Saturday 23 May 2015

The Language of the Heart: A Pentecost Reflection

“Spirit of the Wind” by Richard S Gilbert

There is nothing more refreshing than the feel of a brisk wind on the face.
It helps if I am at the same time watching sunset over a lake – The sky peach, purple, red, gold, blue, white, and orange at the same time.
It helps if the same wind that refreshes my face and cleans the air also take me sailing across the narrow bounding main.
But the wind – what is there about the wind?
We cannot see it – only feel it – only observe what it does. It has power, unseen power, a power that re-invigorates.
That cools on a hot day, that fortells a change in the weather – outer or inner.
The wind reminds us that the most powerful things are hardly tangible.
There existence we doubt not.
Their power is not in question.
So it is with us.
So may it be with you.
I could not touch the wind, but it touched me, and that was all I needed.

A friend of mine, who has occasionally attended worship at one of the congregations I serve, recently told me that another friend had asked what it was like and what happened and what we believed. She said oh “They believe in everything” and then she said she tried to articulate what she meant by that and struggled. I remember thinking, well at least she did say you can believe anything that you want.

I have much sympathy with my friend’s struggle. I have identified as a Unitarian now for the best part of ten years, been a minister for getting on for five years and I still find it hard to articulate exactly what it means to be a Unitarian. In fact in some ways I find it harder today than I did say eight years ago. I often wonder if I am a very good Unitarian, whatever that means.

It got me asking myself what it means to me to be a Unitarian and why I found and continue to find a home amongst these free religionists. I have identified three things.

One is authority. We say that authority lays within the enlightened conscience of the individual, that we are not only free but encouraged to seek our own truth in matters of faith. That personal experience and reflection upon these experiences is our final authority that no one can tell us what we ought to believe. That does not mean that we can believe what we want, more what we must. We believe what our experiences teach us.

The second is respect and celebration of difference. Now some describe this as tolerance, but I don’t think that is enough. I’m not decrying tolerance, if only we human beings could be more tolerant of one another. That said I still hear judgement in the word tolerant. As if in claiming this word what people are saying is “I am tolerating you and your view, but I still think you are a crank.” I don’t see respect and celebration in this. If I accept that I have freedom to reach my own conclusions and believe that this is a wonderful thing, then to judge or merely tolerate another for the conclusions they reach is neither truly respecting or celebrating this approach. Also such judgement seems to lack humility.

This leads me to the third aspect, which I see as humility and the openness that this breeds. This stems from the idea that whatever conclusions I have reached today I have not sealed this truth. Again this is something to celebrate, the openness that true humility brings. That by rejoicing in the truth that others may reach I can myself experience a deeper revelation if I listen with an open mind, heart and soul. Truth is always subjective. I know myself that my view on faith and many things has shifted at times in my life. This is because my experiences have changed, as have my reflections upon them and my ability to listen to others experiences and their honest reflections upon them too.

These three “freedom, respect and humility” are key to my understanding of my chosen Unitarian faith. These three little words “freedom, respect & humility” just about sum up my understanding of my chosen free religious tradition.

I have been reflected on these three “freedom, respect and humility” as I have contemplated Pentecost and the recounting of these events in the book of Acts Ch 2 vv 1-13, which describes the events known as “Pentecost”, regarded as the birth of the Christian Church. Today is the feast day of Pentecost. Pentecost is not something that is universally celebrated, at least not these days, amongst many British Unitarian congregations. Some do still participate in what are known as "Whit Walks", but very few. This is not the case in Transylvania, which is really the birth place of denominational Unitarianism. For the Transylvanian Unitarians Pentecost may well be the most important day of their liturgical calendar, it is certainly up there with Easter. Perhaps our friends in Transylvania have remembered something important that we have somehow either forgotten or rejected. Perhaps we could learn something from them, for there is something very powerful in this "mythos".

So for the last few days I have been reflecting on Pentecost, especially in light of my own understanding of my chosen free religious tradition. As I have done so I have discovered something beautifully universal in it. The account describes the first time that the Spirit is revealed to more than just a select few of seemingly chosen people. According to the Gospel accounts Jesus gave the spirit to the twelve disciples on Passover night, the night before he died and yet fifty days later at the Jewish festival of Pentecost this same spirit is offered to all, as the Disciples, Galilean speakers began to speak in languages that all people can understand. Is this not Universalism? Now of course some present were amazed and moved by this and began to ask what it must mean, while others just sneered and thought they they had gone mad or were drunk saying "They are filled with new wine."

As I have reflected on the account in Acts 2 vv 1-13 conversations I have had with many people about their own personal transformative experiences have came to mind. Now the words they used to describe their experiences have been different and often less dramatic, that said the effect has been very similar. So many people have described to me moments in their lives when something has got a hold of them and changed them in positive ways. This in some way has helped me make sense of what is described as Pentecost, I no longer see it as a some fanciful tale, rather as mythos or metaphor for the universal life giving spirit, it has taken on a new meaning that actually makes sense to me. It brings to mind the hymn “Spirit of Life”, especially the line “Spirit of Life, come unto me…” In that hymn, so loved by Unitarians I hear this call to the spirit to come unto all of us and bring about transformation, freedom, vitality and creative life giving energy.

