our open eyes allow us to recognise where we can act in the world, if our minds and our hearts are open. It is these three that tell our open hands where they are needed.

Open hands though are not just about action, they are also about connection and perhaps more importantly humility. Humility is the key to openness and to my eyes the essence of this my chosen Unitarian faith. I say chosen but I’m not sure if I chose it or it chose me. Who knows?

Now humility is a word that is often misunderstood. To be humble is to be at home in our true humanity, to be grounded in our own reality and shared humanity. The key to humility is to recognise that we are a part of something larger than our singular selves.

Humility is not about being meek and mild and bowing and scraping, it is not about being self-deprecating or denigrating. Too often humility is seen in this way, particularly from a religious perspective, as an excuse for suffering and or meekness. To me this is not true humility; true humility is about living with open hands and doing what we can in the world, we can only do this if we live with open hearts, open minds and open eyes and by recognising our common humanity.

I feel that so many of our troubles are caused by our inability to be truly open to one another and to new ideas; our troubles are caused by our arrogance and belief that we know best. Therefore, by not living openly we fail to understand and therefore empathise with each other and we remain trapped by what we think we know. We are too closed down and we need to open up, to one another, to life and to God. We need to be opened up like the Buddhist Monk, arms out with his begging bowl. An image which as Thomas Merton explained “represents not just a right to beg, but openness to the gifts of all human beings as an expression of this interdependence of all beings...Thus when a monk begs from the layman it is not as a selfish person getting something from someone else. He is simply opening himself to his interdependence.” The key is to live openly and of course the key to openness is humility. No one lives apart from anyone else we are all interdependent. Also none of us knows everything, we all see through the glass dimly.

I remember the first time I heard Forrest Church’s assertion that humility and openness are the two keys to religious living, how much this struck me deep inside. I saw the truth in it. There is limitlessness in openness. Who knows how much we can truly change and learn to love if we just stay open, in our hearts and minds and eyes. Who knows what we can do with our loving hands if we live with truly open eyes, open hearts and open minds.

The key to true spiritual living is openness, to live with open eyes, open hearts open minds and open hands. To key is to live with true humility, to see that we are grounded in our shared humanity. The key is to see that we are a part of something far greater than ourselves and that through recognising this we will know the love present in life and begin to bring that love alive, right here right now.

Every day is a day when we can bear witness to a Power Greater than ourselves. We do this when we love one another with open hands, when we see the world with truly open eyes, when we live with minds that are truly open and hearts open to the love waiting to enter and to be poured out onto our world that really needs it.

I was reminded of this last Sunday morning on that taxi journey between Urmston and Altrincham. What a beautiful gift that was. Who knows it may have opened the eyes, the heart, the mind and the hands of the taxi driver who had never met a clergy man quite like me before. We shared a journey, where we lived spiritually alive.

I believe it is our task to live truly open lives. This is real spiritual living, this is true religion. I believe it is our task to bring love alive, through our openness. It is our task to allow God to incarnate through our lives. To do so we need to live with open eyes, open minds, open hearts and open hands.

Please find below a video devotion based on the material in this "blogspot"

Monday 27 May 2024

Love and Fear: Is the Sky falling In?

I was out the other morning walking with Molly. As she was running round the park a couple of women with dogs called out to me. They asked “Do you know who’s this dog is?” They had two dogs of their own and their was another dog with them. One of them was trying to lure the dog onto a lead with treats. They said that they had found the dog wandering around the tennis courts and they thought it belonged to an old man. They seemed quite fraught and thought he must have had an accident. Other people passed and they asked if they recognised the dog. No one did. Folk began milling round and getting involved in the commotion. One of the women began calling a local vets and the RSPCA determined that something terrible had happened. More people began to gather round. Two other women with prams and one with a dog slowly moved towards us. I asked them if they knew the dog and one calmly said, “yes it is mine. I was calling him and wondered why he didn’t come running. I wondered what was going on.” It seems the dog likes to wander off in the park doing his own thing, lots of dogs do. Molly does. They also knew the old man who’s dog was much like the woman’s own.

It seems that things had got completely out of hand. Panic had set in. A simple situation had been blown out of all proportion. The dog was fine and yet fear and anxiety had begun to spread from seemingly one little acorn, or in this case one little dog who likes to do his own thing. It reminded me of that classic Children’s story “Chicken Licken” The story of an acorn falling on the chicken’s head which convinces him that the sky is falling in. he panics and decides he must inform the king.

