Tuesday 27 September 2011

“Yom Kippur” a Gentiles lesson: At-One-Ment

Please note that the dates below apply to Yom Kippur during 2011

From next Friday night until Saturday at sunset 7th – 8th of October millions of Jewish people, throughout the world, will be celebrating the festival of Yom Kippur “The Day of Atonement”.

According to Jewish tradition, God inscribes each person's fate for the coming year into the Book of Life on Rosh Hashanah and waits until Yom Kippur to "seal" the verdict. During the Days of Awe, a Jew tries to amend his or her behaviour and seek forgiveness for wrongs done against God and against other human beings. The evening and day of Yom Kippur are set aside for public and private petitions and confessions of guilt. At the end of Yom Kippur, the Jewish person is considered absolved by God and therefore can then be placed in the “Book of Life” for another year.

What is significant for me, as a gentile, about this concept of atonement is that the wrong doer must first of all seek forgiveness from those they have wronged before they then turn to God and ask that they be returned to the “Book of Life”. Only after the transgressor has been forgiven by the transgressed can God’s forgiveness be obtained.

So what can be learnt from this tradition and understanding of atonement? Well for me it stems from this idea of coming into right relationship, not only with God but also the rest of humanity and life itself. Experience has taught me that through coming into right relationship with other people and life in general, I begin to come into right relationship with myself and then and only then do I began to experience the power that I call God. This seems to go against much of what the faith traditions teach, but it is definitely my experience, God it seems came last. My experience of God has been revealed through an attempt to live honestly and openly which began by me being able to see where I had been wrong. It began to be experienced as I dropped those barriers of self protection I had built up over the years.

Now I could share hundreds of examples of how my internal walls have “come a tumbling down” over the years, some appear mind blowing and others are really quite simple. The one I will share here may not sound very significant to most folk, but it meant a lot to me.

For most of my adult life I was one of those people who could never admit to be being wrong. I could say sorry but I could not admit to being wrong. I would argue and argue until I convinced the other that I was right. I remember once persuading a very intelligent friend of mine that the water in Yorkshire is somehow better than it is in Lancashire. It took me hours but she did eventually come round to my point of view. The argument was utterly pointless but there was no way my esteem would allow me to concede defeat.

This though began to change during an exchange I had with another friend about 7 years ago now. I was spouting my mouth off about something, really showing off if I’m honest, when my friend corrected me and explained what the real truth of this particular situation was. Now in my guts I wanted to fight and argue, but for once I did not. I stopped and listened and realised that I was incorrect. I then admitted I was wrong and do you know what it didn’t matter. Now there was a lot of change occurring within me at this juncture in my life and this small incident pieced a lot of it together. I suddenly realised that by admitting I was wrong about one thing it did not mean that I was wholly wrong about everything. I had developed enough honest self esteem to realise that being wrong about one thing did not make me wrong full stop; it did not make me wrong to the core of my being, which I believe had been the problem all along. I could not lose an argument because if I did it would prove to me, what I really believed that I was wrong to the core. I do not believe that any of us is wrong to the core.

It also taught me something else, which for some reason had passed me by before...once you can see you are wrong, admit to being wrong and do what is required to correct what was wrong, you are no longer wrong...you are right again; you are at one, you have atoned.

Let me just repeat that...because I need to remember this...

once you can see you are wrong, admit to being wrong and do what is required to correct what was wrong, you are no longer wrong...you are right again; you are at one, you have atoned.

That said to be able to accomplish this requires the development of natural self esteem, which I have discovered only develops by living honestly. I realised some time ago that you cannot work on self esteem itself by telling yourself how wonderful you are, it just doesn’t work. It can only grow naturally by living honestly from the core of your being and by healing the relationships between yourself, the rest of humanity, life and whatever we understand is at the core of it all.

