Saturday 27 June 2015

Either everything matters or nothing matters

A little phrase has been on my mind for quite some time now “Either everything matters, or nothing matters.” I’ve been talking about it and writing about it for quite some time now. “Either everything is sacred, or nothing is sacred.” Or another variance “Either everything has meaning, or everything is meaningless.” I have lived on both sides of these divides during my 43 years of physical existence. These days I believe in everything and that little bit more than everything. I have noticed that since I turned this way that life has become sanctified and every single breath has become meaning filled.

Everything matters to me and yet the world outside of my window increasingly tells me that there is no meaning to anything and that religion and all forms of spirituality are merely delusions to give us consolation in an indifferent universe. They tell me that the rituals that we engage in are just futile attempts to give our lives meaning.

Is this so? What do you believe?

21st century Britain is on the surface a secular country and yet you see ritual and spiritual activity going on everywhere. A classic example has occurred on the other side of the road to Dunham Road Chapel where I live just a last few weeks ago. A young mother Natalie who worked in the dress shop just round the corner from the chapel was tragically killed on her way to pick up her child. The response to this tragedy has been incredible as all kinds of floral and other tributes have been left at the spot where it occurred. Many have come and marked this passing. This is a deeply meaningful activity where people are connecting beyond themselves and joining together to support one another. There is a real power at work, a power that is greater than all and yet present in each and every one of us. Some may call this Love and others call it God. It is far more than mere symbolism though and it is deep and rich in meaning.

You will see examples of this everywhere. In every town it would seem. Such road side activity is not just about death and tragedy either. Ever since I first saw the “Tree of Lost Sole’s” on the road to Warrington I have noticed other road side symbolism all over the place. It seems to me that they are no different to those Holy Shrines of ancient times, perhaps they too may one day become “Thin Places”, where the barriers between this world and the other world are narrowed. I have noticed that these things are deep and rich in meaning. They have certainly brought meaning and transformation to my life as they have brought me into closer contact with a reality greater than myself.

I believe in everything and that little bit more than everything, that all life is sacred and I also believe that it is our task to sanctify all life; I believe it is our task to realise the sacredness of everything. Everything matters. Every thought, every feeling, every breath and every action.

The Buddha reputedly said “ Whereever you live is your temple if you treat it like one.” All ground is holy ground if we sanctify it. As Wendell Barry so beautifully put it. “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.” I believe it is our task to nurture the sacredness from which we are formed and to carry that out into our world, through our lives…Everything matters you know, every breath, every feeling, every thought, every deed impacts in some way on the chain of life…Everything matters.

Pierre Teilhard De Chardin claimed “This world this palpable world, which we are wont to treat with the boredom and disrespect with which we habitually regard places with no sacred association for us, is in truth a holy place and we did not know it. Venite adoremus."

All ground is holy ground. We all stand on holy ground. We can consecrate it with our presence or we can desecrate it with our presence in how we live on the ground on which we live and breath and have our being.

This is why ritual, worship and acts of remembrance are so important because they remind us of the sacredness of all life, including our own and those of our neighbours. If nothing matters, then nothing matters. If nothing is sacred then any act of barbarism can begin to be justified. When we begin to deny the sacredness of life, we fail to recognise the sacredness of one another and we can begin to deny that we are all part of one human family, we begin to separate ourselves from one another and from life itself.

John O'Donohue described this void beautifully in his book "Bendictus: A Book of Blessing" in piece titled "The Loss of Ritual Leaves us Naked in our Rites of Passage" he wrote:

“A threshold is a significant frontier where experience banks up; there is intense concrescence. It is a place of great transformation. Some of the most powerful thresholds divide worlds from each other: life in the womb from birth, childhood from adolescence, adulthood from middle age, old age from death. And on each side there is a different geography of feeling, thinking and being. The crossing of a threshold is in effect a rite of passage.

Our culture has little to offer us for our crossings. Never was there such talk of communication or such technology to facilitate it. Yet at the heart of our newfound wealth and progress there is a gaping emptiness, and we are haunted by loneliness. While we seem to have progressed to become experts in so many things – multiplying and acquiring stuff we neither need nor truly want – we have unlearned the grace of presence and belonging. With the demise of religion, many people are left stranded in a chasm of emptiness and doubt; without rituals to recognize, celebrate, or negotiate the vital thresholds of people’s lives, the key crossings pass by, undistinguished from the mundane, everyday rituals of life. This is where we need to retrieve and reawaken our capacity for blessing. If we approach our decisive thresholds with reverence and attention, the crossing will bring us more than we could ever have hoped for. This is where blessing invokes and awakens every gift the crossing has to offer. In our present ritual poverty, the Celtic tradition has much to offer us.”