There are many versions of this tale and it goes by many names. This version is primarily based on a collection compiled by the American Unitarian minister Edward Everett Hale. A man who had a great influence on Helen Keller during her childhood. He is probably best known for the following quote “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”

Anyhow this is the story of “Chicken Licken”

As Chicken-licken was going one day to the wood, whack! an acorn fell from a tree on to his head.

"Gracious goodness me!" said Chicken-licken, "the sky must have fallen; I must go and tell the King."

So Chicken-licken turned back, and met Henny-lenny.

"Well, Henny-lenny, where are you going?" said he.

"I'm going to the wood," said she.

"Oh, Henny-lenny, don't go!" said he, "for as I was going the sky fell on to my head, and I'm going to tell the King."

So Henny-lenny turned back with Chicken-licken, and met Cocky-locky.

"Well, Cocky-locky, where are you going?" said he.

"I'm going to the wood," said he.

Then Henny-lenny said: "Oh Cocky-locky, don't go, for I was going, and I met Chicken-licken, and Chicken-licken had been at the wood, and the sky had fallen on to his head, and we are going to tell the King."

So Cocky-locky turned back, and they met Ducky-lucky.

"Well, Ducky-lucky, where are you going?"

And Ducky-lucky said: "I'm going to the wood."

Then Cocky-locky said: "Oh! Ducky-lucky, don't go, for I was going, and I met Henny-lenny, and Henny-lenny met Chicken-licken, and Chicken-licken had been at the wood, and the sky had fallen on to his head, and we are going to tell the King."

So Ducky-lucky turned back, and met Drakey-lakey.

"Well, Drakey-lakey, where are you going?"

And Drakey-lakey said: "I'm going to the wood."

Then Ducky-lucky said: "Oh! Drakey-lakey, don't go, for I was going, and I met Cocky-locky, and Cocky-locky met Henny-lenny, and Henny-lenny met Chicken-licken, and Chicken-licken had been at the wood, and the sky had fallen on to his head, and we are going to tell the King."

So Drakey-lakey turned back, and met Goosey-loosey.

"Well, Goosey-loosey, where are you going?"

And Goosey-loosey said: "I'm going to the wood."

Then Drakey-lakey said: "Oh, Goosey-loosey, don't go, for I was going, and I met Ducky-lucky, and Ducky-lucky met Cocky-locky, and Cocky-locky met Henny-lenny, and Henny-lenny met Chicken-licken, and Chicken-licken had been at the wood, and the sky had fallen on to his head, and we are going to tell the King."

So Goosey-loosey turned back, and met Ganderly-landerly.

"Well, Ganderly-landerly, where are you going?"

And Ganderly-landerly said: "I'm going to the wood."

Then Goosey-loosey said: "Oh! Ganderly-landerly, don't go, for I was going, and I met Drakey-lakey, and Drakey-lakey met Ducky-lucky, and Ducky-lucky met Cocky-locky, and Cocky-locky met Henny-lenny, and Henny-lenny met Chicken-licken, and Chicken-licken had been at the wood, and the sky had fallen on to his head, and we are going to tell the King."

So Ganderly-landerly turned back, and met Turkey-lurkey.

"Well, Turkey-lurkey, where are you going?"

And Turkey-lurkey said: "I'm going to the wood."

Then Ganderly-landerly said: "Oh! Turkey-lurkey, don't go, for I was going, and I met Goosey-loosey, and Goosey-loosey met Drakey-lakey, and Drakey-lakey met Ducky-lucky, and Ducky-lucky met Cocky-locky, and Cocky-locky met Henny-lenny, and Henny-lenny met Chicken-licken, and Chicken-licken had been at the wood, and the sky had fallen on to his head, and we are going to tell the King."

So Turkey-lurkey turned back, and walked with Ganderly-landerly, Goosey-loosey, Drakey-lakey, Ducky-lucky, Cocky-locky, Henny-lenny, and Chicken-licken.

And as they were going along, they met Foxxy-loxxy. And Foxxy-loxxy said:

"Where are you going?"

And they said: "Chicken-licken went to the wood, and the sky fell on to his head, and we are going to tell the King."