I have discovered that the essence of atonement is to bring life back into relationship. As Peter Sampson (one of my all time favourite Unitarians, or do I mean Lunitarians) once taught me Atonement literally means At-One-Ment... “Atonement literally means At-One-Ment.” It is the quality of being the one undivided whole. So if atonement means being the one undivided whole then the opposite is this sense of separation, this experience of fragmentation which can occur within ourselves, within our wider society and within that which holds all of life together. So this healing of not only ourselves but humanity and all of life simply begins by first of all admitting where we have been wrong as individuals. By the way this takes courage and true faith. It is a healing process that begins to break down the barriers that separate us from one another.

Many people are estranged from one another, both within families and communities. Who is no longer friends with someone because of a quarrel that got out of hand?

I have been estranged from many members of my family for long periods at different times of my life. This is no longer the case I am united with all of them today. We were brought back to this state of at-one-ment because I was willing to level my own pride and make the first move. I was willing to atone for the wrongs I had done and able to forgive the harms that had been done to me and to others too.

And isn’t this the case for all of us. We can all feel uncomfortable by some individuals who we have fallen out at some time and place in the past often we don’t remember why and yet we can become enslaved by the memory of these slights. This anger affects all who are around us and this sense of negativity breaks up any sense of true community. And yet we could easily begin the healing process if we could just admit where we have been wrong. That though of course leaves us vulnerable to criticism and I believe that this is what we are most afraid of. I know I was and can still be so from time to time. Fear of criticism has always been my greatest downfall.

This concept of atonement does appear out of synch with our 21st century world. Our culture tacitly encourages us to cover up, deny, forget our lies, our indiscretions, and our exploitation of others. Our media is full of public figures behaving in this manner. Many only genuinely offer regret and occasionally ask forgiveness when there is nowhere else to go. Rarely is the apology directed at the person or persons harmed. More often it is directed towards the general public who the figure is frightened of losing their support of. How many times have we heard celebrities’ apologies to their fans for letting them down? Not for what they have actually done.

This is not atonement by any stretch of the imagination. This is not at-one-ment! A genuine apology expresses remorse when it is directed to the person hurt and is given with the intention of seeking to be in an honest relationship with ourselves and others. It is an acknowledgement of personal wrongdoing. It is an attempt to make amends, to heal to put right what is wrong. It also carries the intention to change and grow from the person making amends.

I like the Jewish concept of atonement, it seems so human centred. I am sure that in practise many Jewish people fail to live up to its true ideals, but then who amongst us ever truly walks the path that we talk about. I know for one that I do not. I am able to acknowledge my short comings and to bring myself back into relationship with those I share my life with. I am much freer today of the old bondage of perfectionism fuelled by the fear of criticism. I have learnt a lot from seeing where and when I am wrong. By the way I am also able to see and acknowledge when I am right (I will talk more about that in my next post). 

All these things have brought me closer to the rest of humanity and begun to heal that aching loneliness that was at the core of me for so long. Finally and vitally it has begun to return me to the love that I understand to be God.

Remember Atonement means At-One-Ment!

Thank you Mr Sampson for teaching me that Atonement means At-One-Ment and everyone else who has opened my eyes as we have walked along life’s rich and Broad Highway.

Thursday 22 September 2011

"We are not a glum lot", but are we really grateful

A grandmother was walking with her 5 year old grandson on the beach, when suddenly a rogue wave came and grabbed him and carried him out to sea. She looked up to the sky, held out her fist and cried "God, this is unacceptable, unbearable. You cannot take an innocent child" and just as the words came out of her mouth, another rogue wave came and deposited the child smiling back at her feet. She then picked up the child in her arms, looked up to sky and said, "This child had a hat!"

We really are a funny lot. We focus and complain about the things we don't have or the things that we once had and have now lost. So much so that we fail to see the very fruits that we are surrounded by. We are an ungrateful lot. We can be a real glum lot.

