Saturday 26 September 2015

Harvest: Wisdom to Know the Difference

“Harvest” is a time for reaping, but it is also a time for reflection; “Harvest” is a time just before Autumn sets in and all around us slows down; “Harvest is a time to gather in all that has occurred in our lives; “Harvest” is a time to feast on the good and perhaps chuck out what is of no use.

We will, before we are probably aware of it, soon enter into the winter of the year. Let us hope we have gathered enough to see us through the darkness of winter; let us hope we have planted enough, and cared for what we have planted, so that our harvest will be plentiful, that it will leave us fulfilled.

It is said that we reap what we so, but I'm not sure this is entirely true. There are after all other forces at work. We cannot control every element of life; there are powers at work other than our own. Sometimes everything can be destroyed, can be blown away by forces way beyond ourselves. This can lead us to believe that all is lost, but this is not necessarily so. We can begin again at any time. Seeds can begin to grow again, even after utter devastation.

“Harvest” is a time to reflect on what has been and to plan for times ahead. How is your harvest this year? Have the seeds you planted failed to grow? Are you been left with a bad harvest? Is this because you have not nurtured and cared for your crop as you should have or is it due to forces way beyond your control? Either way do not despair, hope springs eternal, even in the Autumn and the winter. There is always time for new beginnings. Let’s gather in the harvests of our lives and lets offer thanks and praise for all that we have been given, even if it’s a hard lesson, let’s give thanks for the lesson.

For tomorrow is another day and we can begin again in love.

I recently came across the following meditation "The Wisdom to Know the Difference" by Sarah York, it really touched me as I reflected on some of the people I serve and how they live with growing older...

“The Wisdom to Know the Difference” by Sarah York

My colleague Harry Meserve described as a pleasant surprise of advancing years the discovery of areas of knowledge, activity, and enjoyment that he had never before had time for or even considered. “This discovery,” he writes, “reminds one that no matter how distinguished, competent, and successful we may have been…we are now as little children who must be taught from the start how to make our way in other fields of knowledge and activity. Such experience is good for the soul.”

Aging is a lifelong process of adjustment to change. The people who age the best are those who are granted serenity – as the famous prayer puts it – the serenity to accept the things they cannot change, the courage to change the things they can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Getting older is one of those things that cannot be changed. The losses are different for different people. Sometimes the loss means giving up possessions to move to a smaller home, or giving up independence to move in with a family member. Or it may be the loss of physical abilities – hearing, walking, seeing. Gradually, age reminds us that we can’t do things we used to do. Age forces us to redefine ourselves in terms of what we can do. It is an art to be able to grow through the losses and accept the process without giving in to a spirit of decline.

Aging is a process of growth, not of decline. I admire people who age well more than those who remain youthful. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference, for both may appear vital and alert. But one avoids the realities of the autumn season of life by pretending that it’s still summer, while the other enjoys the brilliant colours.

...I love the final paragraph, especially the short sentence that opens it, "Aging is a process of growth, not of decline.". It also got me thinking about "The Serenity Prayer" in relation to "Harvest"...

The word Harvest is derived from the Anglo-Saxon haerfest, meaning “Autumn”. Autumn is always the reflective season. A time to gather in all that our lives have produced and then to separate what is of no use, to let it go and to store up what is of good use. It also got me thinking of the following parable from Matthew's Gospel Ch 13 vv 24 - 30

24 He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” 28He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” 29But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’

This parable got me thinking about what "Harvest" is really about and I believe it is two very important things. "Harvest is about storing up what is of value and good to us and offering thanks and praise for this and letting go of what is not. This time of year is very much about preparing for the future, making best use of what we gather in but also about acknowledging the power of letting go of what is not. For by doing so we are making room for more of what is of good use.

Now of course not everything can simply be let go of, life just isn’t like that. There are aspects of our lives and who we are as people that no matter how much we may wish them away will always remain. That said how we live with them will make all the difference. In fact we may even be able to make good use of these perceived problems. Sometimes the only thing we can do is to adopt a different attitude towards these problems in our lives; sometimes this is all that we need to do.

Now isn't this the wisdom of "The Serenity Prayer” “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. Courage to change the things I can. And wisdom to know the difference”

The “Serenity Prayer” is one of the great prayers, simple, practical and beautifully universal. It speaks powerfully to the heart and soul of so many people and has been doing so ever since it was first written by Reinhold Niebhur in the 1930’s. I even got into a conversation about it in a remote village in Transylvania when I went on a trip there a few years.

