Saturday 26 January 2013

Holocaust Remembrance Day & some thoughts on mystery of humanity

Today 27th January is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It marks what can only be described as the most horrific period in human history. Not that the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime are unique. Sadly we can find examples of attempted genocide throughout human history.

January 27th is marked as Holocaust Remembrance Day because it was on this day in 1945 that the largest death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by Soviet troops. It has been observed, on this day, in Britain since 2001, although other countries have chosen different dates. It was officially recognised by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 60/7, during 2005, to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Today the world uniformly recognises the 27th of January as Holocaust Remembrance Day.

And why do we mark this day? It is not just out of respect for the 6 million Jewish people, the 3 million Soviet prisoners of war, the 1 million Roma, the quarter of a million disabled, the 10,000 homosexuals and the many many more who were so brutally murdered. We mark is to say never again. Never again can this be allowed to happen. Well it seems that we have failed. Attempted Genocide still goes on and brutality towards one another continues and has continued ever since. Maybe not on the same industrial scale as under the Nazi regime, but it has continued; it has continued not only in other lands, far, far away but in our land too and to some extent in our very communities. It continues every time we dehumanize another, or ourselves. It happens every time we fail to recognise the sacredness of life, our own or that of others; for to commit such brutality requires a human being to fail to recognise the sacredness of another’s humanity and that of all life. It requires us to reduce ourselves or others to nothingness; it requires nihilism; it requires us to reduce life or at least the life of another into something without meaning. To destroy life without conscience requires a human being to reject the sacredness of life.

I was sat trying to figure out how to approach this subject the other day. I was doing my usual broad sweep, looking at different angles of approach, when I remembered that the first Unitarian service I ever attended, some 8 years ago, must have been on or around Holocaust Remembrance Day. I know it was a cold Wednesday lunchtime in January, when I first walked through the entrance of Cross Street Chapel; I remember it like it had just happened; I can re-feel the whole experience now. It was at a time when so much was changing in my life and as a response I was attempting to make sense of things and exploring religious paths. I was looking for spiritual answers, because I knew that they did not lay in my former reductionist and materialist mindset. By the way I’ve not found the answers, unless the answer is to seek and to serve, which I suspect it might be.

I sat and listened intently and was touched deep down within the core of my being  by the minister John Midgely's short address. What sank into my soul was this idea that Germany had been overcome by a dark sickness, but that this was not unique to the German people. It could happen to any country and or any culture. I can think of no society or nation that has not committed atrocities against another and if not against others then against its own people. What I realised was that this darkness is in me as it is in everyone and everything, but it is not all that there is, goodness, love and compassion is present too. The key is to feed the love and not let the hate prevail. The basis of my own theology is that there is that of God in everything, but that this is not the only force at work. There is another force at work too and this force thrives on separation, on alienation. I see it at work whenever we separate each other whenever we see someone or something as lacking in worth and dignity. It operates whenever we make someone or something unwelcome; it works whenever we reject, whenever we refuse hospitality to someone or something; it operates whenever we lock someone or something outside of the city gates, including ourselves; it happens when we lose reverence for life itself.

Distrust and fear are deeply rooted within our psyche, within our culture. We do not trust one another, we are afraid of the stranger. Just think about how we greet each other. What do we do? We usually shake hands. Why do we do this? Well it stems from the middle ages. Back then we shook hands to check if our guest was carrying concealed weapons. It is not a greeting based on love, but one based on distrust. Only after they shook hands could the host sit comfortably with his guest. And what did the guest do as soon as he was poured a drink? He chinked his cup with that of his host. He did this to ensure that the host got some of his drink, therefore if he had been poisoned then so had his host.

Deep mistrust and suspicion is ingrained within our culture. Maybe this is why we find it difficult to welcome the stranger, to revere the other. We are taught to separate.

There must be another way, a way that does not encourage distrust. There is, the other way is reverence. The key is to learn to revere one another. After all we are all formed from the same substance and we have the same spirit running through us. Shakespeare expresses this so beautifully in Hamlet...

“What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculties! In form and moving, how express and admirable, how like an angel! In apprehension, how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals!”