Most of us are ungrateful; most of us practice being ungrateful. It's almost become a religious ritual in itself. We moan and complain about our imperfect jobs, our imperfect bodies, our imperfect family, our imperfect relationships, our imperfect religious communities, our imperfect football teams, our imperfect life, our imperfect world, even our imperfect God who doesn't give us exactly what we want when we want it.

This joylessness can become habitual and all consuming and pretty soon life can look pretty bleak and empty. Is it any wonder that depression, mental illness and addiction are on the increase? If this is the view that we have of the world in which we live. We can be a glum lot. The problem with living an ungrateful life is that it eats away at everything that has any meaning. Until in the end life has no meaning.

Can you ever imagine wanting to spend time with or be near a person who has no sense of gratitude for life as a gift, a precious gift; the kind of person who only sees life purely as his or her personal entitlement that must be grabbed at and clung to.

The classic example of this is the Dickens character Ebeneezer Scrooge. The miserly, clench buttocked, tight-fisted, cold-hearted, humourless man, who had no sense of gratitude. He was a man that no one wanted to be around. He was not born that way and had not always lived that way, but had over the years sunk further into self protection.

I've been there I was one of life's great moaners. As they say round Manchester way I was a 'proper mard arse'. And as I know only too well “nobody likes a winer”. I certainly didn't like me and I tried really hard to make others not like me too. That is when I wasn't trying to get them to feel sorry for me. Today I am grateful for the life I have and the life I'm living. My religion if you like has become one of gratitude, radical gratitude.

The American Unitarian Universalist minister Galen Guengerich (what a great name) proposes that gratitude ought to be the central pillar of my Unitarian faith.

He states

"Unless our faith is mere intellectual affectation … the
defining element of our faith must be a daily practice of some kind. What
kind of practice? For Jews, the defining discipline is obedience: To be a
faithful Jew is to obey the commands of God. For Christians, the defining
discipline is love: To be a faithful Christian is to love God and to love your
neighbour as yourself. For Muslims, the defining discipline is submission: To
be a faithful Muslim is to submit to the will of Allah.

And what of us? What should be our defining religious discipline? While
obedience, love, and even submission each play a vital role in the life of faith,
my current conviction is that our defining discipline should be gratitude.
Gratitude! Gratitude as the Unitarian core spiritual practice!

Why gratitude? Two dimensions of gratitude make it fitting as our defining
religious practice. One has to do with a discipline of gratitude, and the other
has to do with an ethic of gratitude. The discipline of gratitude reminds us
how utterly dependent we are on the people and world around us for
everything that matters. From this, flows an ethic of gratitude that obligates
us to create a future that justifies an increasing sense of gratitude from the
human family as a whole. The ethic of gratitude demands that we nurture the
world that nurtures us in return."

I think that he makes a good point. This discipline and ethic of gratitude offers an alternative to the rugged individualism of our post modern age. For an awful lot of folk, so called, spirituality has become all about feeling good about me right now and not about connection and interconnectedness. This self-centred spirituality only feeds our loneliness and disconnection. So not only is it deeply ego-centric it simply does not work. By living this way and trying to grab and cling to what see as 'ours' the whole of life becomes devoid of meaning unless we personally possess it. Therefore if we lose even a little bit of whatever it is that gives our life meaning and value our whole focus will be purely on that little bit that we have lost and not the fruits we are surrounded by.

...just like the old lady, the child and the hat...

Maybe Galen is right; maybe the purpose of the religious way of life is to activate that sense of gratitude within us. The Christian mystic Meister Eckhart stated that “if the only prayer you said the whole of your life was "thank you", that would suffice.”

"Thank you" is the greatest prayer of them all. I have a friend who recites that prayer with every breath when he goes swimming. This man has known the pain that life can bring; he's also been responsible for creating plenty of it himself. He has changed though and as a result is grateful for the fact that he can draw breath. He says thank you for every single breath.

...that takes my breath away...