When I think of Spirit in this way I think of the God of my limited understanding, but ever expanding experience. I also suspect that this is the same for many Unitarians in Transylvania and why Pentecost is so vital to them. Cliff Reed captured this beautifully in his book “Unitarian what’s that?” in answer to the question “Do Unitarian believe in the Holy Spirit?” Here he claimed that,

“Unitarians do not see any differentiation between the Holy Spirit and God, and use the words more or less interchangeably. We conceive of the Spirit as the active divine presence in individuals and communities, as the divine breath that gives us life, as that ineffable factor that binds us together.

The Spirit, for many Unitarians, is the divine mystery moving among us and within us as we work and worship. Indeed, for many, God as loving, creative Spirit is the primary concept of the divine.”

That beautiful loving, guiding, creating power that is Greater than All and yet present in each, in everything. Some of course simply name this Love and others call it God.

People experience and understand the spiritual aspects of their lives in different ways and when they try to explain these experiences they often articulate them differently.They often use different words to describe the same thing. Or use the same words to talk about different things. The words themselves can often get in the way of describing the experiences that people all have. That said what else do we have to describe what often cannot be fully understood.

One of the great blessings of my job is that people, often complete strangers, tell me about experiences that they do not understand; often experiences that their rational minds don’t believe in and yet they have experienced them all the same. Experiences that have changed them for ever.

There seems to be two common themes to these experiences. One has been the transformative nature of them and the second that they have never dared tell another soul about them, for fear of ridicule. It truly is a humbling blessing that they feel that they can speak to me about them. They must see in me someone who will not think that they had become intoxicated by “new wine”.

I remember one such occasion last year when I went to buy a new laptop computer. I explained to the shop assistant that I needed something that was mobile and suitable for a lot of writing as I often like to write in coffee shops. During the conversation I revealed what I do for a living and as I did it took a completely different direction. He began to recount an experience that happened many years ago, that had totally transformed him and his experience of life. He made me smile as he insisted he wasn’t a religious man, as he couldn’t get along with dogma and the like but he experienced something that day that had transformed him and that he was now able to experience this in every aspect of his life. As he spoke I just smiled and listened and told him how many people have had similar experiences including myself and how the two characteristics he described were common - The fear of speaking about them and the transformative nature of them - I also told him that the “Religious Experience Research Centre of the University of Wales, Lampeter would be interested in his account. This is an archive of some 6,000 spiritual and psychic experiences that was begun by Sir Alister Hardy in 1969 at Manchester College Oxford, a Unitarian foundation. Hardy was both an eminent Unitarian and marine biologist. For years Hardy scientifically researched such phenomena. Research that continues to this day at Lampeter.

Now while there has been these two themes - the fear of speaking about them and the transformative nature of them - prevalent in many of the conversations I have had, I have also noticed many differences too. I suspect that this due primarily to each individuals religious backgrounds, which must influence the conclusions they have come too. What has struck me though has been the honesty and integrity in which what has been described has been recounted. I have never spoken to many of these people again and yet what they have said has been permanently etched on the soul of me. I have also noticed that each time I have listened to others and shared my own experiences something in me has opened up and I have felt that spirit once again. How many times have I smiled and been warmed and yet shivered at the same time? God only knows.

This to me is how the language of the heart operates, this is the transforming energy of the spirit coming alive in our tongues. That said I am sure I was only truly able to hear what was being said because I was myself listening with the ears of my heart. To truly hear what someone is saying we have to actually care for and respect them as a fellow human being and not dismiss any aspect of them, even that which might seem a little strange. Here I see clearly those three aspects I identified earlier as central to my chosen free religious faith in action, freedom to believe as our conscience dictates, respect and celebration of one another and our perspectives, and humility as well as the openness this breeds.

As a free religious community Unitarians may not always understand the language each of them speaks, for each comes from a variety of theological perspectives and life experiences. This I believe is something to be celebrated and when it is done so with humility I see it transforming those individuals present and the whole community.

This I believe is the heart of Pentecost. Just as those people, 2,000 years ago were transformed into something more so can everyone; everyone can be transformed by the language of the heart. It begins by learning to listen with the ears of our hearts and to speak with the tongues of our hearts. For it is the language of the heart that carries the voice of transformation. It can bring about transformation not only in all lives who are touched by it, but also the lives that they themselves touch, propelling each and every one into a new stage of development, with new energy, vision and purpose.

With this in heart and mind and in the spirit of freedom, respect and humility I believe that a new world can begin to be born. We can all begin to live with a new vision, new energy and new purpose. Let us not be held back by what we think we know. Let’s open all our senses to the spirit present in all life. Let our ears be opened to the language of the heart, spoken from every tongue and let us speak the language of the heart in our every interaction.