...Ritual helps us to sanctify life and therefore recognise and experience the sacredness of existence...

Either everything matters, or nothing matters. Either everything is sacred, or nothing is sacred. Either everything has meaning, or everything is meaningless. We are all part of the one human family, the family of life. When we no longer recognise we begin to fail to acknowledge one another’s sacred mystery. We begin to separate one another, we begin to dehumanise. 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 a reawakening to this sense of sacredness of all life, all existence.

You see either everything matters, or nothing matters; either everything is sacred, or nothing is sacred; either everything has meaning, or everything is meaningless.” What do you believe? Do you believe that everything ought to be sanctified or that life is devoid of any meaning at all? What is your choice to be?

Saturday 20 June 2015

Return to Love

“The Map and the Man” taken from "The shortest Distance: 101 Stories from the World's Spiritual Traditions" by Bill Darlison

It was a particularly rainy Saturday afternoon. Two children, John and Rebecca, were becoming increasingly bored, and their father, who was under strict orders to keep them entertained while their mother went shopping, was running out of ideas. He wanted to watch the sport on television and to read his newspaper, but the children had demanded his attention. He’d tried them with paper and coloured pencils, but this barely entertained them for five minutes. He’d tried the television, but didn’t even want to play on the computer. And there were still a couple of hours before mother returned!

Suddenly, he had an idea. Picking up a magazine from the table, he quickly flicked through the pages until he came to a map of the world. “Look at this, kids,” he said. “I’m going to cut this map into pieces - a bit like a jigsaw puzzle – and if you can put it together again, I’ll take you both to McDonald’s for tea! Is it a deal?

The children agreed to give it a try. Their father cut up the map, gave them a pot of glue, and set them to work on the kitchen table. He meanwhile, put on the kettle, made himself a cup of coffee, and sat down with his newspaper in the living room. He was feeling very pleased with himself. “It’ll take them at least an hour,” he thought with a smile.

But barely ten minutes later he heard, “finished dad!” He couldn’t believe it. He went through into the kitchen table and there, sure enough, sitting on the table, was the completed map. “How on earth did you finish it so quickly?” he asked.

“It was easy,” said John. “The map of the world was complicated, but on the other side was a picture of man. We just put the man together.”

“Yes”, said Rebecca. “If you get the man right, the world takes care of itself.”

...There is some real wisdom here...If we get the man right, the world takes care of itself...I hear the wisdom of "First things first here...I here the wisdom I was taught many years "If you are spiritually well, the rest will take care of itself...

Last Sunday was one of life's redemption days. Days I seem to experience increasingly as time goes by.

I had been invited to lead worship at Wakefield Westgate Chapel, back home in West Yorkshire. Little did I know when I began the journey that it would turn out to be one of the most beautiful days of my whole life. One of those days when fruits were finally born. Now as I set off you would not have called it beautiful. The rain was falling and the traffic was heavy. That said once I got on the M62 proper the roads began to clear, if not the weather. No that got decidedly worse as I hit the highest point of the motorway, just as you are leaving Lancashire and entering Yorkshire and approaching Stott Hall farm. It’s always a magical time for me, this sense of coming home. Emotion always begins to build and memory takes over as I re-feel so much. As I drove I had a feeling that something special was going to take place that day. There was a calmness over me as I felt held by the eternal hand of love. It was a strong and reassuring feeling. A feeling I have grown to know so well over the years. A silent kind of strength, not boastful or loud but loving and sustaining. Paul understood it perfectly in the famous words on Love in his letter to the Corinthians. That strength that holds and guides, as you do the things you are there to do in life, your duty for the want of a better word. Some have called it the loving hand of a father and I can understand that, although of course it transcends all human created gender boundaries.

Well amazing things occurred that day. One’s that even for me are too personal to share publicly. All I can say is that they were beautiful and moving deeply redemptive, as I once again witnessed the power of Love at work in human lives. As I drove home that day I wept with both joy and gratitude.