Hindu’s are taught to acknowledge one another reverentially whenever they meet. Their greeting ritual is not based on distrust it is based on reverence. They greet by bowing with hands joined together. They honour the sacred mystery they are encountering. This is the key I believe, this honouring of the sacred mystery in each of us.

We are all part of the one human family, the family of life. When we separate, we dehumanize, we fail to acknowledge one another’s sacred mystery. We are not all exactly the same we have different qualities, different characteristics, different gifts to offer as well as different needs. That said we are all made of the same substance, the very same substance that the whole universe is made of, or at least the matter we have knowledge of and I believe that the same spirit runs through all life. I do not personally believe it controls all of it, but it is certainly present, always there offering the lure of its love. It is our task to choose this love, because if we do not then we will begin to separate and alienate and I believe that it is this that causes the distrust and fear that leads to hatred and dehumanising violence.

The solution is simple, I believe, as solutions usually are. The solution is reverence, reverence for life itself. We need to offer welcome to everyone and everything including that which we find uncomfortable.

Today we remember the Holocaust and the millions that have been murdered by the hands of fear, distrust and hatred. Today we recommit to the ideal that we never let this happen again. We do so recognising that it happens all the time. And that it begins to happen again every time we separate one from another every time we fail to revere the sacred mystery of one another and the sacred mystery of life.

So let us begin again in love, by learning to revere one another and all that is life and beyond...

...It seems approapriate to end this blog with the following words by my colleague the recently retired Rev Cliff Reed 

"Marking the Holocaust"

I ask you now please to stand in solemn silence and remember the names that stand for genocide –

Auschwitz, Sobibor, Majdanek; Dachau, Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen; the list goes on and on...

Tasmania, Wounded Knee, Armenia; Halabja, Bosnia, Rwanda; the list goes on and on...

The names of places where humanity failed to be human. The names of places where we reached the depths.

We stand in solemn silence. We hear the words of the Kaddish spoken in memory of the millions dead, each one an individual, a murdered person.

We honour them as lost kin. We honour those who resisted evil. We honour the righteous of the nations. Would that we had been among them...


Saturday 19 January 2013

Groundhog Day: Possibly the most spiritual film ever made?

I was "ligged out" relaxing watching the darts final and chatting with folk on facebook last Sunday evening. The snow had just begun to fall, the first of winter as far as I can recall. A couple of people began to comment on the weather and then the barrage came; people posting comments complaining about people posting comments about the weather. In fact there was more complaining about people talking about the weather than people actually talking about the weather...There really is “Nowt as queer as folk”

I noted two great British obsessions at play, talking about the weather and complaining about other people. In fact you could say I’m falling into the trap myself I’m complaining about people who complain about people who complain or merely obsess about the weather...funny really isn’t it.

We do like to complain about the weather though don’t we? Heaven knows why because we do not suffer the meteorological extremes that people in other countries do. Maybe this is why; maybe we talk about it so much, because our weather is oh so bland.

I’ve felt a deepening sense of connection these last few days. I’m not sure what this is about. I do know that in and of itself it is not new, I just seem to be more aware of it at the moment. This is a good sign and evidence of how awake to life I am at the moment. I believe that this is a vital quality for a worship leader or anyone attempting to communicate thoughts, feelings, experiences to others. Robert Walsh expresses oh so eloquently what I mean in the following...“I moved through the experience with my attention alternating between the present moment and a future time, when I would be back home, telling the story. It’s what preachers call homiletic consciousness, which means going through life thinking, Can I use this in a sermon? But it’s not just preachers who do it. I imagine a painter would do the same. Or a poet. Or a novelist, teacher, composer, or a storyteller – anyone who uses the experiences of life in order to give something to someone else.” This is precisely what I was doing as I lay observing my friends commenting about life. It is seemingly my souls purpose.

I went for a haircut on Monday morning and as I sat in the chair letting the man get on with his craft it came to me what I wanted to explore this week “Groundhog Day”. Now I’m sure the seed was planted over Christmas as I watched Bill Murray in Scrooge. It developed as I watched the snow fall and listened to folk complain about the weather. So as I sat in the chair and considered the last time I sat in the very same chair and had the same conversation etc and as I thought about the week ahead the phrase “Groundhog day” rose up out of my soul and cried out to be expressed. How could I resist it?