For the language of the heart, like Pentecost, is Universal it breaks down any and every barrier and touches and transform all who have ears to hear…

I'm going to end this little chip of a blog with these beautiful words by Kristen Harper

“Reformation: The Spirit of the Wind”

Some say the spirit of the wind is in the trees.
You can see it, they say, if you close your eyes and stand real still.
Some say that the same spirit lives in the hills forging mountains and plains.
I smelled it the other night. 
Lying in my bed, my window cracked it crept through the moonlight up under my blanket and wrapped its arms around me.
Entering my blood through my skin I felt alive with an age I had not yet reached.
Made me knew again in a form I’d never known.
I cried out in pain and joy mingled, fear and expectation.
Ecstasy it has been called, I call it reformation.
There was forgiveness in that spirit.
Compassion for my wounds, strength for my weaknesses.
It was no miracle, nor nirvana.
I just closed my eyes and saw the spirit.
The spirit in the wind.
The spirit in the trees.
The spirit that lives in me.

Saturday 16 May 2015

“Beauty awakens the soul to act”

I recently received a new blessing. Through the post came a new book, by David Whyte “CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.”. It truly is wonderful. Below is the reflection on "Beauty", from it.

"The harvest of presence, the evanescent moment of seeing or hearing on the outside what already lives far inside us; the eyes, the ears or the imagination suddenly become a bridge between the here and the there, between then and now, between the inside and the outside; beauty is the conversation between what we think is happening outside in the world and what is just about to occur far inside us.

Beauty is an achieved state of both deep attention and self-forgetting; the self forgetting of seeing, hearing, smelling or touching that erases our separation, our distance, our fear of the other. Beauty invites us, through entrancement, to that fearful, frontier between what we think makes us; and what we think makes the world. Beauty is almost always found in symmetries: the symmetries seen out in creation, the wings of the moth, the airy sky and the solid earth, the restful, focused eyes of a loving face in which we see our own self reflected: the symmetry also, therefore, of bringing together inner and outer recognitions, the far horizon of otherness seen in that face joined to the deep inner horizon of our own being. Beauty is an inner and an outer complexion living in one face.

Beauty especially occurs in the meeting of time with the timeless; the passing moment framed by what has happened and what is about to occur, the scattering of the first spring apple blossom, the turning, spiraling flight of a curled leaf in the falling light; the smoothing of white sun-filled sheets by careful hands setting them to air on a line, the broad expanse of cotton filled by the breeze only for a moment, the sheets sailing on into dryness, billowing toward a future that is always beckoning, always just beyond us. Beauty is the harvest of presence."

...It got me thinking about "Beauty". The rest of this "blogspot" is a reflection on beauty, inspired by wiser and holier fools than I...

Now as if by chance, or not, the very same day that the book arrived a friend of mine posted a “meme” on social media which read “Beauty awakens the soul to act”, it is a quote by Dante. It struck me powerfully and got me thinking and feeling. I opened my new book and the first subject I happened upon was the piece above on "beauty". I've have been contemplating the word ever since as I have witnessed, and remembered the beauty of nature as life has been delighting in its own being once again.

My soul has reawakened has engaged with and appreciated the beauty of nature whether by night or day. I remembered the Passover moon that moved me over the Easter weekend and of course the cherry blossom that delighted my eyes and heart and so beautifully moved me to engage with so many friends recently. I also contemplated the beauty of the many people I have come to know and the joy of watching and listening to them as they have just simply gone about their daily business, as they were just simply being themselves. As I have watched the people around me I have constantly been reminded of the following words by Walt Whitman.

“I have perceiv’d that to be with those I like is enough,
To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough,
To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing,
Laughing flesh is enough,
To pass among them or touch any one, or rest my arm
Ever so lightly around his or her neck for a moment,
What is this
I do not ask any more delight, I swim in it as in a sea.”

To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing, Laughing flesh is certainly enough to awaken my soul. All this beauty whether natural or human has awakened my soul to act in more loving and open ways and thus pour out my own love on the world in which I live and breathe and move and have my being.

In “Notes on the Need for Beauty: An Intimate Look at An Essential Quality” J. Ruth Gendler wrote:

"Beauty doesn't mind questions and she is fond of riddles. Beauty will dance with anyone who is brave enough to ask her. When I first wrote these words twenty-five years ago, I had only begun to imagine how we could invite beauty into our lives. I had no idea how deeply they would lead me into an exploration of beauty.

"Writing about beauty feels like drinking water out of the cup of my hand from a clear spring. As I bring this water to my mouth, so much spills away. The water tastes delicious; the freshness and purity startle me. I have been drinking water that was mediocre for so long. I have forgotten how good water can taste. Like water, beauty is ordinary and essential, as well as extraordinary and magnificent.

"Beauty, like water, takes many forms and permeates our environment. Just as water travels across the world and pools in everything from our cells to underground streams to magnificent storms, beauty also travels, gathers, concentrates. It is beautiful to look at and listen to the way the world changes with rain, to trace the path of the river by foot or from an airplane window, to talk at the ocean's edge, swim under the waterfall. Beauty rinses our eyes. Sometimes beauty moves us to tears. We bathe in, drink the presence of beauty.

"Slowly I have come to savor the beauty of the unknown, the unnameable, the contradictions and paradoxes. Beauty is simple and complex, obvious and elusive, superficial and profound, spontaneous and achieved with great effort, impossible to define and essential to articulate. Beauty is allied with the radiance of fire, body and soul, vision and music, movement and stillness, the daily cycles of night and day.