Of all the stories that Jesus told I think it is the “Parable of the Prodigal Son” (Luke Ch 15 vv 11-31) that speaks most powerfully to me. It is a universal tale that speaks on so many levels about the blessings and troubles with forgiveness and reconciliation. There are three characters in the tale a father and his two sons. The youngest son squanders his inheritance on a hedonistic lifestyle, he loses everything. In desperation he sells himself into slavery and due to a great famine finds himself close to starvation. It is at this point of utter despair and hopelessness that he remembers where he has come from, he remembers his father and reasons that even his father’s slaves have a better life than him. So he returns home to throw himself on his father's mercy, not as his son but as a slave. On hearing he is returning his father rushes to meet him. Now even before his son atones his father does more than forgive him. He kisses him, a beautiful touch of intimacy and then as he son throws himself at his father’s feet he orders that the fatted calf be slaughtered and a huge party of much rejoicing be held, to celebrate the return of his son who was once lost but now is found.

The parable of "The Prodigal Son" is a beautiful tale of redemption and forgiveness, but is it a realistic one? If only it was that easy. Well actually there is so much more to this story than has already been discussed, there is another character who does not find forgiveness so easy to come by. There is the other brother who refuses to rejoice and celebrate the returning of his long lost sibling. Quite the opposite in fact, he is angry, he is indignant, he will not reconcile with his brother and is now at odds with his father. In fact he does not even refer to the "prodigal" as his own brother. Instead he names his as “This son of yours” and by doing so disowns him emotionally. He tells his father all he has done for him and yet has received nothing in return for his good and virtuous life. His father pleads with him and then utters the immortal words, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” He tells his older son that all that is his belongs to him and also reminds him that this brother of his has returned from the dead. He reminds him that he is his brother and therefore a part of him. They were all three of them once bound together and now need to be once again reconciled, they need to be re-bound. Now this to me this is the essence of religious living. For I have come to believe that reconciliation is a deeply religious act.

I wonder sometimes if I myself have become like the older brother who really would rather not recognise the younger brother who is a part of me. It is not easy to forgive ourselves for our failings. I think sometimes I would prefer to disown that aspect of myself, but I know that this is not the right way, the loving way. I know if I want to truly be of service to this world I need to be fully reconciled with all that I am, so as to be able to love without prejudice. I also need to recognise that in each and every person exists each of the three “Prodigal Son” characters. The one who is returning seeking forgiveness, the one offering forgiveness and the one who can feel rejected and neglected by this expression of love. Reconciliation is a process and one that takes time; it is a long journey but one that is certainly worth embarking upon. It is far from easy, but it is without a shadow of a doubt worth embarking upon.

It brings to mind the following wonderful reflection "Mending the Broken World" by Kathleen Mctigue taken from her book of meditations "Shine and Shadow"

“Mending the Broken World” by Kathleen McTigue

In early September I stop to watch my neighbour at work repairing a stone wall that lines the road perpendicular to ours. Built as all the old field walls of our region have been built, the stones are held by balance and judicious choice rather than by mortar. The wall was built well, but the weight of many decades has broken it here and there, with some stones fallen out of place or carried away for some other use.

As I warm myself in the autumn sun and watch him work, I see about half of what he does is simply look at these stones in their haphazard piles, stroking his chin in thought, Then from time to time he rolls one from the pile onto the ground and turns it from side to side, pondering, or walks back to study again the place in the wall he’s trying to mend. When he finally makes his choice, he’s sure. Each stone waits for the right opening, the place where its particular heft and shape fit as though cradled. Once in place it is no longer merely a stone, but an essential piece of the wall, part of a larger thing taking shape as naturally as a tree flows from root to trunk to branch.

My neighbour is an ordinary working man, I know his name, and sometimes we talk together about life and horses and his willingness to help me haul manure to my garden one of these days before the first hard frost. But on this sunny September afternoon as I watch his eyes and hands become familiar with each stone and then lift it to shape the wall, it’s easy to imagine God at work in the immense universe, quietly humming, pulling our lives together into something strong and useful.

I don’t mean we’re mute or helpless, waiting passively for the great Stonemason to lift and move our lives or tell us where we belong. I mean only that there is a place for us, that our gifts – the shape of our minds and talents, the angles of our interest and concern – fit the needs of the world the way my neighbour’s stones anchor themselves in the lengthening wall. I mean that the world’s possibilities shift and change each time we put ourselves into building something large and strong and beautiful. Whether or not we find room in our theologies for the word God, the world itself calls us to imagine ourselves essential to this engaged holiness, bringing forth what is ours to give of creation and strength, toward mending the broken world.