Several years ago I visited Unitarians in Transylvania. One day I visited a small community a village called Icland - there is no other settlement in the region whose name ends in land, the story goes that it was originally settled by people from Ireland or England – I walked up the hill towards the parish house and settled into a little schoolroom with a few adults and two teenage girls. For some reason I had images of Thomas Hardy or even Dickens in my mind as I walked up to the house and looked at the village. None of the houses had running water, everyone had a well. The minister led a short religious education class and I was deeply moved by the conversation which she translated for me. It was a conversation about struggles with the current economic climate and the importance of letting go of control and not becoming blocked off from God. The words of the serenity prayer came to my mind as we spoke “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference” – if only we could all find that wisdom to know the difference. I mentioned this and then a few moments later one of the women present produced a copy of the prayer from her purse. We then continued with the conversation which was one of the most beautifully moving and connective ones I have ever had. We spoke deep into one another's hearts. I left these people knowing I will probably never see them again, but also knowing that this conversation would be etched on my soul for a long time to come. During the conversation I had felt the presence of the spirit that I call God powerfully. I can picture the woman Elizabeth in my mind’s eye as she talked openly and eloquently of her struggles with life and faith. I can picture her now.

The key to this time of year and every time of year is in finding the wisdom to know the difference. The key to this of course is discernment. We need to be able to discern, to sift out, what needs to be let go of, what needs to be accepted and what needs to change either internally or externally for this to happen.

Now the word discernment comes from the Latin “discernere” which means to separate, to distinguish, to sort out. Just think of prospectors panning for gold or sifting through rocks and dirt in search of gem stones. They are separating, they are sorting through the muck for what is precious, they are distinguishing, they are discerning.

Discernment is the key to more fruitful harvests in our future. We need to discover what is of value and what needs to be discarded from our hearts, our minds and our lives. We need to do this in order to live fully and experience all that life has to offer. We need to discard the dirt and muck in order to discover all that is precious in life; we need to do this in order to be fully aware not only of our own lives, but the lives of those around us.

So how do we clear our minds so that we can discern, so that we can sift through the muck of life? Well I believe that we need to create space and we need silence. Our lives, our minds are so full of stuff that it is really difficult to discern what is right and healthy sometimes. This makes it difficult to make wise choices about life. In order to make those wise decisions we need to be still, we need to be silent, we need to connect to our bodies, to our breathing. We need to prepare ourselves for what life has to offer us. If we do we may just hear that still small voice of calm; that voice that is less than a whisper and yet so much more than silence. That voice that will grant us the wisdom to know the difference.

I will end this little chip of a blog with following “Autumns Arrival” by the late Simon John Barlow.
"Autumn's Arrival"

The chill in the air of mists and rain,
The grey and blue of sky meeting the reds and golds of leaves
Announce that autumn has arrived.
A feast for the seasons.
The fruit-laden branches of tree and the berry festooned bushes,
The bare fields now reaped of grain and vegetables,
Announce that harvest has arrived –
A feast for the body.
But what of the feast of the soul?
What have we gathered from our lives?
What of the harvest of experience?
The words of Julian of Norwich remind us that
“Peace and love are always alive in us,
but we are not always alive to peace and love”.
And so beloved,
In this season of ingathering and feasting, let us remember
The harvest for the senses,
The harvest for the body,
And the harvest of the soul
- lessons learned, peace sensed and love felt –
- the ingathering of Commonwealth of God.
God of Creation,
We give thanks for the bounty of our harvest of senses, body and soul
We hold in compassion those whose harvest is not yet ready,
Or seems too difficult to reap:
Guide us to use our blessings to bring a brighter harvest for all beings:
And grant us the wisdom to be alive to the harvest of peace and love.

Simon J Barlow

Saturday 19 September 2015

Imagination: More Important than Knowledge

Last weekend my brother and his family finally managed to come "up north" for the weekend. It was the first time we had been able to see them for more than a year. Sadly due to ill health and other problems they had been unable to come for a couple of days at Christmas. So it was a little bizarre going through the whole process of giving and receiving Christmas present from nine months before.