"Beauty refuses to yield to analysis, refuses to be perfection. Beauty moves within and around us, rearranging our moods, taking us home. Beauty is always moving and beauty is very still, the light in the dark, the dark in the light, the subtlest shades of pale white and blue, the richest tones of indigo and black and deep brown, the brightest reds and oranges and golds. We find beauty at the intersections, the edges, the center of so many experiences. Although we keep trying to talk about beauty as inner or outer, that language is too static, trying to fix beauty in a single location. Beauty is an energy, not an image, and that energy can go anywhere; that energy takes on an image, a form, many images, many forms.”

...Just beautiful...She captures beauty, so beautifully...

Oh yes indeed beauty awakens the soul of me in so many indescribable ways and it compels me to act in such a way as to pour out that beauty within on to all I engage with.

Beauty manifests itself in so many ways in the world in which we live and breathe and move. It awakens all our senses and thus feeds and nourishes our souls; it awakens our souls and it fills our hearts to overflowing. We not only drink from the well of beauty, we also fill it too. Beauty truly is about the heart, about filling the heart to overflowing. In "Beauty: The Invisible Embrace" John O’Donohue  wrote 

"The heart is the place where beauty arrives; here is where it can be felt, recognized and shared. If there was no heart, beauty could never reach us. Through the heart, beauty can pervade every cell of the body and fill us. To use a word that feels like it sounds: this is the thrill of beauty through us. Perhaps this is why we sometimes feel the absence of beauty in our lives; we have allowed the prism to become dull and darkened; though the light is near, it cannot enter to have its inlay of beauty diffused. Sometimes absence is merely arrested appearance. Compassion and attention keep the prism clear so that beauty may illuminate our life. Prayer of course is the supreme way we lift our limited selves towards the light, and ask it to shine into us. "

Beauty not only awakens the soul, but also fills the heart to overflowing, it certainly compels me to pour my heart out on the world in loving ways.

Matthew Fox claims that “The universe is in the habit of making beauty. There are flowers and songs, snowflakes and smiles, acts of great courage, laughter between friends, a job well done, the smell of fresh baked bread. Beauty is everywhere”

It is beauty that awakens our souls and compels us to act in loving ways. In fact perhaps true beauty, certainly in a human sense, is to act morally. As John O’Donohue has pointed out Plato believed that Love was born of beauty and that it tapped into our basic human drive and desire for Good, that it was not a private or self-indulgent act of pleasure and that “the ability to love beauty has created all the good things that exist for gods and men’. He quotes Pseudo Dionysius the Aeropagite who said, "For beauty is the cause of harmony, of sympathy, of community. Beauty unites all things and is the source of all things. It is the great creating cause which bestirs the world and holds all things in existence by the longing inside them to have beauty. And there it is ahead of all as…the Beloved…toward which all things move, since it is the longing for beauty which actually brings them into being."

It is beauty that awakens our souls and inspires us to act lovingly in the world and thus inspires us to pour out our love on the world. How do we do this you may well ask? Well I believe it begins with our neighbour the very people we interact with on a daily basis.

Below is a passage from Matthew’s Gospel (Ch 26 vv 6-13). It is a much debated primarily because it has been used by some as a justification for tolerating poverty. I believe that to focus on this is to fail to recognise the central message of Matthews Gospel, the abundant blessing of love.

6 Now while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper,* 7a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table. 8But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, ‘Why this waste? 9For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor.’10But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, ‘Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. 11For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial. 13Truly I tell you, wherever this good news* is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.’

The power in this story is in its recognition of abundant love. The woman loves and cares for Jesus. She anoints him with oil because she loves him dearly. It truly is an act of loving, nay gracious abandonment. This is in complete contrast to the grumpy disciples who are definitely of the  glass half empty brigade. At least they are consistent though as they appear this way throughout the Gospels. The woman though is overflowing with love and wants to anoint those she loves with this. This is beauty in action. This is a soul awakened by beauty and inspired to act lovingly. Her heart is over flowing with love and she wants to pour out this love onto Jesus who will soon no longer be with her or the disciples.

This is something we can all do we can all pour out this attentive love on one another and all life. We can offer care and attention to each and everyone around us. In so doing we will help create beauty all around us. It brings to mind the following little anecdote by William McNamara:

“I once lived near a mansion where only one of the many gardeners employed had succeeded with every one of the roses. I asked him the secret of his success. He told me that the other gardeners treated all the roses not unwisely, but too generally. They treated them all in precisely the same way; whereas he himself watched each rosebush separately, and followed out for each plant its special need for soil, manure, sun, air, water, support and shelter.”

Beauty is all around us. We are surrounded by it. If we open ourselves to it, it will fill our hearts, awaken our souls and lead us to act lovingly and morally. This is beauty in action. If we create beauty with our own hands we will touch each individual soul we meet and they will grow and flower to their own full potential. We are here to enjoy the beauty that we are surrounded by and to pour out the beauty that lays within us and thus bring it to fruition in the world around us.

As Desmond Tutu has said:

“We were made to enjoy music, to enjoy beautiful sunsets, to enjoy looking at the billows of a sea and to be thrilled with a rose that is bedecked with dew…Human beings are actually created for the transcendent, for the sublime, for the beautiful, for the truthful…and all all of us are given the task of trying to make this world a little more hospitable to these beautiful things.”