...I hear so much in these words that concept of building or perhaps re-building the "Kin-dom of Love right here right now in and amongst us...

Now of course this no easy task. If I have learnt anything it is that this rebuilding begins with forgiveness. An easy word to speak perhaps but a difficult state to achieve and the reconciliation that it brings with it even harder. That said I suspect it is the purest act of love we can engage in. Now the reason it is so hard, especially with old hurts, is that when we engage in it we bring these painful feelings right up to the surface. Forgiveness is an act of remembrance. In order to forgive we have to truly re-feel all that has happened. We don’t really forgive and forget. What we actually do, if we are to truly forgive is re-member. We re-bind the past to the present and can then begin to reconcile. This is why I say that reconciliation is a deeply religious act, because we are re-binding together what has been separated. That said by so doing we do truly begin to heal our world one stone at a time. It is so easy to look at the world in despair and say I am powerless, there is nothing I can do. The truth is that if we look at the world in this way that is true. That said if we look in our own hearts, in our families and our communities there is much that can be done. Perhaps if we begin here and reconcile ourselves with those closest to us there is much to be done. I wonder sometimes if by focusing on the bigger picture, the whole world, we lose sight of picture on the other side. As the story at the beginning of this "blogspot" teaches, “If you get the man right, the world takes care of itself.” And if we do so we begin to build "the kin-dom of Love" right here right now, what Jesus called the Kingdom of God, which I see as being one in the same.

It is said that “God is Love” and for me this portrayed perfectly in the Parable of the “Prodigal Son”, something that is not always portrayed within the Judaeo/Christian tradition and its imagery of the hard paternal father figure and not really the Abba that Jesus spoke of in the Gospels. Now of course if God is understood in a literal sense, when discussing this parable it is easy to see why God has been seen as a patriarchal figure and I see this as a mistake. Seeing God as Love is to see God not as super human figure, but instead as a way of being and doing and living and breathing. God as Love is to see God as the name for that which we hold of greatest value, for the mystery of existence. This is something surely theists and none theists can adhere to, unless of course they view life as being without meaning. And to see life as meaningless is to deny even the existence of love

When I think of this parable what I witness is a story of Love coming alive. It is a return to Love if you like. To me this is what is at the essence of spiritual living. It is about reconciliation. It is about turning away from merely ourselves and connecting with all. Not just with all that is now, but all that has ever been and probably ever will be. It is a story of turning or if you prefer returning to Love and once again coming alive. This comes alive as we begin that journey of reconciliation, almost immediately. As it did in the "Parable of the Prodigal Son". Remember as soon as the father heard the son was returning and even before he asked for forgiveness the father embraced him, he even kissed him and in so doing that powerful eternal Love came alive.

Here for me is the message in this story. In that beautiful intimate act is everything. The parable is about this power coming alive that can heal our wounded and often broken world. It is something that happens on an intimate and individual level, between each of us. It is also something that I believe we are all responsible for.

It begins here in our own individual lives. It begins in our own hearts as we reconcile ourselves with our whole lives. It begins with those who we have shared our lives with. It begins by focusing on the little picture. If we get that right the bigger picture will begin to take care of itself. Remember as the little girl in the story said “If you get the man right, the world takes care of itself.”

It begins with you and it begins with me. It begins by returning to Love.

Now I am going to end this little chip of a "blogspot" with some words by Robert T Weston entitled “If Love Be There”.

“If Love Be There”

This day, setting aside all that divides me from others;
This day, remembering that the world is beautiful
To him who is willing that it be so
And that into the open, eager heart
The beauty enters in, if love be there.

This day, I will make a part of the song of life.
There may be grief, but if there be love it will be overcome.
There may be pain, but it can be borne with dignity and courage.
There may be difficulty, but it can be turned to strength.
Remembering that the world is beautiful
If I will let it be so for others whom I meet,
This day I will make a part of the song of life.

Sunday 14 June 2015

Lessons in Living

“Were I to Teach a Course on God” by Nancy Shaffer

Were I to teach a course on God I would begin with a plate of persimmons – the sweet, crisp kind, the ones more orange than red; the hard, squat Fuyus I eat each November morning on hot wheat cereal with almonds.