And Foxxy-loxxy said: "Come along with me, and I will show you the way."

But Foxxy-loxxy took them into the fox's hole, and he and his young ones soon ate up poor Chicken-licken, Henny-lenny, Cocky-locky, Ducky-lucky, Drakey-lakey, Goosey-loosey, Ganderly-landerly, and Turkey-lurkey; and they never saw the King to tell him that the sky had fallen.

The shows how easy it is to get caught up in irrational fear, especially someone else’s. it is important to examine the evidence of our own senses or you too could get caught up in someone else’s fear. Half the park did the other day. Now to be fare it came from concern and care, but still the fear was unfounded. How often do we see panic flow from a the acorns of life. Every day an acorn will fall on someone’s head, but it does not mean that the world is about to end.

Fear is a powerful emotion. It has the power to inhibit but it also has the power of allure. Fear comes in many forms. Forrest Church identified five different types, which he associated with the body, intellect, conscience, emotions and soul. These being:

“Fright” (Centred in the body), which is a kind of instinctive fear, designed to protect us from physical danger. It’s that feeling that makes us jump while watching a horror film or the thing that gets our blood pumping and awakens our senses and allows us to respond to physical danger.

The second being “Worry” (Centred in the intellect), this is a fear that is produced by our worst imaginings. Often they are not real and can be blown out of all reasonable proportions. Shortly before he died Mark Twain mused, “I am an old man and I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened”

The third being “Guilt” (Centred in the conscience). This is a fear of being caught out or found out due to something that we have done in our past. It’s a fear we often carry with us and can be projected into so much of our lives. It’s the feeling that can come over us as we pass through security at airports, even though there is no reason to feel it, or when walking out of shops and passing through the security senses, even though we know we haven’t stolen anything.

The fourth being “Insecurity” (centred in the emotions), this is fear prompted by feelings of inadequacy. It is a fear that breeds a need to seek approval from others. It’s form of Narcissism and forms deep self-consciousness which makes us unconscious to life itself.

The fifth and perhaps worst of all is “Dread” (centred in the soul), a fear that is generated by life’s general uncertainty. In “Freedom from Fear” Church wrote “ ‘Man himself produces dread, wrote the Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. We manufacture it whenever we attempt to control things over which we hold no final authority. We reduce life to a battleground, where we struggle against insurmountable odds. Fearing every transition from certainty to uncertainty, we devote our full energy to protecting ourselves against loss. Dread is the opposite of trust. The more we dread death and dying, the more alarming life and living turn out to be.”

Yes fear has many faces and all of them powerful in their own ways. We each of us experience every type at different times in our lives.

Children often fear the dark and many of us fear the unknown, the unseen, the uncertain. The truth is though that so much of life is uncertain. I have learnt that it is vital to accept this, to surrender to this and through this you find the courage to simply live and truly be yourself and to discover real faith in life once again.

I recall a story I once heard of a young boy who lived with his parents on a farm. His job each afternoon was to fetch the afternoon paper so that his dad could read, after a long day’s work, while eating his tea. Now one November day he forgot to fetch the paper and by now it was turning dark. It turned four o’clock, nearly tea time and his mum noticed that he hadn’t fetched the paper, she asked her son if he would get the paper. Twenty minutes later she asked again and then ten minutes later, still no paper, so she asked once again. This went on until the mum completely lost her temper and shouted at the boy, will you get your dad’s paper. At which point the boy burst into tears. His mother realising something was wrong went to boy, who was inconsolable by now. After a while she calmed him down and asked him what on earth was wrong. He began to explain that all his life he had been afraid of the dark, but was too afraid to let his parents know. His mother soothed him and then asked. Now then you are a boy of faith and you believe in God, you believe that God is in you and with you. That God is in everything, even the dark. The boy nodded and then his mother said “There is no reason then to fear the dark, for God is in the dark, and God can do anything. Now be a good lad and go and get your dad’s paper.” At this the boy looked up at his mum smilingly and went to the door. He opened the door and confidently and shouted “God will you get me my dad’s paper please.”

Sadly didn’t get his paper that night.