Let beauty awake for beauty's sake. Awake from slumber and awake from dreams. Let beauty awake from deep within us, Let beauty pour from us and be lavished upon our world.

Saturday 9 May 2015

A Fourth Anniversary Waltz

This blogspot is a collection of material that has inspired my blog writing this year. With each piece I will add a link to the blogspot it helped inspire. I am putting this together to mark the fourth anniversary of "I Dream of the Ocean"...I hope it speaks to you

This first piece ended the first "spot" of the year, titled Do not fear the future: It is unwritten

“Beginning again on the continuous Journey” by Marta I Valentin

By the grace of the Divine Power,
which is larger hearted than we can ever imagine
we are constantly given the opportunity
to begin again
as the signposts along the continuous journey
suggest twists and turns we had not brought into view,
for the focus was on the mountain just up ahead
beyond the ridge….

By the faith of the Divine Power
that lives through the trust of our human ability
we are constantly offered the challenge to test the waters,
not just smooth the inevitable ripples
to a satiny gloss finish as if
that were the goal in life,
losing all character by not realizing:
the swells are what make life
interesting, intriguing, and indescribable.

By the law of the Divine Power,
whose very core is compassion
for our earthly missteps on this journey,
we are constantly given an opening
to remember that we each have a place
in the kin-dom* of humanity,
and the knowledge”
and courage to begin again toward a faith-filled,
loving grace that is our birthright.

*from Ana Maria Isasi-Diaz

The second "spot" explored the importance of maintaining spiritual well-being Spiritual Well-Being

It ended with the following by John 0' Donohue

At the End of the Day: A Mirror of Questions" by John O’ Donohue

What dreams did I create last night?
Where did my eyes linger today?
Where was I blind?
Where was I hurt without anyone noticing?
What did I learn today?
What did I read?
What new thoughts visited me?
What differences did I notice in those closest to me?
Whom did I neglect?
Where did I neglect myself?
What did I begin today that might endure?
How were my conversations?
What did I do today for the poor and the excluded?
Did I remember the dead today?
Where could I have exposed myself to the risk of something different?
Where did I allow myself to receive love?
With whom today did I feel most myself?
What reached me today? How deeply did it imprint?
Who saw me today?
What visitations had I from the past and from the future?
What did I avoid today?
From the evidence – why was I given this day?

The following "spot" is titled There are tears of laughter too

The following helped inspire it...

“Tears” by Frederick Buechner

They say that whenever the great Protestant theologian Paul Tillich went to the beach, he would pile up a mound of sand and sit on it gazing out at the ocean with tears running down his cheeks. One wonders what there was about it that moved him so.

The beauty and the power of it? The inexpressible mystery of it? The futility of all those waves endlessly flowing in and ebbing out again? The sense that it was out of the ocean that life originally came and that when life finally ends, it is the ocean that will still remain? Who knows? . . .

Maybe it was when he looked at the ocean that he caught a glimpse of the One he was praying to. Maybe what made him weep was how vast and overwhelming it was and yet at the same time as near as the breath of it in his nostrils, as salty as his own tears.

“Create Laughter Memories” by Donald Altman

Start a laughter memory journal to record your laughter memories. Write down your laughter memory at the end of the day or when the memory is fresh. Having these stories will help prime your laughter pump when you need a lift.

Here are several suggestions for locating laughter memories. Share funny articles or comic strips with others who like to laugh. You can also seek out "laughter yoga" clubs, where movement and laughter are combined to create daily, communal laughter memories. Another useful way to create a laughter memory is to simply recall a hilarious film or TV show. Make a list of your top-five funny films and watch them again. You can also combine a problem you are experiencing with laughter. By doing this, you are integrating two apparent opposites and creating an entirely new mind-body feeling state. Since no situation is completely bad, this laughter memory can help you develop a broader and more humorous perspective on almost anything.

At the end of the week, look over your journal and review your laughter memories.

The next went by the title Somebody To Lean On

And was inspired in some way by the following...

“Telling Secrets” by Frederick Buechner


I remember sitting parked by the roadside once, terribly depressed and afraid about my daughter's illness and what was going on in our family, when out of nowhere a car came along down the highway with a license plate that bore on it the one word out of all the words in the dictionary that I needed most to see exactly then. The word was TRUST. What do you call a moment like that? Something to laugh off as the kind of joke life plays on us every once in a while? The word of God? I am willing to believe that maybe it was something of both, but for me it was an epiphany. The owner of the car turned out to be, as I'd suspected, a trust officer in a bank, and not long ago, having read an account I wrote of the incident somewhere, he found out where I lived and one afternoon brought me the license plate itself, which sits propped up on a bookshelf in my house to this day. It is rusty around the edges and a little battered, and it is also as holy a relic as I have ever seen.

This "spot" explores the idea of looking for people who don't so much think alike, but do love alike. It goes by the title Looking for like hearted people

The following are pieces that helped inspire it...

“Love” Stephen Lingwood from “The Unitarian Life: Voices from the Past and Present

Freedom, reason, tolerance and pluralism aren’t enough, not on their own. We need a message to give to people, good News to preach. What good News can Unitarians give to the world? Just this: Love. A Holy Love that transforms, that is powerful and prophetic and justice-seeking. This message has always been at the heart of our faith: from Francis David, who said “you need not think alike to love alike”, to the Universalists who knew that nothing will ever separate anyone from the love of God, even to today when Unitarians work to support the rights of gay couples because we know that love is always a blessing, regardless of gender.