I would slice the persimmons gently across their fat centers, then hold them out. See the star shape? I would offer them, so all might wonder.

I would slice brown Bosc pears straight down their middles, so the threads of each stem trace wisply down to that rounded place where dark seeds lie, tear-shaped and wet in white, firm flesh. I would hold these halves silently forward, their bottoms smooth in the curves of my palms.

I would teach God with plates of pomegranates, both before they were opened and after. I would bring wet washcloths. We would bury our faces and eat; all that luminescent purple-red, those clear-bright kernels fitted in tight rows on small and tumbling hills – and all that juice, so easily broken, sweet and pucker at once. We would say nothing.

I would teach this way; with plates of fruit, a knife; many washcloths. With my eyes very large; my mouth mostly silent, so all might eat.

...I love these words, they speak to that special place deep down in the soul of me...Been singing in my soul for some time now...If you want to know about God you have to delve into life and just taste those sweet juices in the messiness of will love it...I do...

There was a time in my life when my mantra was “Avoid, everything, avoid everything, avoid everything.” Hardly what you would call a mantra for living, more one for not living. Thankfully those days are long gone. These days if I have a mantra it’s “embrace everything, embrace everything, embrace anything.” As I often like to say “I believe in everything and that little bit more than everything.” That which lies at the core of everything and yet somehow transcends everything. That which allows us to see, to hear, to touch, to taste, to feel, to laugh and to love. The true seven wonders of life. Yes I believe in everything and that little bit more than everything.

Life has so much to teach us if we would just be awake to it, we just need to have our senses open to it. We just need to be here now. Not waste our time wishing we were here, but actually be here bringing this moment fully to life; wanting what we have and not wasting our time wishing we were some place else or living some other life; not wasting our time like the character in the film “Postcards from the Edge”, based on Carrie Fisher's semi-autobiographical book about an alcoholic Hollywood star,   who sends a card home while on holiday that read “Having a wonderful time. Wish I were here.”

I used to think that nothing mattered, that life was meaningless and empty and without value. I now know that the opposite is true, that everything matters, every thought, every word, every feeling, every breath, every moment. Everything matters. I no longer need to go seeking anything in life I just need to be alive to everything and avoid nothing. I have a growing and increasing sensitivity to everything and that little bit more than everything. Now please don’t get me wrong I’m not saying I am more sensitive that I take things increasingly personally, no what I mean is that I have increased my sensitivity my openness to everything.

I think it was Bill Darlison who claimed that if we wish to live life more spiritually we need to increase our sensitivity to life. I believe that if we do we will know experiences beyond our imaginings and life will become our constant teacher. We will grow in deeper understanding and most importantly we will become more effective in our daily living and truly become of service to life and those we meet in life. Certainly this is the lesson life has taught me.

Life is the greatest teacher of them all and we as a part of life can teach just by our presence in this world. People have taught me many things, in so many ways without ever really realising it. I have often only realised those lessons many years later. Lessons I have tried to pass on to others. I remember many years ago my grandma once saying to me “Why do you always say you are sorry, when you don’t really mean it.” I remember at the time going silent and taking it deeply into myself. It was only many years later when I understood what she meant. I used to say sorry all the time not because I was genuinely sorry for what I had done and had the intention not to do it again. No I used to say the word “sorry” as a way of controlling the potential anger of another. It had little or nothing to do with putting right what was wrong. The truth is that I didn’t really mean it at the time. A lesson it took me many years to learn.

I have learnt many things from many seemingly ordinary people throughout my life. One of my greatest teachers was an ordinary man, from Oldham of all places, who taught me , amongst many other things, how to listen. This all began by practising and noticing when I wasn’t listening, especially when others were talking. He taught me to observe when my mind wandered off or to notice when I was listening how much of my time was spent on working out what “brilliant” response I was going to make, in an attempt to refute what the other person was saying. He taught me that when we are listening to another we are extending ourselves to that person, we are giving them a gift; a gift that we can both share in. In making space for the other, we create a sacred space, we make space for God and we get a taste of heaven.

This truly opened me up to people in way I had never been before; it brought me alive to life in ways I had never been before. Now of course not all the great sages come from Oldham. Those of ancient times taught similar lessons to this ordinary man. That said I am not sure that I could have accessed what they taught eleven or so years ago. It required simple language from an ordinary man. He spoke the language of the heart and I was prepared to listen. I learnt a valuable lesson that day; I learnt that the language of the heart is universal, it can break down any barrier. Those simple words opened me to experiences I never knew were possible. Those experiences opened my senses, particularly my ears, I finally had ears that could hear and I began to finally hear so much more than mere words.