So how do we Foster gratitude? People like Galen advocate spiritual practices and I'm sure that they help. In my nightly prayers, for part of the time, I focus on the gifts that I have experienced that day. I also take time to look at the beauty that I'm surrounded by, whether it's the bustling crowds in town or the beauty of nature. Beauty in ordinary everyday life comes in many guises. For me there is nothing more magical than the smile on a child's face or their infectious laughter. I adore it when I can see the world through the eyes of a child, I love that sense of awe and wonder.

That said I'm not convinced that this is enough. Religious faith, for me, is all about action and this action is frequently ignited by life's trials. These events can often be painful and almost utterly destructive. In my experience radical gratitude emerges from what has been called the "dark night of the soul". I only began to experience gratitude for the fact I could draw breath, when I came out of my own self created hole. I could not focus on what was beautiful and could only see what I had lost.

The Holocaust survivor Eli Weisel believed that "gratitude emerges from the kingdom of the night". Gratitude is not the result of good fortune, happiness or great success. It is instead a response to life itself. Maybe gratitude reaches us when we appear to be utterly unreachable.

Psalm 139 boldly claims that we can never exile ourselves from the range and reach of love.

"Thou are acquainted with all my ways... Where can I flee from your presence? If I make my bed in hell, thou art there... even the night shall provide light. The darkness and the light are both alike to Thee."

The power of goodness is so enormous that it can soften even the hardest of hearts, as it did for Mr Scrooge.
Gratitude is not about the things we do or do not receive; it is about being in relationship. It is about being in relationship with ourselves, the life we have, the people we share it with, the planet we inhabit and the universe we are a small but vital part of. It is also about being in relationship with whatever we understand is at the core of this. For me this is God, others understand this differently or give it another name. What we name it is almost irrelevant. What is really important is how we respond to this mystery that is life. All of us can pray for a grateful heart, for the gift that is life itself and for the opportunities that life offers to us. And if we fall short what does it matter.

The truth is that no matter how far we wander, or how often we stumble, love can find and bless us, if we are open enough to receive it.

Today I am practising gratitude by giving myself wholeheartedly to life.

We are all capable of that...

Saturday 17 September 2011

Rabindranath Tagore and "The Age of the Sound Bite"

This morning we were celebrating the first anniversary of a youth theatre group that are using the large schoolroom here at Dunham Road. I was invited along to have my picture taken with them and was then interviewed for the local press. I was asked to give a couple of “sound bites” about why we were supporting them using our building and what we hoped this might achieve.

We are told that the best way to communicate with people in this day and age is through “sound bites”; that if you’ve got something to say, you must be able to communicate it in no more than 140 characters.

Is this true? Well I personally do not think so, although I do accept that the “sound bite” is a useful method of communication and ought not to be dismissed.

A lot of the publicity material produced by Unitarians has the tag line “Many Beliefs, One Faith” a sound bite that I actually like. I believe that it portrays accurately, our faith tradition. I reckon that it could well open the door to people and lead to further inquiry. Could it lead to them asking Ciff Reed’s question “Unitarian, what’s that?” 

Of course “Sound bites” have their limits. They are not created to offer answers merely stimulate questions. Isn’t this what the spiritual life is all about? Asking the questions? Well actually in my experience this is only part of it. If it is only about asking the questions, then the spiritual life is limited. This is why I am one of those folk who believe that spiritually, without religious community, will always be limited. As I have said before I believe that spirituality needs religion, just as religion needs spirituality. One without the other doesn’t really work. True religion is about free spiritual seeking, but in constructive activity with others, in the world that we actually inhabit. Spirituality, at least in many of its modern incarnations, seems to miss so much due to it’s over emphasis on the individual.  A free religious faith, where a diversity of beliefs is encouraged, is about the asking the questions in community with others and then living those questions in life itself. Or to put it another way, it’s about “Unity in Diversity”. Or as our current publicity reads “Many Beliefs, One Faith”.