From "Bringing God Home: A Traveler's Guide" by Forrest Church

"Universalism is an exacting gospel. Taken seriously, no theology is more
challenging-morally, spiritually, or intellectually: to love your enemy as yourself; to see your tears in another's eyes; to respect and even embrace otherness, rather than merely to tolerate or, even worse, dismiss it. None of this comes naturally to us. We are weaned on the rational presumption that if two people disagree, only one can be right. This works better in mathematics than it does in theology; Universalism reminds us of that. Yet even to approximate the Universalist ideal remains devilishly difficult in actual practice. Given the natural human tendency toward division, Universalists run the constant temptation to backslide in their faith. One can lapse and become a bad or lazy Universalist as effortlessly as others become ice-cream social Presbyterians or nominal Catholics."

This "spot" has been central to my whole thinking and feeling for the last few weeks and months. It comes from the line spoken by Jesus on the "Sermon on the Mount"...The words are "You are the light of the world" The whole "spot" can be found here You are the light of the world

Matthew 5 vv 3-10

3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely* on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
13 ‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
14 ‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

This "spot" explores belonging, asking who or what we belong too Belonging: Be-Your-Longing 

The following helped to inspire it...

“The Trap of False Belonging” from Anam Cara by John O’Donohue

The heart of the matter: You should never belong fully to something that is outside yourself. It is very important to find a balance in your belonging. You should never belong totally to any cause or system. People frequently need to belong to an external system because they are afraid to belong to their own lives. If your soul is awakened, then you realize that this is the house of your real belonging. Your longing is safe there. Belonging is relating to longing. If you hyphenate belonging, it yields a lovely axiom for spiritual growth: Be-Your-Longing. Longing is a precious instinct in the soul. Where you belong should always be worthy of your dignity. You should belong first in your own interiority. If you belong there, and if you are in rhythm with yourself and connected to that deep, unique source within, then you will never be vulnerable when your outside belonging is qualified, relativized, or taken away. You will still be able to stand on your own ground, the ground of your soul, where you are not a tenant, where you are at home. Your interiority is the ground from which nobody can distance, exclude or exile you. This is your treasure. As the New Testament says, where your treasure is, there is your heart also.

This "spot" explored perfectionism and imperfectionsism Imperfecting Perfection

The story taken from the vault of Mulla Nasruddin helped inspire the "spot"

One afternoon, Nasruddin and his friend were sitting in a cafe, drinking tea, and talking about life and love. “How come you never got married, Nasruddin?” asked his friend at one point. “Well,” said Nasruddin, “to tell you the truth, I spent my youth looking for the perfect woman. In Cairo, I met a beautiful and intelligent woman, with eyes like dark olives, but she was unkind. Then in Baghdad, I met a woman who was a wonderful and generous soul, but we had no interests in common. One woman after another would seem just right, but there would always be something missing. Then one day, I met her. She was beautiful, intelligent, generous and kind. We had everything in common. In fact she was perfect.” “Well,” said Nasruddin’s friend, “what happened? Why didn’t you marry her?” Nasruddin sipped his tea reflectively. “Well,” he replied, “it’s a sad thing. Seems she was looking for the perfect man.”

This blogspot explore humility and humanity and the importance of being grounded in reality Humility: Grounded in our Common Humanity

The following by David Whyte helped inspire the "spot"

“Ground” by David Whyte

Ground is what lies beneath our feet. It is the place where we already stand; a state of recognition, the place or the circumstances to which we belong whether we wish to or not. It is what holds and supports us, but also what we do not want to be true; it is what challenges us, physically or psychologically, irrespective of our hoped for needs. It is the living, underlying foundation that tells us what we are, where we are, what season we are in and what, no matter what we wish in the abstract, is about to happen in our body, in the world or in the conversation between the two.

To come to ground is to find a home in circumstances and in the very physical body we inhabit in the midst of those circumstances and above all to face the truth, no matter how difficult that truth may be; to come to ground is to begin the courageous conversation, to step into difficulty and by taking that first step, begin the movement through all difficulties, to find the support and foundation that has been beneath our feet all along: a place to step onto, a place on which to stand and a place from which to step.
This "spot" made the claim that we are all genius's that we each have the seed of genius within each and everyone of us and that it is our task to bring that to life Genius: Nurturing the Kin-dom of Love
The following helped inspire the "spot"

Matthew Ch 13 vv 31-32

31 He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’

Matthew Ch 17 v 20

20He said to them, ‘Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a*mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there”, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.’

“On the Parable of the Mustard Seed” by Denise Levertov

Who ever saw the mustard-plant,
wayside weed or tended crop,
grow tall as a shrub, let alone a tree, a treeful
of shade and nests and songs?
Acres of yellow,
not a bird of the air in sight.

No, He who knew
the west wind brings
the rain, the south wind
thunder, who walked the field-paths
running His hand along wheatstems to glean
those intimate milky kernels, good
to break on the tongue,

was talking of miracle, the seed
within us, so small
we take it for worthless, a mustard-seed, dust,
Glib generations mistake
the metaphor, not looking at fields and trees,
not noticing paradox. Mountains
remain unmoved.