There are teachers all around us, as there has been throughout human history. Some have specific names such as masters, gurus, crones, rabbis, elders, sages, priests, sheikhs, even ministers and they have played vital roles in revealing spiritual truths. They have done so both directly and or indirectly through parables, koans, stories, sermons and their personal example and they have recommended methods that can lead us to enhance our spiritual lives and therefore open us up to everything and that which is more than everything and yet can be found in everything. Sometimes we need such people to get us started on our jounrney, just as I needed that ordinary man from Oldham who taught me how to listen, how to open my ears how to have ears that could hear, so that I could finally hear and my other senses could open too. This led to the realisation of the truth that everyone and everything in life can and is a teacher, even seemingly negative and painful experiences, if we remain open to them. In fact perhaps I have learnt more from suffering than joy, from getting things wrong rather than getting them right for these experiences have humbled me and therefore opened me up to more than I could ever have even begun to imagine.

All this speaks to me of the nature of God. My understanding of God is a kind of panentheistic one, not pantheistic, panentheistic. For me there is this something more than everything, that is present in everything and yet somehow more than everything, that is both transcendent and imminent. That said this sense, this spirit, does not control everything, but does communicate through everything. I experience what I would describe as some kind of universal will calling life to be in harmony with it. Calling always calling, what I have heard described as “The Lure of Divine Love”, which I have come to believe communicates through all life and I have discovered that the more awake and open to life I am the more I have a sense that it is communicating with me. When my senses are fully open and awake I feel that life is constantly communicating with me.

I hear this in the words of one of my favourite hymns “God speaks to us in bird and song, in winds that drift the clouds along, above the din of toil and wrong, a melody of love." Something that is echoed in the following beautiful words from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”:

I hear and behold God in every object, yet understand God not in the least,
Nor do I understand who there can be more wonderful than myself.
Why should I wish to see God better than this day?
I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then,
In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass,
I find letters from God dropt in the street, and every one is sign'd
by God's name,
And I leave them where they are, for I know that wheresoe'er I go,
Others will punctually come for ever and ever.

Everything, all life can be our teacher if we are open to it. If we have ears that can hear, if all our senses are awake to everything and that something or perhaps nothing that is are the core of everything and yet beyond everything.

Either nothing matters or everything matters; either life is meaningful or there is no meaning at all in everything; either you should avoid everything or experience everything. For me I have come to believe that everything matters, every thought, every word, every feeling, every breath, every moment. Everything matters. We don’t need to seek anything, nor do we need to run from life either. All we need to do is to be alive to everything and avoid nothing; all we need to do is increase our sensitivity, our openness to everything and our lives will become rich in meaning. We will find our place in everything. We will know that we belong, we will find our place in life and give what we have to life which will give back to us in turn, abundantly.

Listen you have ears that can hear. Listen life is speaking to you. You can open yourself to it and if you do it will begin to speak to you and through you.

I’m going to end this little chip of a "blogspot" with these words of wisdom by Rabbi Rami M. Shapiro, from “Wisdom of the Jewish Sages.”

"Consider a jigsaw puzzle. Each piece has its place, and no other piece can fit that place. Yet no one piece makes sense on its own. Each piece needs the whole for its integrity and coherence. And the whole needs each piece to fulfill its purpose and bring meaning and order to the puzzle. Once a piece is in its proper place, its separateness is surrendered. We know a piece is in its place when it blends with the whole and disappears. What is true for a puzzle is true for Reality, with one exception: There is no hand putting us in our place. We must do that for ourselves. We must discover our place and take it. And when we do this, we discover the integrity and meaning of the whole; we discover the divine energy that flows through all things that links each to the other and all to God."