Earlier we heard a passage from Mark’s Gospel of Jesus and disciples being caught in a storm. It follows many verses depicting Jesus speaking in parables, at the river bank, about faith and the Kingdom of God. After Jesus has finished preaching he and the disciples cross the waters and are caught in a storm. The disciples become afraid for their lives and waken Jesus who calms the seas and then rebukes them with the following words ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ They were afraid, they lacked courage, and they lacked faith in life. It seems to me that living in this kind of fear is the very thing that so often reduces life and or can send us into a panic over a little thing. Fear is so powerful an emotion and can control so much of life. How though do we overcome it?

Well it seems to me that the key, to overcoming fear, is courage.

Courage in many ways is the essence of life, maybe it is our daily bread. Anais Nin once said “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” I’m sure we can all think of moments when our own lives have either expanded or shrunk in proportion to our courage. Courage itself comes from the French root “Cuer” meaning heart. To have courage is to have strength of heart. Courage is a consistent and sustaining love, it is a spiritual energy that sustains us in sickness and in health in loss or disappointment.

It is said that there are only really two emotions fear and love. Now I do not believe that to feel the emotion of fear is to lack love, or courage or faith. That said to be ruled by fear and to be paralysed by it, may well mean a lack of faith. How often in life, do we say no to life because we have become paralysed by fear? How often do we expect someone else to do what we can do ourselves, because of fear? How often do we create troubles for ourselves and others because our fear led imaginations have created a scenario that does not exist, like the woman in the park. For me faith is all about having the courage to be all that we can be do and to do all that we can do in love and service. It is also about taking and seeing life as it actually is.

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to the size of our heart; life shrinks or expands in service to life itself. It’s about heart, it’s about courage, and it’s about being all that we can.

To have courage is to have strength of heart and to live from our hearts in our ordinary everyday activities. Courage is a way of living and breathing it’s about living openly and vulnerably in the world. Courage comes in those ordinary acts of love as we walk slowly through life. It is courage that allows us to learn that even when life has betrayed us, love is still present.

It is courage that allows us to stay open to life even when the storms are really blowing. It is courage that is formed in the heart; it is courage that is the ultimate act of faith; it is courage that keeps us open to life so that we can live in love and service.

Fear is a powerful emotion. We all feel it at times. The fright instinct is vital for our survival. Other forms of fear are less helpful, particularly those we create from within ourselves. These can spiral out of control and can lead to problems for ourselves and others. Just as it did in the cautionary tale of “Chicken Licken”.

So the next time you feel an acorn falls on your head, do not assume that it is a sign that the end of the world is near. It may just be an acorn falling from a tree, a sign of the natural change and flow of life.

Please find below a video devotion based on the material in this "blog spot"

Monday 20 May 2024

The winds of grace are always blowing, but you have to raise the sail

I have two friends who are writers, primarily comedy writers. I was chatting with one the other day, about life and everything, the things we have known and experienced as well as the spiritual aspects; we were talking about the gifts and talents that folk have, as well as other traits, some of the more difficult aspects of life and the burdens some folk have to live with. As we were walking and talking, whilst Molly played in the park, I said something that could easily have been taken the wrong way. I said that our mutual friend had a special gift, something I suspect she was born with. I then said that the friend I was walking with was talented, very talented, but that the other was gifted. What was interesting was they didn’t disagree or take offence. He agreed. Now what is particularly wonderful is how well the two of them work together. Her gift and his talent combined together create wonderful gifts for the world to share in.

Now of course my friend’s giftedness is not all that they are. Something I have noticed about gifted people is that they are often cursed with other challenges in life.

I was talking with another friend the other day who is a gifted singer. They were once a singer song writer but gave up that life. We were talking about singing and the blessings and curses of having perfect pitch. A person with perfect pitch can hear anything that is slightly out of tune, if it is it can really irritate. I know I get frustrated in myself when singing and anything goes slightly awry. I’m very sensitive to sound generally. I struggle with karaoke as terrible singing hurts my ears. Unfortunately, I cannot hide the pain from listening to the truly tone deaf. Very few people are actually tone deaf and very few have perfect pitch. Most people can sing, so long as they can hear and most people don’t get disturbed by those who are slightly off beam. I have one such friend who just cannot hear and I was recently reminded of his murdering of “Viva Las Vegas” which was utterly out tune and out of time. So much so it was hilarious. We were laughing about this the other evening at another friends 40th birthday celebration.