Faith is rare, He must have been saying,
prodigious, unique—
one infinitesimal grain divided
like loaves and fishes,

as if from a mustard-seed
a great shade-tree grew. That rare,
that strange: the kingdom
a tree. The soul
a bird. A great concourse of birds
at home there, wings among yellow flowers.
The waiting
kingdom of faith, the seed
waiting to be sown.

This "spot" explore courage and how to live from our whole hearts Courage: Living Wholeheartedly 

The following by David Whyte helped inspire it

“Courage” by David Whyte

Courage is a word that tempts us to think outwardly, to run bravely against opposing fire, to do something under besieging circumstance, and perhaps, above all, to be seen to do it in public, to show courage; to be celebrated in story, rewarded with medals, given the accolade, but a look at its linguistic origins leads us in a more interior direction and toward its original template, the old Norman French, Coeur, or heart.

Courage is the measure of our heartfelt participation with life, with another, with a community, a work, a future. To be courageous, is not necessarily to go anywhere or do anything except to make conscious those things we already feel deeply and then to live through the unending vulnerabilities of those consequences. To be courageous is to seat our feelings deeply in the body and in the world: to live up to and into the necessities of relationships that often already exist, with things we find we already care deeply about: with a person, a future, a possibility in society, or with an unknown that begs us on and always has begged us on. Whether we stay or whether we go - to be courageous is to stay close to the way we are made."

This "spot" explores memory and how memory brings the moment to life Memory: The Power of Not Only Now

The following, also by David Whyte, inspired it

“Memory” by David Whyte

"Memory is not just a then, recalled in a now, the past is never just the past, memory is a pulse passing through all created life, a wave form, a then continually becoming other thens, all the while creating a continual but almost untouchable now. But the guru’s urge to live only in the now misunderstands the multilayered inheritance of existence, where all epochs live and breathe in parallels. Whether it be the epochal moment initiated by the appearance of the first hydrogen atoms in the universe or a first glimpse of adulthood perceived in adolescence, memory passes through an individual human life like a building musical waveform, constantly maturing, increasingly virtuosic, often volatile, sometimes overpowering. Every human life holds the power of this immense inherited pulse, holds and then supercharges it, according to the way we inhabit our identities in the untouchable now. Memory is an invitation to the source of our life, to a fuller participation in the now, to a future about to happen, but ultimately to a frontier identity that holds them all at once. Memory makes the now fully inhabitable."

This final piece explore the beauty of Cherry Blossom and seeing the world as it really is Cherry Blossom: With Eyes Wide Open 

The following helped inspire the "spot"

Open Eyes by Victoria Safford

To see, simply to look and see, is an ethical act and intentional choice; to see, with open eyes, as a spiritual practice and thus risk, for it can open you to ways of knowing the world and loving it that will lead to inevitable consequences. The awakened eye, is a conscious eye, a willful eye, and brave, because to see things as they are, each in its own truth, will make you very vulnerable.

Think of yourself as a prism made of glass, reflecting everything exactly as it is, unable to exist dishonestly -- reflecting beauty where there is beauty, violence where there is violence, loveliness and unexpected joy but there is joy, violation where there is violation.

Here's the front page of the paper; here's that seedy, gossipy conflict at your job; here's a memory, unblurred by wishful thinking; here's a perfect afternoon in spring, and buds now on the trees, and blackbirds in the marsh. Here's the world, just as it is -- now look!

That kind of seeing is a choice, and it is sacred practice.

And then there is refraction -- taking into yourself, as a prism takes in light, the truths of what you see and hear and transforming it somehow, changing its direction, acting on it, rendering it somehow, anew. That again is holy work. The spring day, received, comes out again as gratitude (dispersed into a spectrum); a sorrow, yours or someone else's, fully realized and received, not denied, not covered up, not justified or explained away, ignored -- some sorrow clearly, previously seen is taken in, absorbed and felt, and reemerges, bent now into compassion. To see clearly is an act of will and conscience. It will make you very vulnerable. It is persistent, holy, world transforming work.

Saturday 2 May 2015

Cherry Blossom: With Eyes Wide Open

I was sat in my vestry, chatting with a friend over “spiritual” matters, the other day. During the conversation we talked about how we see things, about perspective and how the world can appear as if it has changed, even though it hasn’t physically done so; that life is not just about what we see, but how we see things. Just before we walked outside together I turned and quoted the following “Scales of pride and prejudice fell from my eyes. A new world came into view.”

Well as we walked out of the vestry a new world truly did come into view. I noticed the cherry blossom tree in full bloom in the gardens at Dunham Road Unitarian Chapel, Altrincham. It is a beautiful sight the cherry blossom in full bloom. I took some pictures of the tree and sent them to friends, I also posted them on facebook. My word it received some wonderful responses.

Over the next twenty four hours I and a friend kept on posting pictures of the cherry blossom we saw all around us. I suggested that we play a game as we went about our daily business. The game involved paying homage to each tree that we passed and when we could to stop and take pictures and share them with each other.