The “Wayside Pulpit” is one method of displaying our message to outsiders. It is something that I have not fully got the hang of as of yet. Michael Jackson (not the recently deceased singer) a Buddhist/Christian solicitor is an avid reader of our “Wayside pulpit”, at Altrincham. He tells me the ones that he likes and the ones that he considers to be too wordy. Some of our recent one’s have been too wordy, he tells me. Yet another case of progress not perfection, I am working on this.

The current “Wayside Pulpit” at Dunham Road reads “I feel called to be faithful in two ways, inwardly to God and outwardly to man” by George Fox the 17th century Quaker, who definitely followed both of his callings. He was a spiritually enlightened man, who lived out his religious convictions.

Fox’s “sound bite” is echoed in the teachings of Rabindranath Tagore who taught that God is found through personal discovery and human service.

2011 is the 150th anniversary of Tagore’s birth, which is being celebrated by diverse groups of people in many parts of the world. We Unitarians are celebrating his life and teachings too. This is because we have been influenced by him and his work and we ourselves influenced his own personal spiritual development.

Rabindranath Tragore was born into privilege in Calcutta, to a family who combined Indian culture with western ideas. He was a child protégé who began writing poems at the age of eight. By the age of 17 he was a published author. He enjoyed a fine education, including a spell studying law at University College London.

Following his marriage in 1883 he moved to East Bengal now Bangladesh and began to collect folk stories. He wrote prolifically in the local language and had several books published during the latter years of the 19th century. He wrote a variety of poems, prose, short stories and novels. In 1901 he founded a school near Calcutta, which taught a combination of both eastern and western philosophy.

In 1913 Tagore won the Nobel Prize for literature, he was the first non-westerner to do so. How this came about is cloaked in mystery. In 1912 he sailed for England with 100 translations of his poems, which would become the anthology “Gitanjali” (“song offerings”). He carelessly left them on the tube and thought they were lost. While in London he met WB Yeates who became a passionate supporter and helped him to get his work published in England. He quickly became a global phenomenon, due in no small part to him being awarded the Nobel Prize.  He was the embodiment of the synthesis between east and west. He was the first Guru, more than half a century before the Beatles went on their pilgrimage to India.

He is portrayed by many Unitarians as a beacon of religious inclusivity. He was a member of the Liberal Hindu movement Brahmo Samaj, which was heavily influenced by western thinking. Not only did he want to share his culture with the west; he also wanted to learn about the west. He wanted to combine the best of both of these worlds. As he said his dream was to unite “the introspective vision of the universal soul (eastern spirituality) with the spirit of its outward expression in service (western religion).

This brings to my mind the parable of Mary and Martha (Luke Ch 10 vv 38-42). Many Biblical scholars have seen Mary as the representative of contemplation, prayer the inner life; whereas Martha is seen as the representative of social action, of good works for others. Together they represent the “Golden Rule of Compassion”, the love of God and the love of neighbour. Mary represents the east and Martha the west; Mary represents spirituality and Martha religion. They are the perfect embodiment of our current Wayside pulpit, spoken in the 17th century, by George Fox “I feel called to be faithful in two ways, inwardly to God and outwardly to man”. Sound bites are not a modern phenomena, Jesus used them...”Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” and many, many more.

Tagore played a leading role in the Indian reform movements of the inter-war period. He and Gandhi were friends and allies for quite some time, although they did fall out over what Tagore saw as Gandhi’s idealisation of cottage cotton spinning. Tagore did not want to live in the past and criticised Gandhi for idealising it. Tagore wanted the best of both east and west and not the total rejection of either. Gandhi saw Tagore as being too complex and positive about life and Tagore viewed Gandhi as being too simplistic and negative with regard to India and her problems. That said, although they disagreed, they continued to show respect for one another and their different religious views.