I love to sing, I love all kinds of singing. I am enjoying the birds again at the moment. My favourite of all time was the blackbird that lived on my roof. He sang to me and I to him. He raised my voice and I raised his. He was of course the greater singer. His is was the more perfect gift and a beautiful grace to me.

“Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch alike me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

I have recently been gifted the beautiful grace of conducting and attending the wedding of both a friend and of course our youngest brother. They were wonderful experiences. While conducting my friend’s wedding I was taken back to another friends wedding from a few years ago. It was held in an Anglican church and I gave the blessing at the end I also sang the classic hymn “Amazing Grace” acapella, Something I have done several times on special occasions. I have sung it at several heartbreaking funerals and I still don’t fully know to this day how. I suspect that was a form of grace.

Amazing Grace is a classic hymn that has grown in popularity over the years. Some of the words can be challenging. That said it is one of those pieces that can send a shiver down my spine. The hymn itself may well be a grace.

Amazing Grace has been described as a classic. David Tracy claimed that classics are "those texts, events, images, persons, rituals and symbols which are assumed to disclose permanent possibilities of meaning and truth”. Amazing Grace certainly fulfills this requirement. It has been doing so for over two hundred years. It is quoted in Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin" It was adapted by Cherokee Native Americans during their forced migration, known as the trail of tears. It became and remains a favourite amongst the civil rights movement.

Amazing Grace is usually sung to the hymn tune "New Britain". It has been recorded by a rich diversity of artists including Rev J.M Gates, Judy Collins, The Royal Scottish Dragoon guards, Aretha Franklin, Kylie Minogue and Joan Baez. It was even played by Mr. Scott at Mr. Spock's funeral in the film Stark Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. I recall President Obama bursting into a rendition of it whilst delivering the eulogy at the funeral of Clementa C Pickney who had been the pastor of the church in Carlston, the scene of a mass shooting. As he sang he shed tears. Surely a moment of pure grace. Amazing Grace keeps on surfacing and resurfacing in a variety of forms, both religious and secular and across the generations and there seems little doubt that it will continue to do so.

“Amazing Grace how sweet the sound”

I hear Grace, been hearing it all week, but what is it?

The Sufi mystic Rumi wrote:

Something opens our wings.
Something makes boredom and hurt disappear.
Someone fills the cup in front of us.
We taste only sacredness.

The something or someone I believe is Grace.

When I speak of Grace I mean than something that exist beyond the confines of ourselves, that something more that makes life real, special and alive. That something that exists beyond our individual efforts that makes our efforts almost effortless. I have noticed that when I live in a Graceful state life does indeed seem effortless. Indeed when life seems a slog or a struggle it is precisely then that I feel blocked off from the Grace that surrounds me. Grace seems to exist in the spaces of life, therefore when I am blocked it seems that there are no spaces where Grace can thrive and live. To live in a Graceful state is to trust in that which exists in those spaces and allow it to energise our lives. Over the years I have learnt to trust in this when the hard and dark times have struck. It is Grace that keeps me moving forward. Grace is the “Wow!” of life that can energise us if we would but trust in it. It is Grace that gives us a sense of belonging to life itself. When I began to live in Grace I became fully a part of life.

“Grace” has both secular and religious connotations. We can be given a period of grace with regard to payment of goods procured. We can be in someone else “good grace”, meaning we are in someone’s good books, we have gained their favour. We might compliment a person by saying they are graceful in the way they hold themselves or gracious in the way they act with others. In music a composer may add “grace notes”. These are added extras that are not essential but may add an artistic flourish to the piece.

Now of course classically speaking the “Grace of God” is a freely given gift of spirit that is unearned and undeserved; something that comes to us, from beyond ourselves. You can’t touch it, but you can know it. You could say that grace is a favour or perhaps a fortune that comes to us unbidden. It does not come because we have done anything to deserve it or not deserve it, it just comes. The part we can play is in recognizing it when it comes and making the most of what it offers. 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.

When I think of my two friends the gifted writer and the one who has perfect pitch. These were gifts they were simply born with. Yes they have nurtured those gifts and developed them, but I suspect mostly they are simply gifts that they were born with.

I suspect that Grace is something you just can’t avoid, even if you don’t always recognise it. It is always there, that said there is a part that we must play. As Ramakrishna said “The winds of grace are always blowing, but you have to raise the sail.” It is our task I believe to receive the wind and the waters in the right way.