Saturday 6 June 2015

We Believe in Human Kindness

“Kindness: The First Gift” by John O'Donohue

There is a kindness that dwells deep down in things; it presides everywhere, often in the places we least expect. The world can be harsh and negative, but if we remain generous and patient, kindness inevitably reveals itself. Something deep in the human soul seems to depend on the presence of kindness; something instinctive in us expects it, and once we sense it we are able to trust and open ourselves…

The word kindness has a gentle sound that seems to echo the presence of compassionate goodness. When someone is kind to you, you feel understood and seen. There is no judgment or harsh perception directed toward you. Kindness has gracious eyes; it is not small-minded or competitive; it wants nothing back for itself. Kindness strikes a resonance with the depths of your own heart; it also suggests that your vulnerability, though somehow exposed, is not taken advantage of; rather, it has become an occasion for dignity and empathy. Kindness casts a different light, an evening light that has the depth of color and patience to illuminate what is complex and rich in difference.”

...John O'Donohue had such a beautiful way of catching the deeper meaning of everything...

“We believe in human kindness” I was told by a lifetime Unitarian that for her these simple words speak of her faith. She says that we believe in human kindness.

Kindness is one of those words that is often derided these days. In fact I’ve heard people mocked for claiming a belief in it. I’ve heard the claim that it is not much of a foundation on which to build a faith. The more cynical and critical may also claim that there is no such thing as human kindness.

Is this so?

I have just spent a week where I have experienced nothing but kindness. Ok so for most of it I was with my nearest and dearest. That said I still noticed kindness, simple human kindness being shown towards me. It was lovely, truly beautiful and I enjoyed it immensely. It refreshed and revived me as I enjoyed the kindness of “kin”. I spent a week truly bathing in “The kin-dom of love”.

Now as it happens this is something I experience in most of my interactions I enjoy with other people. People show me affection and kindness and offer a welcoming space to me. Not everyone of course, but most. Do you know what I rarely even notice these days when folk aren’t and when do I am increasingly learning not to take this too personally. I know today that most of the time when people are unpleasant toward me it is more about where they are at than anything to do me.

Yes most of these days I am shown kindness and experience it in my daily living. I do experience that all-encompassing kin-dom of love both within myself and amongst the people I share my life with. I offer thanks and praise for this.

Now I can’t claim that this has always been the case. Now is this because the world has changed? It would seem not. No, more than anything it due to my experience of life changing. There was a time when I found kindness hard to take and accept. I often rejected it and turned from it. I didn’t trust it and thought to myself “What do they want, you can’t trust kindness.” I grew quite cynical of those who were seemingly kind. I sometimes feel sad about this, as it was a horribly lonely and unfeeling way to live.

I do hear that same tired, lonely voice in the world in which we all live and breathe and have our being. Cynicism is a disease. Kindness is a word that is often scoffed at. How often are the so called “do-gooders” in the world seen as foolish? We do seem to be living in times where the “Kin-dom of Love” is just the idealists dream, or religious nonsense.

I think that they are wrong and it does not have to be like this. We do not have to live in the cynic’s nightmare. If you look around you and look carefully, paying attention with an open heart you will become aware of kindness all around. Our task is I believe is to be both open to it and to allow it to radiate from our being.

“May we be filled with loving kindness, may we be well.”

Now the cynic’s will say I’m merely a dreamer, but I know I am not the only one.

Anita Roddick, the founder of the Body Shop is one too. She has often spoken of her belief in human kindness and the need to develop it as a spiritual practice, something she has seen as the essence of all the great religious traditions of the world. In her book "A Revolution in Kindness she wrote:

"To me, kindness is one of the most important words in the English language. It's enormously resonant and life-enhancing. And yet, over the past generation or so, it has begun to disappear from polite discourse. It's considered insipid, almost embarrassing. People are not praised for their kindness anymore. It is often viewed as something sanctimonious, patronizing and unrealistic — as if being kind somehow ignores the basic causes of a problem in the first place. Kindness carries with it implications of noblesse oblige, even snobbery . . .

Kindness is lumped along with “nice” as unrealistic and not possessing the power to bring about real change in the world, that it is simplistic, syrupy and worse still cowardly. Roddick though suggests the opposite claiming that kindness requires real courage as it goes against the grain of the times and does bring about change on a very human level. She further states that “…kindness doesn't have to be insipid or random to be effective. Far from it: deliberate kindness can be fierce, tenacious, unexpected, unconditional and sometime positively revolutionary…These qualities give kindness its power to create change, to make things happen. And in a period of human history in which we are obsessed with change — personal or political — and are unsure whether it is possible at all, kindness could be our salvation."

Could Kindness be our salvation. Could we actually bring about “The Kin-dom of Love” right here, right now.