Now if truth be told we are a bit early for this. Groundhog Day is not until the 2nd of February, not that it is something that we mark in Britain. Here, depending on our spiritual tradition we may well mark Candlemass, Imbolc or St Brigid’s Day.

Groundhog Day falls in the dead of winter, flanked equally on either side by the winter solstice and the spring equinox. According to folklore if the groundhog sees his shadow on this day there will be six more weeks of snow. So the hope is that he does not see his shadow. And this is why it was on my mind. Last week’s news was full of stories that a big freeze was on the way, that we were going to endure weeks of frozen temperatures and falling snow. We shall see, I tend not to go for fear mongering myself, although we have had quite a bit of snow these last few days. We shall see.

It is not the legend of Groundhog Day that really interests me, more the film that bares the same name. It is one of my favourites and may well be one of the most spiritual ever made. That sounds like quite a bold statement for what is, on the surface at least, a Hollywood romantic comedy.

“Groundhog Day” tells the story of a self centred weatherman named Phil. At the beginning of the film he is sent on his annual excursion to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to record the "thrilling" moment when Phil the Groundhog makes his annual winter trek into sunlight in search of the shadowy predictor for the coming weeks. Phil (weatherman) hates the fact that he has to be there and treats everyone he meets in “the hick town”, with disdain. The film crew find themselves stuck in town, as the weather takes a turn for the worst, so they are forced to spend another night there.

Phil awakens the next morning to the same song he heard the day before “I Got you Babe” by Sonny and Cher, he is to awaken to this every morning as “Groundhog Day” is repeated over and over again for days, weeks, months, years. Every day is the second of February; every day is the same day; every day he is offered the opportunity to experience that same Groundhog Day over and over again, running into the same people, having the same encounters. Within those very same limitations he is offered infinite choices. Where he can eat, how he can respond to each encounter, who he can hurt and who he can help. He is offered the opportunity to grow and to change every single day; he is offered the opportunity to become the man he wants to be every single day. He can be the bad guy or the good guy, the funny guy, the happy guy, the free guy or the trapped, the suicidal guy. He is offered the chance to change which he begins to do, as he learns from his mistakes. He learns that he cannot control all that is going on around him and that happiness can only be found by truly living in what is there, the sacred moment. His inspiration is his producer Rita (played by Andie Mcdowell) she is the opposite of Phil, good hearted and at peace with herself. Phil falls in love with who Rita is, he awakens to the longing to be a person worthy of her love and he begins to allow himself to be that person.

Within this Hollywood romantic comedy we see those same universal messages found within the mythos’ of the great faiths? That love can transform even the most self centred of hearts and that we can all aspire to be the best that we can be. That hope can be found in total despair and that you do not need to seek it in some special place, it is to be found in the ordinary everyday things of life.

So could it be that this Hollywood Romantic comedy is the most “spiritual” film ever made? Well Harold Ramis the films co-writer and director has said that religious leaders and writers have continually contacted him over the last twenty years claiming that “Groundhog Day” is an allegory of their traditions key messages. Buddhist have claimed that it illustrates their notion of Samsara, the continuing cycle of re-birth. Phil (The weatherman) is seen as the Bodhisattva who keeps on being sent back into the world in order to save it; that he keeps on going through his personal trials, failing to reach enlightenment each time, in order to help others.

Jewish observers have made similar claims noting that Phil keeps on being sent back into the world to perform Mitzvah’s (good deeds). They claim that the story is not really about his individual salvation it is more about perfecting the whole world.

Still others have claimed Christian and Pagan interpretations. It has been suggested that the groundhog symbolises re-birth and the hope of renewal at Easter or spring. It is worth remembering that the 2nd of February is Imbolc and Candlemass, key festivals in both traditions. The story is also a classic redemption tale, very much like a Christmas Carol. My thinking about this film started as I watched Bill Murray play a modern version of the Dickens character in “Scrooged”.