You see Grace isn’t just going to come in and save us, to take our troubles away. To change the natural world, just for us. Just look at the world, at our lives, this just doesn’t seem so now does it? I believe that grace works in and through us; that it comes to life in and through us when we live in a “State of Grace”. 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.” Yes it 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 plays.

The Unitarian and Process Theologian Henry Nelson Weiman, while rejecting traditional notions of God, did believe that there was a process which he observed had the capacity to transform us into beings capable of doing good, that can enable us to live up to our ideals and therefore relieve us from what some have described as the meaningless despair at our lives. He called this process “Creative Interchange”. He believed that this “Creative Interchange” comes alive as individuals or groups bring new meanings to life and that as it comes to life the richness of the world expands and a deeper sense of integration occurs. For Weiman this was Grace.

James Luther Adams expanded on these ideas believing that this creative power finds its “richest focus” when we work together to serve the divine reality and bring to birth freedom and justice in our world. He believed that God transforms us with “a love that ‘cares’ for the fullest good of all.” It is this then that compels us to act with it in service and thus re-create Grace.

I see real truth in both Weiman’s and Adam’s view of Grace, they help me make sense of my own experiences.

Grace is not about the things we receive in life. We have all been given life, the ultimate free gift. 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 life we have been given. It is not for us alone. The gifts we have are given to share for the good of all. I was thinking of this as I talked with my writer friends the other day and the gifts and talents they have been given and how they are coming back to life again, how they are setting their sails once more.

No two people are exactly alike. We all have our gifts, our different abilities. We are all born with certain aptitudes and innate ability. We all have something to offer the world, to share with life, but they are not all the same. Thank God. I myself have always been a communicator, but never an athlete. My mum often tells me I could talk long before I could walk. That you could hold a conversation with me as toddler long before I took my first steps. There were two reasons for this. My mind is wired for communication and also because I was born with underdeveloped nerve endings in the base of my spine. This made physical activities difficult as a child. Therefore I could talk early and walk late.

We are all given different gifts. Our task I believe is to make the most of these gifts, to enjoy them and to share them with others, thus inspiring them to make the most of what life has given them. This I believe is the point the epistle Paul was making in is first letter to the Corinthians chapter twelve.

He wrote the letter because each member of the congregation, in their struggle to be the perfect congregational leader, were getting in the way of the others. Each one of them wanted to possess all the good qualities that make up a good leader, to become the perfect leader and to leave the others in their shadow. As a result they appeared to be nothing like a group of people living in the image of Jesus.

Paul taught them that the spirit does not allow even the possibility that one person can possess all the talents. That said if people come together in love, live interdependently and inspire one another with their gifts they will create a community for the good of all.

We all have gifts, talents that have been bestowed upon us and I believe we have a responsibility to learn to use these gifts well and to recognise that the same spirit that gave us these gifts requires us to use them cooperatively with those who have different gifts to us. They are not to be used lightly and selfishly, neither are they to be despised. In so doing we will inspire others to do the same, to make the most of what they have been freely given.

Let us be grateful for the gifts that have been bestowed upon us. Let us make the most of these aspects of our humanity that have been given us. Let us learn to share them with one another, let us be inspired by one another’s gifts and create a true kin-ship of love right here, right now.

In so doing we will begin to live in a “State of Grace”.

Below is a video devotion based on the material in this "Blogspot" 

Monday 13 May 2024

They don’t publish the good news. The good news is published by us

Thich Nhat Hanh “The Good News”

They don't publish
the good news.
The good news is published
by us.
We have a special edition every moment,
and we need you to read it.
The good news is that you are alive,
and the linden tree is still there,
standing firm in the harsh Winter.
The good news is that you have wonderful eyes
to touch the blue sky.
The good news is that your child is there before you,
and your arms are available:
hugging is possible.
They only print what is wrong.
Look at each of our special editions.
We always offer the things that are not wrong.
We want you to benefit from them
and help protect them.
The dandelion is there by the sidewalk,
smiling its wondrous smile,
singing the song of eternity.
Listen! You have ears that can hear it.
Bow your head.
Listen to it.
Leave behind the world of sorrow
and preoccupation
and get free.
The latest good news
is that you can do it.