Wow! What a wonderful experience! It helped me to open up and connect to all I was doing that day, as it did my friend. There was an ever increasing sense of loving connection as we travelled from one place to another. Our senses were on high alert, our eyes were wide open.

When I got home, that evening, there were several other responses to the cherry blossom experiences. One old mate wrote “One of my favourite sights of all the seasons is cherry blossoms. Makes me feel fluttery in the stomach. Bit like the feeling when you are first falling in love. I look forward to it every year.”

I understood exactly what he was saying I had been experiencing the very same sensation all day. It had felt like I was falling in love all day long. I was in a way, I was falling in love with life once again as I was fully engaged with that day; I was fully engaging and sharing with others in this same awakening. There was also a growing sense of a power greater than ourselves rushing through all of this, Universal Love, perhaps the greatest of God’s many names. This was more than just spirituality, this was a religious experience, as it had brought all of us closer to one another, we were bound up and connected through it all. We all grew from the experience. I went to bed that night with my jaws aching, I had been smiling that much.

Is there a more beautiful sight in the world than the cherry blossom? Maybe, maybe not...

Cherry Blossom is much loved throughout the world. In Japan the Cherry Blossom tree is not only admired for its beauty, it is revered. Each year the Japanese people come in large groups with their families and friends to view the flowers and to enjoy festivals with food, drink, and music. The significance of the cherry blossom tree in Japanese culture goes back hundreds of years. It represents the fragility and the beauty of life. It is a reminder that life can at times become overwhelmingly beautiful, while at the same time tragically short. The cherry blossom, blooming for a short time each year, is an overpowering visual reminder of the precious fragility of life. So, when Japanese people come together to view the cherry blossom trees and marvel at their beauty, they aren't just thinking about the flowers themselves, but also about the larger meaning and deep cultural tradition of the cherry blossom tree. This is a truly religious experience.

It was so beautiful to engage with this myself the other day and to continue this with others over these last few days and then of course to share it we you who read this "blogspot".

We are all a part of the creative interchange, often unknowingly. The cherry blossom opened my eyes once again and brought me and others to places of deeper connection. I offer thanks and praise for this.

The Cherry Blossom experience opened the eyes of my heart, it brought me, once more, to a new vision...

Life has taught me that how I see the world really depends on where I am at spirituality. I wonder if I have ever seen the world as it really is. Do any of us really? How I see the world seems to be constantly changing. I believe it really matters how we see the world, because how we see the world will affect how we live in the world.

Victoria Safford claims that

“To see, simply to look and to see, is an ethical act and intentional choice; to see, with open eyes is a spiritual practice and thus a risk, for it can open you to ways of knowing the world and loving it that will lead to inevitable consequences. The awakened eye is a conscious eye, a willful eye, and brave, because to see things as they are, each in its own truth, will make you very vulnerable.”

There are many moments in all of our lives when due to a new honesty we come into a new way of seeing the world we are surrounded by. Now this may not be a moment as dramatic as say Saul (who became the apostle Paul) on the road to Damascus. It may just be a subtle change of perspective brought on by a new encounter with nature or another person. There may not be an explanation, sometimes life is inexplicable. It will of course bring with it both challenges and blessings. Seeing the world with open eyes can be a deeply vulnerable experience, but in my eyes it is the only way to truly be alive.

The spiritual life for me is at its essence about increasing our sensitivity to life. It is about opening our senses to all that is.

I truly believe that we have a purpose here. This in many ways is why I am a minister and why I attempt to create and hold the space for others to explore and grow. The communities I serve have a purpose, that purpose is to encourage a search for deeper experience and understanding, that can lead to ever new awakenings, It is not for ourselves alone though. The purpose is to create and hold the space where transformation can occur so that those engaged together can affect the world in which we live in a positive way.

The cherry blossom is with us currently, it is one of the simple beauties of life. That said it will soon fall and be gone for another year. While flowering and falling it teaches us that nothing in life can last forever. Well except for love, love is eternal, love never dies. The love we create and bring to the lives of others lives on the lives we touch.

There is something universal and eternal in the experience that the Cherry Blossom has brought to me and many others these last few days. There was the utter bliss in bowing, blowing kisses and taking pictures as we travelled through our days. It brought great joy and a deeper sense of loving oneness, It also connected us to people all over the world. to past generations and no doubt those who will follow.

There is something eternal in this Love I have shared in these last few days. It has certainly opened my senses, including the sixth one, to something more. It has increased my sensitivity to life and that which is at the core of it all.

I have been in love all week. I have been awakened to a new love for life. I offer thanks and praise for this.

So I say to you reading this little "blogspot" come and join with me and others and enjoy the cherry blossom while it still lasts and let’s share in the love that these simple buds bring and have brought for many generations. Let’s also keep on opening our senses. Let’s keep on opening our eyes, to new vision.

I' m going to end this little chip of a blog with these words by Chief Dan George

The beauty of the trees, the softness of the air, the fragrance of the grass speaks to me.
The summit of the mountain, the thunder of the sky, the rhythm of the sea,
Speaks to me.

The faintness of the stars, the freshness of the morning, the dewdrop on the flower, speaks to me.

The strength of the fire, the taste of salmon, the trail of the sun, and the life that never goes away, they speak to me.

And my heart soars.