It was a lovely day, in so many ways. What I enjoyed the most though was watching the cousins playing together. I especially delighted in watching the young and active imaginations of the youngest two Johhny and Sammy playing with what looked like mechanical insects, seeing their imaginations come alive and create little adventures and worlds together. I also loved watching and listening to the older two Joey and Scarlet as they went off into the other room with a guitar and began to write music together. They wrote a song which they would perform to each of us separately. It was beautiful witnessing their creative minds work together and them sharing their imaginations with us all. It is truly amazing what can be created when people come together in love. These two sets of children had not spent time together in over a year and yet the rapport they shared and the creativity that came from it, was a beautiful thing to behold. Just a wonderful example of the beautiful and creative thing that is the human imagination, especially in a child.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see life through the eyes of a child once again; wouldn’t it be wonderful to see the wonder and mystery of life once again; to see the things around us as fertile ground for adventure, rather than just mere objects to be used and discarded.

Lynda Sexson captures this feeling near perfectly, in “Ordinarily Sacred” she wrote:

“My son once found the hip-bone of a large cow. He wore it as a stately garment or as armor; he played the bone like a guitar or played himself in the bone like a dinosaur. He circulated his interest upon the bone back into his discovery of it in the woods, to the being who had walked if before abandoning it, to the shape and feel of it, to hanging it on the wall and looking at it and the shadows it cast. And the bone was transformed – quite beyond the original fragment of decay in the woods – into images of everything from death to art.”

It got me thinking of my own childhood and little adventures that I would create in my own mind. Memories that had at one time become lost in some many other things. I thought of times just going off alone and creating whole worlds in my imagination. I remembered Sunday mornings at my grandparent’s farm and waking very early in my pyjamas and getting my granddads broken no longer usable rifle and pretending I was John Wayne defending the Alamo and other such adventures and many other dreams and memories too. I remembered too the fascination with old animal skulls, especially the jaws and teeth. It brought back lots of lovely memories of innocent and happy days, memories which for years had become lost. I thought about all these things as I drove back to Altrincham to prepare myself to lead worship the next day. It created a beautiful space in the soul of me.

It brought to mind the following meditation...

“Magical Thinking” by Colin Bossen

"The sign in the windowpane of Kristin Baybar's toyshop in London reads "We do not exist but if you think we do, and would like to visit... please knock." Knock I have. In truth, I have more than knocked I have entered the sanctum of the toyshop itself. It is a strange and magical place, filled with curios, doll house furniture and hand carved toys. Every surface is covered, the cupboard display cases stacked high, with miniature flowers, snapping tin alligators, painted puzzles that move, penny whistles and cheap magic tricks. Several signs proclaiming "Do Not Touch" suggest that this might not be a shop for small children.

Yet some of my fondest childhood memories are of Kristin Baybar's. For three summers, while my father taught a study abroad course, my family rented a flat around the corner. Every chance I got I would wander over to the toy shop. The shop owner--Kristin Baybar herself--seemed to delight in entertaining small children. There were magic tricks, toys that made noises and puzzles. Within the walls of the shop the world seemed just a little more wonderful than outside.

The shop and its owner did much to teach me about the power of the imagination. Creative play, the ability to dream and discover new things helps make us human. Without them there would be no culture, no religion, no art and no science. They help us to define and redefine the world for, as William Shakespeare wrote, "We are such stuff / As dreams are made."

My friend Richard once defined magic as the act of imagining something and then creating it. “I think, I’m hungry. I want a sandwich,” he would say, “I imagine it and then I create it. That’s magic!” Open yourself to the marvellous that surrounds you, seek it out if only for a moment, and you never know what sort of magic you might create. So much of the world first began as a dream. So much of the world has yet to be dreamed."

...Colin Bosset captures beautiful the power and magic of the imagination, in this beautifully moving meditation...

One of my all time favourite quotes is by Albert Einstein who said “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” Without imagination there is no way that he could have developed his theory of relativity; without it there is no way he could have stepped beyond the perceived wisdom of the time. Without imagination there is no way that Beethoven could have created the Ninth Symphony, ground breaking in so many ways and composed while he himself had become deaf. Beethoven never heard his own masterpiece. Without imagination there is no way that Shakespeare could have created his masterpiece Hamlet. Without imagination JRR Tolkein would not have created the works “The Lord of the Rings” and without imagination Peter Jackson would not have been able to create the cinematic masterpieces that were the motion pictures. Without imagination so much of what brings pleasure to our lives, that makes life life, would never have come to pass. It is imagination, as an expression of our creativity, that enables us to boldly explore our world and envision worlds and reality beyond prosaic fact. I agree with Einsten “Imagination is more important than knowledge”

It is imagination that allows us to see beyond the confines of the understanding of the day. In the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew’s Gospel chapter 5 Jesus begins his ministry with his vision of how a good person a holy person should be. He begins by telling the people that they are the light of the world, that it is through them that the Kingdom will come about and then in the final verses he once again turns the wisdom of the day right around by rejecting the eye for an eye concept of justice and tells those who will listen that they must love their enemies. This new thinking, this new way of being grows from that very same place of imagination, from which all creativity flows.