On the drive back from our Jack’s wedding a couple of weeks ago we stopped off at the village of Grassington. It was lovely to walk in the Yorkshire country side on such a beautiful day. We walked without thought of where we were going and eventually made our way back to the village. As we wandered around I noticed a sign on a tiny local jewelry shop that read “Home of the Notorious Tom Lee”. We called in and purchased something as we paid I asked about the sign outside. The owner was only two pleased to tell the story of “The Notorious Tom Lee”. He was the local blacksmith who lived and worked in the building and also the small inn next door. He had murdered the local doctor and terrorised the village and surrounding area. A thief, a highway and all round bad man. He had apparently been shot and injured during a highway robbery and the local doctor Richard Petty had tended to his wounds. Fearing the doctor would inform on him he took him on a drinking spree, following winning money on a cock fight, in nearby Kettlewell ( the place of our Jack’s wedding). The doctor was lured to the woods and murdered. Despite being the prime suspect there was not enough evidence to convict. Eventually Tom Lee was informed on and caught and found guilty at York Azzizes where he was hanged for his crimes. Later his body was left in a cage in Grassington to warn other would be criminals.

A gruesome and fascinating tale and one that the village is known for. There were no other plaques to local people. It all got me thinking about how we know places and people; it got me thinking about notoriety and our fascination with bad news and bad people. How we are fascinated by darkness and dark people. Whether they be notorious murders or world leaders. People love gangster stories and highway men etc. My childhood was filled with tales of characters such as Dick Turpin, Ned Kelly, Jesse James, Al Capone. Gangster films are ever more popular. People today are fascinated by true crime stories. Recent research has shown how this can be psychologically damaging. There is a fascination with notorious public figures, people love the likes of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, whilst decent honest politicians are seen as dull and uninspiring. There is a fascination with celebrity gossip and celebrity influences online. Meanwhile there is a distrust of those who do good, who give their life for others. They are often sadly seen through suspicious eyes or considered dull. People are even told to hide their light and not talk about the good that they do. To not share the good news. Therefore, sadly all we ever hear is the bad news, because the good news is not up in lights and yet generally speaking it is the good that occurs throughout most of our lives. The good news does not stand out and shine so bright. Well maybe it should maybe it is time to tell the good news, to evangelise if you like.

Last Tuesday evening Adie Tindall led a fascinating conversation during “Living the Questions” on this very subject, “What is the good news?” He introduced the conversation explaining where the word evangelise came from. He explained That “'The ancient Greek word 'Evangelion' meaning good news was made popular in the Greco-Roman world. Especially under the reigns of Augustus and Caesar. Where they proclaimed a military victory to the Masses of the Roman empire, declaring “Salvation for the Empire.” This was adapted by the early Christians declaring the good news of Jesus Christ and Salvation in a different sense. Adie then opened up the conversation and invited us to explore the spirit of Evangelion in our context and experience; asking if any of us had good news to share? How do we share the good news? What is the good news as opposed to only the terrible news, and what part hope has to play in this?

We also talked a lot about discomfort and distrust we evangelism. How we can feel uncomfortable when people want to tell you what they considered to be their good news to you. We often turn off if someone is evangelising about their chosen subject. I experienced it myself the other day as a friend was trying to tell me about the merits of a carnivore diet. After first being taken aback by their approach I did look into it. While interesting I will not be following it. By the way they haven’t stopped evangelising since.

Why do we only talk about what is wrong, why do we promote only the bad news. Why do we build statues to the notorious. Why is it that a brutal murderer is the biggest talking point of the beautiful village of Grassington? Hey I’m talking about it now. Actually there is some good news in this. We talk about it because it is rare and shocking. Most people live decent caring lives, will do what they can to help. Something I have witnessed wherever I have been in life, wherever I have gone. We do good because it is the instinctive thing to do, the problem is that we are told not to talk about it. Maybe we should as it will encourage others to do more and in so doing all gain. So long as we ourselves do not become the bad news by overwhelming others with what we consider to be “The Good News”. The good news should always be joyful.

The former chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said:

“Doing good is not painful, a matter of dour duty and a chastising conscience. There is a Hebrew word, a key term of the Bible, for which there is no precise English translation: simhah, usually translated as "joy". What it really means is the happiness we share, or better still, the happiness we make by sharing.”