Groundhog Day is a favourite film of mine, if you haven’t seen it I heartily recommend it to you it will warm you through on a cold winters night, especially if the cold snap continues. I do not know if it is "the most spiritual film ever made", that is quite a claim. that said it does seem to contain all the key messages, of the great universal mythos's, of the great traditions. I think it's real power comes in the fact that this message is found in the least likely of places a Hollywood romantic comedy. Perhaps this is why it works so well?

I am going to leave the last words to Bill Murray’s character Phil. Words he eventually said while signing off at the end of his final broadcast.

He said: “When Chechov saw the long winter, it was a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope; and yet we know winter’s only one more step in the cycle. And standing among the people of Punxsutawney basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn’t imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter."

Saturday 12 January 2013

I haven't got time for this

With a timid voice and idolizing eyes, the little boy greeted his dad as he returned from work, "Daddy, how much do you earn an hour?"

Greatly surprised, but giving his boy a glaring look, the father said,

"Look, son, not even your mother knows that. Don't bother me now, I'm tired."
"But Daddy, just tell me please! How much do you earn an hour," the boy insisted.

So the dad, finally giving up, replied: "£20 an hour."

"Okay, Daddy? Could you loan me £10?" the boy asked.

Showing his restlessness and positively disturbed, the dad shouted, "So that was the reason you asked how much I earn, right? Go to sleep and don't bother me anymore!"

It was already dark and the dad was thinking over what he said and was feeling guilty. He thought to himself maybe the boy wanted to buy something.

Finally, trying to ease his mind, the dad went to his son's room.
"Are you asleep, son?" asked the dad.

"No, Daddy. Why?" replied the boy, partially asleep.

"Here's the money you asked for earlier," the dad said.

"Thanks, Daddy!" rejoiced the son, while putting his hand under his pillow and removing some money. "Now I have enough!! Now I have £ 20!" the boy said to his dad, who was gazing at his son, confused at what the boy had just said.
And then the son asked his dad.

"Daddy, could you sell me one hour of your time?"

Time is a precious commodity, perhaps a priceless one...
“I haven’t got time for this”. It’s a phrase I’ve found myself repeating over and over again, these last few weeks. “I haven’t got time for this”. It began to develop over the Christmas period and intensified as I came towards the end of the year. Now you’d think that this would have come to an end as the new year developed, but it seems to have got worse this last week or so.
If someone were to watch me sat at my desk at the beginning of last week I am sure that they would draw the conclusion that I am some kind of mad man. Yes ok I have had some real problems with technology, I’ve had intermittent internet access and no telephone, which has impinged on my ability to do my work. Last Sunday it really came to a head. I had finished worship and had to be at an interfaith meeting a little later. I had an hour or so in-between and I had emails I needed to reply to as well as a need to publish my latest blog and to post it out there.  It had to be done that day! I was already frustrated because BT had told me they couldn’t repair my broadband problems until Wednesday and so I decided to go to a local cafe with my laptop and work from there. I sat there desperate to get on with it but was again held up by technical problem. I was becoming increasingly frustrated by all of this, it seemed to take forever to get online and when I did it just ran slower and slower. There I sat muttering to myself, “I haven’t get time for this, I haven’t got time for this, I haven’t got time for this”...madness, just utter madness...when I got home from the meeting later I sat down to eat and just began chuckling at myself at the way I’d been that day and that ridiculous line...”I haven’t got time for this”...utter madness
Time is such a precious commodity, we get just 24 hours in each day and it is important how we choose to spend what we are each given. This got me thinking of this peice of wisdom I recently came accross. Again it got me chuckling as I reflected on my recent madness.
Imagine if you had a bank that credited your account each morning with £86,000 that carried over no balance from day to day...Allowed you to keep no cash in your account, and every evening cancelled whatever part of the amount you failed to use during the day, what would you do? Draw out every pound every day, of course, and use it to your advantage! Well, you have such a bank, and its name is TIME! Every morning it credits you with 86,400 seconds. Every night it rules off as lost whatever of this you failed to invest to good purpose. It carries over no balances, it allows no overdrafts. Each day it opens a new account with you. If you fail to use the day's deposits, the loss is yours. There is no going back. There is no drawing against tomorrow.