Yes all creativity flows from the imagination, but so do many of our troubles too. Our imaginations can project all kinds of fears onto our psyches. Throughout history this has been exploited. Aspects of the media both feed and feed on this. Politics and religion has often operated here too. They have preyed on our fears and this sense that there is something fundamentally wrong with us. Advertising does similar things, especially the beauty industry. They sell us an imagined ideal of what we can be and thus we dream of reaching perfection. When the truth is that the only perfection we are capable of attaining is perfect love, which means acceptance of all no matter who they are or where they have been.

Fear can really tap into that place deep within us, the same place that all creativity grows from. Imagination is a double edged sword. The same thing that creates all that is beautiful, wonderful, moving and deeply spiritual in life is also the same thing that creates all that is destructive, hateful and dehumanising too. It all stems from that place deep in the marrow of our being. From what I call our soul. Fear and love are two sides of the same coin and the one that wins out is the one that we feed, as the old Cherokee chief taught his grandson.

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life.

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It’s a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil - he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, ego and it makes me cynical about life.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, faith and it fills me with enthusiasm for life. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

The key, it would seem, is how we feed our souls. In the same way the food that we eat effects our bodies, so too the stimulus we feed our hearts and minds effects our souls.

Now we feed our souls in many ways, art is one but it is just as easily fed by the ordinary. I noticed this last weekend as I enjoyed my nieces and nephews imaginations come alive. My soul was beautifully enriched by the whole experience. As I drove back alone that night I wept at the beauty of it all and the space that it had created within my soul to awaken my own imagination and give birth to my own creativity, my own gift to share with the world.

It brought to mind the following extract by Graziano Marcheschi’s in “Wheat and Winds and the Wolf of Gubbio

"You hear an old song and the face of a lost loved one suddenly appears, and in the space of the song the loved one grabs your loneliness by the collar and sends it out the door.

"You stand before a painting and the peaceful landscape calls you in — or a scene of violent pain holds you in thrall — and for a minute that's longer than eternity you enter the serenity, or you rage and grieve along with the picture's tortured souls.

"You read a piece of poetry and for the span of a minute — or an hour — you find a space to sit and listen to the sound of naked joy, or to stare into the face of unfathomable grief.

"More than anything else, that's what good art does: not answer questions or set agendas, but create space — space to laugh, to mourn, and to wonder who and how and why we are."

Marcheschi captures the transformative nature of imagination. He honours it and sees it as a vehicle of love and service. Service to humanity and service God. He is so right.

Everything that we do begins in the imagination, which is so much more than our individual thoughts. We are fed from everything and that little bit more than everything too. It is imagination that leads to action. You see what we imagine we live. And how we live really matters because everything that we do and everything that we do not do matters. Why you may well ask? Well because everything that we do impacts on those around us, in who we live and breathe and share our being. We are constantly feeding one another and life itself just as everyone we come into contact with, and the whole of life is feeding us, even if we aren’t consciously aware of it. There is still so much that we don’t know and may never know. This is why the imagination is, in the words of Einstein, “more important than knowledge.” Imagination enables us to become all that we are meant to be, it creates our destiny it allows us to explore new routes and even carve ones that were not there before, weren’t even dreamed of. This is the real beauty of imagination. For with it there is always something new to be seen, felt, experienced, to fall in love with. It is imagination that brings our world alive.