There is a real joy in doing good, all gain and yet we are encouraged to hide or light. Such a shame as joy is one of those feelings that grow the more we share it. Like love joy increases with subtraction. It is good for our souls and for the souls of others. As Swami Vivekananda said:

“The more we come out and do good to others, the more our hearts will be purified, and God will be in them.”

Thich Nhat Hahn said in his wonderful poem “The Good News”, that I shared earlier, that they don’t print the good news, that is our task. We have to make and publicise our own good news, to be aware of the good news that we are surrounded by. We need to be grateful that we experience life at all. He says: “Listen! You have ears that can hear it. Bow your head. Listen to it. Leave behind the world of sorrow and preoccupation and get free. The latest good news is that you can do it.”

Of course there are those who do try to spread the good news. I remember as a child that “The News at Ten” used to have an “And Finally” section at the end of its news bulletins. This would tell of a heart warming story. There is “The Good News Network” and similar publications that try to publicise good things in the world. So, there are pockets of folk trying to spread the good news, but they are rare.

There is sadness in this world, but there is also beauty, love, compassion, courage too. It’s just a shame that most of the modern media no longer believes that this sells.

The News of the World may well have gone the way of the Dodo and the dinosaur but what it traded on is still going strong, stronger than ever it would seem.

Perhaps the real problem is that we have come unreceptive to the good news. Maybe we no longer have ears that hear. Maybe we find it hard to take in the good news and just as importantly share it, become it, nurture it and let it flower and grow. We do this by not only our good deeds, but also let others see it.

As Hildegard of Bingen said:

“A person becomes a flowering orchard. The person that does good work is indeed this orchard bearing good fruit. . . . Whatever humanity does with its deeds in the right or left hand permeates the universe.”

Let us prepare the ground for the good news, let’s create the beautiful garden and let it bare fruit.

In “The Parable of the Sower” Luke 8: vv 4-8 Jesus tells the crowd that the sower threw seeds on the path that were trampled on and eaten by birds; while other seed fell on rocky ground where the roots were weak and therefore the plants withered and died; still others fell on thorn and the thorns grew up and choked the plants; finally some fell on good soil where they thrived and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing...a hundred fold.

Let us prepare the ground for the “Good News”, let it flower and grow. Maybe we need to find new ways of sharing the good news.

The great sages such as Jesus and Buddha spoke in parables in attempts to help people get to the deeper meaning of their message. They wanted the ears that heard to wrestle with what was being said and therefore come to a deeper understanding.

I believe that in this parable Jesus is telling his followers that in order to hear the good news you need to become receptive to it. As I have said many times before I believe that every one of us has the potential for deep compassion as well as the potential for hatred and extreme selfishness. The key is to feed and develop that compassionate aspect of ourselves and then we can indeed impact positively on the world in which we live. I do believe that the kingdom of heaven is within all of us, as is hell for that matter and that we can indeed build that kingdom here on earth; or we can build our own living hell here on earth. It really is down to how we all live our lives. “The Parable of the Sower”, “The Good News Network” the word’s of Thich Nhat Hahn, little conversations throughout our day, smiling at the person that you pass on the street, passing on a good turn given to you can indeed lead to some kind of chaos theory of love and compassion. It is time to start spreading the good news of the decent and ordinary and not just talk about the notorious.

Start spreading the “Good News”, we can change our world today.

I’m going to end with the poem “So” by Leonard Nathan

It’s a poem addressed to each and everyone one of us. We who live ordinary lives, not the famous or infamous, the notorious. We ordinary people who create the “Good News”. We are the most important people in the lives of others. We influence through our ordinary daily interactions. There is always something deeply meaningful and effective that we can all do in our ordinary lives and it can make all the difference. Let’s start spreading the “Good News”

“So?” by Leonard Nathan

So you aren’t Tolstoy or St. Francis
or even a well-known singer
of popular songs and will never read Greek
or speak French fluently,
will never see something no one else
has seen before through a lens
or with the naked eye.

You’ve been given just the one life
in this world that matters
and upon which every other life
somehow depends as long as you live,
and also given the costly gifts of hunger,
choice, and pain with which to raise
a modest shrine to meaning.

Please find below a video devotion based on the material in this "blog spot"