Time truly is a precious commodity and how we use it maybe our only real freedom. Now of course we all have commitments, things that we have to do each day. That said we all still have so much time and I wonder how much of it we waste, worrying about the time left or with ill feeling about the time that has already gone and will not come back. How much of our day do we waste on either worry or resentment or with crazy statements like, “I haven’t got time for this.” These kind of frustrations just block us from experiencing the precious joy of the moment and none of us know just exactly how many of those we have left.
I made space over the Christmas period to spend a little time with friends and family, but I think I could have made more. I could have given more of my time, but I do think I used the little time I had well. Two friends, a dear couple, who I have known since I was a teenager shared a 40th birthday party, it allowed me to catch up with so many folk I had known for oh so many years. It enabled me to bring back memories that I had once forgotten. What is really interesting about many of those memories is that at one time they were sad and painful and yet today they fill me with joy. I re-member so much of my life differently today; I re-bind those thoughts and feelings from a very different perspective today.
I had some other beautiful conversations with familyover Christmas, which will continue as time passes. One blessing that I deeply apprecate these days is that I can spend time with each person I grew up with and just experience that gentle meaningful love that we share. I love listening to them talk about oh so much. Perhaps the greatest gift of my life today is the personal reconciliation I have experienced with all of my family. We have rebound ourselves together and I know that this has brought so much joy and peace to others. This is true religion in my eyes. Remember (re-member) that the word religion comes from religare which means to re-bind together. Every act of reconcilaition is a truly religious act.
The time we have with one another is oh so precious; we never know if the conversation we are having with our loved one will be our last one. I was acutely aware of this as I sat with my grand dad on Christmas day evening. I listened to him and loved him and I let him love me. Not in some special way, just in the ordinary way, the way that really matters.

I love the following by the nineteenth century Transcendentalist Henry David speaks of time well spent...

“Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life? …Time is but the stream I go fishing in. Sometimes in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon. I realize what the Orientals mean by contemplation…I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. It seemed to me that I had several more lives to live. It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves. I learned this, at least, by my experiment, that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. In proportion as he simplifies his life the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor will poverty be poverty, nor weakness weakness.”

Now some will say that this is just self indulgence, wasting ones time, but is it? Thoreau doesn’t tell us what he experiences while he sits there in the doorway of his cabin; he does not describe what he saw, what he felt; he just tells us that he was there, he was present in that sacred moment; he tells us that he is paying attention to the world around him – he called this contemplation.

We all have time but it is limited, just 86.400 seconds a day to draw on and it is limited to those 24 hours, you cannot carry even a second over into the next. There may not be a next day. So as time is limited how should we then spend it? Well another of the great transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson suggested the following.

 “To laugh often and love much. To win and hold the respect of intelligent persons, and the affection of little children. To earn the praise of honest critics and to endure, without flinching, the betrayal of false friends. To appreciate beauty always, whether in earth’s creations or men and women’s handiwork.

To have sought for and found the best in others and to have given it oneself. To leave the world better than one found it, whether by nurturing a child or a garden patch, writing a cheery letter, or working to redeem some social condition.
To have played with enthusiasm, laughed with exuberance, and sung with exultation.  To go down to dust and dreams knowing that the world is a little bit better, and that even a single life breathes easier because we have lived well, that is to have succeeded!”
If we make good use of our time, the 86,400 seconds we have each day, we will make an impact on every moment that follows on into eternity. We have enough time to pause and contemplate the magnificence of life in its glorious ordinariness and we have time to listen to one another, even if we are in a hurry. The key is to no longer fall for the delusion that “we haven’t got time for this.” It is certainly a lesson I need to re-member. Because the truth is that we do have the time for this and everything else, we just need to pay attention to what is important, to who and what we love and to whatever the task is that has been assigned to us.

I’m going to end this little blog ith a final little story that I recently came across...

While at the park one day, a woman sat down next to a man on a bench near a playground.  “That’s my son over there,” she said, pointing to a little boy in a red jumper who was gliding down the slide.  “He’s a fine looking boy” the man said. “That’s my daughter on the bike in the white dress.”