Tagore was a strong believer in the dignity of the individual, he upheld the value of freedom. He believed in the divine purpose and of the diversity of language, religion and culture that was at the heart of Indian life. He championed “Unity in Diversity” and believed that every language, religion and culture had its place in India. Multi-culturalism is not a modern invention; many of the ancient civilisations were multi-cultural. He saw India as the great exemplar of this and believed that its contribution to world civilisation lay in its example of unity in diversity to the whole world. Sadly this was damaged due to partition and the nationalism that accompanied it.
I believe that my Unitarian tradition owes a debt to Tagore for this concept of “Unity in Diversity”, exemplified in our current “sound bite” “Many Beliefs One Faith”. Paradoxically it is both a simple and yet complex message. Many beliefs suggests a broad questioning spirituality; where as one faith is speaking of a community coming together and impacting on the society in which it lives and breathes. Yes it is diverse, while also bringing individuals into oneness with each other, their world and with God however each understands this word.

I believe that we all have that Divine spark within us. We are all capable of so much more than we sometime allow ourselves to be. We are capable of moving beyond self centred accumulation to a life of service with and for one another. We can dedicate ourselves to the cause of truth and beauty, to unrewarded service for others. We can dedicate ourselves to love for self and neighbour, the love of nature and we can grow in harmony with all existence.

All are capable of heeding George Fox’s call:

“I feel called to be faithful in two ways, inwardly to God and outwardly to man”
I will end this piece with some words of Tagore. I will not call them a “sound bite” and they are too long for a future “Wayside Pulpit”, nevertheless are believe they are worth reflecting on

 “All my work and all my dealings with people feel very easy. Actually, everything is simple. There is one straight road - if you open your eyes you can go along it. I don’t see the need to search for all sorts of clever short cuts. Happiness and sadness are both on the road - there is no road that avoids them - but peace is found only on this road, nowhere else.”

By the way it’s a very Broad Highway, not a narrow path.

Does that sound like an ok “sound bite”? I'd better ask Michael Jackson.

Wednesday 7 September 2011

Pollyanna's Original Blessing

The phrase Pollyanna is often used as a term of ridicule for the kind of person who lives with a child-like enthusiasm for life. Such people are told that they need to grow and see the world for what it really is.

Is this true? Do such people need to see the world for what it is?

I decided a while back, what with it being the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, that I would read this version from cover to cover. Like most people of my generation, this is something I have never done. I was reading Genesis 1 and noted that when God takes a step back and looks at his creation he keeps on repeating the phrase “and God saw that it was good”, or as I recently heard someone say “very good indeed”. It got me thinking. Not about the merits of the science of Genesis, I’ve never considered it to be a literal understanding of how the world came to be. No it got me thinking about life and whether, with all its ups and downs it could be considered good. What about violence, war and senseless tragedies? What about germs, disease and famine? What about the pain of our families, our friends, our loved ones?

Is life “very good indeed”?

Some people seem to live with unending tragedy; they seem to experience it far more than the average person. What always blows me away is that it is often these very same people find the most joy in life, even in extreme pain and suffering. These are the kind of people that stand out as beacons to us all. They are often the most joy and hoped filled. They are angels in our midst. They have learnt to balance the good with the bad, the joy with the suffering. They are able to see the goodness in their lives as a generous, if at times mysterious, gift. For them life is a blessing and not a curse; a challenge to rise to rather than a burden to be endured. They affirm life as “very good indeed” despite the sadness that they know only too well, despite the real or imagined threats of violence from natural and manmade sources that are all around everyone of us. They see life as being “very good indeed” because of the gifts that it bestows upon us, the gifts that it gives us that can sustain us through the losses that we all experience in life. It is wrong to mock them as “Pollyanna’s” they are people of genuine faith, who know and experience “Love’s Way”

Such people see life as “very good indeed” not because they do not see the darkness present in life and no doubt within themselves, but because they are able to rise above such challenges and even shine some light upon them. Such light can guide us out of our own troubles if we only took the time to pay attention to how these people live their lives and stopped mocking them as “Pollyanna’s”

It is so easy to see life as a curse as a “vale of tears”. I remember when I was at university reading “Leviathan” by Thomas Hobbes, written just after the English civil war. I was struck and disturbed by the bleakness of his view. I did not like it, but it has stuck with me ever since and in my darkest moments, a few years later, I probably agreed with his diagnosis.