John Lydon once sang that “Anger is an energy” and it most certainly is, that said so is kindness. It is a power if not an obvious one, as it does not shout or boast and operates at a simple one to one human level.

We have often heard it said that “Love makes the world go round”, well Forrest Church begged to differ. He claimed that “Love doesn't make the world go round; kindness does. Plus, it's a purer virtue. When you're kind to a taxi driver or check-out person, you expect nothing in return. And yet, if you make kindness a habit, others may find it contagious.” Church saw “kindness” as the purest virtue and the purest form of love, which he equated with agape love, self-giving love. This is the love spoken of in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians chapter 13. Where he states those immortal words. “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Kindness is at the core of the great religious traditions. Now in our ever increasing secular age this is just another reason to reject it. I had a conversation with someone I have known all my life about this very subject recently and their response was “That sounds a bit religious” and do you know what I believe that they are right, in fact its more than a bit religious. Kindness it is how to be religious in its most basic and simplest form, which is no doubt why that lifetime Unitarian says that “We believe in human kindness”

Kindness is the purest virtue and yet it is one we have seemingly forgotten, but it is there in the great faiths, at their core, in their essence.

Plato said “Be kind “for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” An ancient Arabian proverb claims that ”Blessed is the person who speaks a kindness; thrice blessed is the person who repeats it.” And in the Talmud it is said, “Deeds of kindness are equal in weight to all the commandments.” The book of Micah states “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Kindness is the first of the three great treasures advocated by Lao Tzu. The Buddha taught that generosity is a primary quality of an awakened mind. Muhammad regarded kindness as an essential sign of faith. Kindness is at the core of Christian ethics, it is considered the purest virtue.

Kindness is at the core of Buddhism. In contemporary times the Dalai Lama has said that “There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; my philosophy is kindness.” While the Buddha’s Metta Sutta taught “even as a mother protects with her life, her child, her only child, so with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings: radiating kindness over the entire world spreading upwards to the skies, and downwards to the depths; outwards and unbounded, free from hatred and ill-will.”

This is religion in its basic and simplest form. As the hymn goes “To worship rightly is to love each other; each smile a hymn, each kindly deed a prayer.”

Kindness is a power, it truly is an energy and it can be a transformative one. It can spread and take over and can begin to bring about the “Kin-dom of Love” right here right now. It begins right here, right now in our simple acts, words and deeds. That said it does so quietly and humbly, it does not shout it does not boast. It is the purest virtue.

Every day is a day when we can bear witness to a Power Greater than ourselves. We do this when we practise loving kindness, when we love one another, when we are glad to see each other, when we play, when we are light-hearted, when we can laugh at ourselves, when we live with exuberance and enthusiasm, when we grow from dust and become truly animated and live life. When we do this we recognise the Divine in one another and we see it in our own reflection, looking back at us in the glass, in our own eyes. We do not need to seek God, for God is already dwelling amongst us in each of our hearts. We just need to bring that Power to life. We know God’s blessings in our interactions with one another, when we bless one another with loving kindness through love and laughter. The way we look at one another, face to face has the Power to make God’s presence known on earth, right here right now. This is the “Kin-Dom of Love” and it begins with our acts. It begins with a belief in human kindness. It begins by worshipping rightly and to worship rightly is to simple love each other “Each smile a hymn, each kindly deed a prayer.”

I believe it is our task to bring the “Kin-dom of Love” to life, right here right now, in so doing we allow God to incarnate through our lives. It begins by simple human kindness. It is shown in our love for one another; it is shown in our laughter, our playfulness and our love for life.

I’m going to end this little chip of a "blogspot" with a story from the Desert Father’s, who were earlier Christians who tended to live apart from society and in community although sometimes alone.

There’s a monk who will never give you advice, but only a question. I was told his questions could be very helpful. I sought him out. “I am a parish priest,” I said. “I’m here on retreat. Could you give me a question?”

“Ah yes,” he answered. “My question is, ‘What do they need?’”

I came away disappointed. I spent a few hours with the question, writing out answers, but finally I went back to him.

“Excuse me. Perhaps I didn’t make myself clear. Your question has been helpful, but I wasn’t so much interested in thinking about my postulate during this retreat. Rather I wanted to think seriously about my own spiritual life, Could you give me a question for my own spiritual life?”

“Ah I see. Then my question is, ‘What do they REALLY need?’”

Do you believe in human kindness? Do you believe that this is what we the people really need?

I do!