Then, looking at his watch, he called to his daughter. “It’s time to go, Melissa?”  Melissa pleaded, “Just five more minutes, Dad. Please? Just five more minutes.”  The man nodded and Melissa continued to ride her bike to her heart’s content. Minutes passed and the father stood and called again to his daughter. “Time to go now?”

Again Melissa pleaded, “Five more minutes, Dad. Just five more minutes.”  The man smiled and said, “OK.”  “My, you certainly are a patient father,” the woman responded.

The man smiled and then said, “Her older brother Tommy was killed by a drunk driver last year while he was riding his bike near here. I never spent much time with Tommy and now I’d give anything for just five more minutes with him. I’ve vowed not to make the same mistake with Melissa.  She thinks she has five more minutes to ride her bike. The truth is, I get Five more minutes to watch her play.”

“We have got time for this”...utter madness...if we haven’t then we need to make the time

Sunday 6 January 2013

Epiphany: The Magi Were True Spiritual Seekers

Where shall I look for Enlightenment?”  by Joan Chittister

“Where shall I look for Enlightenment?” the disciple asked.
“Here,” the elder said.    
“When will it happen?” the disciple asked.
“It is happening right now,” the elder answered.
“Then why don’t I experience it?” the disciple persisted.
“Because you do not look,” the elder said.
“But what should I look for?” the disciple continued.
“Nothing.  Just look,” the elder said.
“But at what?” the disciple asked again.
“At anything your eyes alight upon,” the elder answered.
“But must I look in a special kind of way?” the disciple went on.
“No.  The ordinary way will do,” the elder said.
“But don’t I always look the ordinary way?” the disciple said.
“No, you don’t,” the elder said.
“But why ever not?” the disciple asked.
“Because to look you must be here.  You’re mostly somewhere else,” the elder said.

Today is the 12th Day of Christmas, you all know the song. So if you haven’t already you had better take your decorations down. Today signals the end of Christmas. Today, at least in the western church, is the feast day of “Epiphany”.
The word Epiphany comes from the Greek meaning “to appear” or “to be made manifest”. In the western church Epiphany signifies the day that Jesus was shown to be the divine Christ; the day that divinity was revealed to the three wise men as they had completed their journey following that wondrous star; a journey which had taken 12 days, as they had travelled afar, or so the ancient story says.

Now the Eastern Orthodox Church takes a different view. They celebrate “Theophany” on the January 19th. It is regarded as the day that Jesus was Baptized in the river Jordon by John the Baptist and proclaimed as the Son of God. Epiphany is marked in diverse ways in different cultures. In Spain and the countries of Latin America children leave hay in their shoes over night in the hope that the wise men will leave sweets and presents for them. In France each family bakes a cake with a coin in it and whoever finds the coin in their piece is made king or queen for the day, rather like our like our own tradition of the Christmas pudding. There are many other traditions throughout the world. We live in such a rich and wonder filled world.

Now of course Epiphany has taken on a more universal meaning in more recent centuries. Today when someone proclaims that they have had an epiphany they are usually claiming that they have experienced a sudden awakening to a new truth. These sudden awakenings generally do not occur in special settings. In fact what is usually significant is that they occur in a seemingly ordinary way. Like the Christ child in a lowly stable.

During my time as a minister I’ve had many myself. I have had several early in the morning as I walked out my front door and heard bird songs. Those little birds speak a language that I now understand. Several have occurred as I have travelled in my car, watching the world from my window, often as I past through the mist between Carrington and Flixton. I have experienced several spots of time moments when a new deeper truth has suddenly come to me. It comes in the ordinary things, in the unexpected things and when it comes it is beautiful. I know that many others have had similar experiences too. I know this because they have shared them with me. This is one of the many gifts of ministry. People come to and ask you questions about experiences that they have had, that they cannot make sense of and are nervous to talk about. I think to some degree we are all afraid of ridicule. I have had several of these conversations in the last few days. What a wonderful gift. Thank you!

Now while most folk have not have been Baptised in the river Jordan or been visited by three kings from the orient we have had our own personal epiphanies, those magic moments, those inexplicable spots of time that changed us forever; moments that are so vivid, that they stay with us and can be instantly recalled whenever we begin to talk of them. Why do we so rarely talk of them?