Hobbes said:
"Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of Warre (war), where every man is Enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withall. In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short."

“And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short” Gosh that is hard.

For Hobbe’s what is required is an ultimate authority to bring order to wayward humanity and subjugate our anarchic and brutish nature. I see similarities here to the traditional Christian view, at least in the west, of humanities nature; that we are fallen and broken, “rotten to our timbers”; due to Adam’s original disobedience in the “Garden of Eden”, which led to humanity being cast out of paradise and being forced to suffer.
But are we fallen, broken and sinful by nature, rotten to core? Well this has been questioned throughout the history of Christianity, my tradition has certainly questioned it, and is a view not shared by other faiths.

I have always loved what the former Dominican priest Rev Matthew Fox has to say on this matter. In his book “Original Blessing” he wrote.

“Let us take a closer look at this pivotal doctrine of original sin. The concept is not a Jewish one. Even though the Jewish people knew Genesis for a thousand years before Christianity, they did not read original sin into it. As the twentieth century Jewish prophet Eli Weisel points out, ‘The concept of original sin is alien to Jewish tradition. This is strong language...to call a doctrine “alien” that Christians believe they found in Jewish scripture.’”

Fox goes further than this claiming that Christian scholars today agree that “Original Sin” is not to be found in the Bible.

This is not to say that there is no such thing as Jewish guilt, of course. Quite the opposite is in fact true; as many Jewish comedians, who have forged a career out of talking about their guilt, will no doubt testify. This guilt though did not originate in the fall, that’s a whole new kettle of fish.

Matthew Fox’s “Original Blessing” claims that blessing runs like a thread through the whole creation story. He says “ ‘Original Blessing’ underlies all being, all creation, all time, all space, all unfolding and evolving of what is.” And quotes Rabbi Herschell who said “Just to be is a blessing, just to live is holy”

He does not claim that humanity is incapable of wrong doing, even evil. Quite the opposite, as history has shown. Of course there is human frailty and obvious limitations. There is no denial of sin, just “original sin”. What he is saying is that this brokenness can never outweigh the many gifts that we do have to offer and that life has to offer us.

He says that:

“A theology of blessing is a theology about a different kind of power. Not the power of control or the power of being over or under, but the power of fertility. Blessing is fertility to the people of Israel and to the Native American and other pre-patriarchal religions.”

These teachings are close to the earth, to the cosmos. They are linked to Jesus’s teachings expressed in the Beatitudes “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness; blessed are the peace makers...” There is nothing new in the teachings he is simply saying that we share our blessings by giving of ourselves to others, by being a bright spot in people lives. It is an active, living, breathing way. It is “Love’s Way”.

On Sunday I will be conducting the Baptism of a new child who has recently been born into our community. Water will be used in the ceremony but not to wash away sin, our tradition rejected this concept long ago. No child is born into this world carrying any baggage; I cannot and will not accept that. Instead what we will do is celebrate and bless the life of this child. I will touch her brow, her lips and her hands to bless her thoughts, her words and her deeds and we will all make promises to her and her family to offer her guidance in life.

Life is the greatest gift of them all. It is not a veil of tears; it is not “solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.". Yes it has its troubles and challenges and we all experience suffering from time to time. Even so it is a gift, a blessing.

As Rabbi Herschell said “Just to be is a blessing, just to live is holy”

We make life a blessing through our thoughts are words and our deeds.

By doing so we make life “very good indeed”