There is so much in the story of the Magi’s journey. Personally I am not interested in debates about its factual accuracy; I will leave that to the historians, the scientists and the Biblical literalists. I am more interested in the mythos, the universal truth that speaks beyond the story. You see I believe that the journey has so much to teach we who live in the 21st century, actually perhaps it speaks to our times more than at any other moment in the last 2,000 years. I believe that the impulse that was present in the Magi is also present within us all. Those three figures were after all true spiritual seekers. Isn’t this why they were following that wonderous star? While they were committed to their own Zoroastrian tradition the star drew them beyond these truths and they passed over the Rubicon of their day and stepped into another tradition in search of answers. They travelled from afar to Judea; they came from Persia seeking to expand upon their spiritual awareness and understanding. The Magi experienced divine revelation and yet they were pagan’s they were not from the elite, the elect, the chosen people. This story tells me that the revelation is open to all, that we can all gain access to this truth if we seek it, if we are open to it. This is why we experience those epiphanies those moments when life, the universe, when God speaks to us and life is never quite the same again. Those extraordinary moments that occur in the ordinariness of life.

The story of the Magi has something to teach about the purpose of religious community too, certainly for a free religious tradition like the Unitarians. Such communities are a place for the seekers, the travellers, to come and journey together toward new light, new truth. There are many people out there seeking a spiritual home, a place where they can journey with others without being constrained by beliefs and dogmas. Those who claim to be spiritual, but not religious, well guess what they need community too. I believe that those people can find a home with we Unitarians, it is our role to let them know that we exist and that they are welcome in our communities. This 2013 I am making it my mission to connect to those seekers and to welcome to the communities I serve. I am inviting the congregations to join with me on this journey; I am inviting them to be inspired by the Magi and find a way to invite all those other seekers out there to join them. I know that congregations need them as they have so much to teach us. We just need to discover a way to journey together; we need to find a way to invite them in.

There is something else about the Magi that we spiritual seekers can learn from, something that sets them apart from the other characters in the Natvity story. They are the archetypes for the spiritual seeker within all of us. Remember that they were moved by a rising star. Were they told to go to Bethlehem? No they “saw” the star with their own eyes and had vision enough to be moved by it.

They say that seeing is believing. Well we live in a visual culture. Think about how we communicate truth to one another. When someone tries to explain something to us and we try to show that we understand do we say “I hear you”? No we usually answer “I see”. When going visiting do we say “I am going to hear, or smell, or touch, or taste my family? No we say we are going to see our family. When we hear a strange noise outside what do we say? We say we are going to see what has happened. Of all our senses we tend to trust our eyes the most. Hearing of something is not enough; we have to see it with our own eyes. This is what inspired the Magi. The star drew them out of the confines of their own understanding to witness something remarkable with their own eyes.

There are moments in all of our lives when something we see sends shock waves of understanding in and through us; moments that lift us way beyond normality. These are Epiphanies, moments when something we see transforms our lives with freshness and gives us a new found perspective.

Remember that the Magi observed a sacred vision that transformed them. They witnessed a star and it was this that compelled them to begin their journey. It was not just that they saw the star it was that they had vision enough to be moved by it. What is it that has inspired you on your journeys? Perhaps you who read this could think about that and begin to share it with those who you share community with.

For the Magi this star in the sky was an opening to something new, something beyond their current understanding. The Magi looked and they saw and drew them to Bethlehem. Most of us will experience these openings, these peepholes at some time or another and they will allow us to see beyond our current understanding. Let us hope that we have vision enough to respond to them.

Life speaks to us all the time, all we need is vision enough to respond to it. We do not need to search madly for enlightenment. All that is required is that we pay attention to our lives and the world all around us and to not be afraid to talk about those moments when they do occur. This to me is the purpose of free religious communities. They are places for the Magi in all of us; a place for those who wish to seek beyond their current understanding and to share that with others who also wish to seek beyond theirs.

So I say to you are reading this let us all journey afar, let us follow that wondrous star, but let’s do it together.