Just be careful how you feed it and how you feed life with it…

Saturday 12 September 2015

Self Reliance and asking for Help

I was recently chatting with some friends, when one of them asked the group of us about a reference in a book familiar to us all (The book was Alcoholics Anonymous). She asked what a “Lone Ranger” was ? (now as it turns out she had got the reference slightly confused, as the phrase she was referring to is actually “Lone Wolf”). Well there were several responses. Several of the men amongst us, who had obviously watched the televisions series as children, began to describe who “The Lone Ranger” was. It was interesting that many talked about why he was “The Lone Ranger”, citing the reason being that he worked alone. Now as someone pointed out this is not actually correct. This friend it seemed was quite an expert and explained that he was called “The Lone Ranger” not because he rode alone but because he was the only surviving member of a group of six Texas Rangers who had been ambushed in a canyon named Bryant’s Gap by a gang of outlaws led by Bartholomew “Butch” Cavendish. He explained that Tonto, a Native American, comes across the scene and rescues the surviving ranger and nurses him back to health. The story tells how the ranger real name Reid had saved his life when they were both boys and that they had formed an eternal bond back then. Tonto had given him the name "Kemo Sabe", meaning trusty scout. The Lone Ranger lived by a strict moral code and went about righting wrongs, but he did not do so alone. He did so alongside Tonto and on his trusty horse Silver “Hi Oh Silver, Away”. The three along with others helped each other. No one was completely self-reliant, although they were very much responsible. “The Lone Ranger” even had his own Creed, that he lived by. It read:

I believe…

That to have a friend, a man must be one.
That all men are created equal and that everyone has within himself the power to make this a better world.
That God put firewood there, but that every man must gather and light it himself.
In being prepared physically, mentally, and morally to fight when necessary for what is right.
That a man should make the most of what equipment he has.
That “this government of the people, by the people, and for the people” shall live always.
That men should live by the rule of what is best for the greatest number.
That sooner or later…somewhere…somehow…we must settle with the world and make payment for what we have taken.
That all things change but truth, and that truth alone, lives on forever.
In my Creator, my country, my fellow man.

An interesting creed…although definitely of its time, hence the lack of gender neutral language.

Now “The Lone Ranger”, operated very much within the spirit of Emersonian “Self-Reliance”, but he did not operate alone. He asked for help when he needed help and he got it. “Self Reliance” is one of those phrases that have been misunderstood and misinterpreted over the years, I know that I have done so. It’s not about not caring for the needy and telling them that they need to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. It’s also not about refusing to ask for help relying purely on your own resources. When Ralph Waldo Emerson was describing it in his famous essay “Self-Reliance”, as he left the Unitarian ministry and went off alone, he was not talking about the self-reliance that some economists talk of today. No what he was describing was more akin to cultural and spiritual autonomy and the need to know ourselves and listen to our hearts and our own intuitions and to use these gifts given to us by nature for the best purpose and not to use them lightly or selfishly. This is portrayed in his thoughts on prayer. Towards the end of his essay “Self-Reliance” he writes “Prayer that craves a particular commodity, anything less than all good, is vicious. Prayer is the contemplation of the facts of life from the highest point of view. It is the soliloquy of a beholding and jubilant soul…But prayer as a means to effect a private end is a meanness and theft.”

Self-reliance ought never to be confused with selfishness, they are in no way similar, although they have been misinterpreted over the years and understood similarly.

No one pulls themselves up from their bootstraps completely alone, all by themselves. From the moment of our births others are involved in creating who we are and who we become. As the old saying goes “It takes a village to raise a child.” No one lives entirely from themselves we are all a part of an interdependent web of relationships that are made of both visible and invisible strings; strings that are physical and others metaphysical. Asking for help is actually a sign of both strength and wisdom, rather than weakness. It is a sign of good, mental, emotional and spiritual health.

Now asking for help is not something that comes easily to me. I am much more comfortable offering my hand than accepting that of another. That said the moments of the greatest personal spiritual growth for me have been those moments of humility, when I have felt powerless and completely lost and have had to surrender to this and held out my shaking hand in the hope that help would be available. It happened again recently as I surrendered to the need to lose weight. I hit a rock bottom about eight weeks ago and broke down. From there I was able to lift up my eyes to hills and to genuinely ask for help. Just asking the question, in prayerful brokenness was enough for things to begin to change. I found the appropriate help and they showed me what I had to do. Now of course it is my task and responsibility to put in the action, but I am not doing so alone. I am part of a Slimming World and am following their “Food Optimisation” plan as well as exercising daily. The results are astonishing, in under 8 weeks I have lost almost three stones, a total of 41 pounds and feel fantastic and am therefore better able to serve life and the people around me.

Now the asking for help began as a prayer but soon became an activity and it brought to my mind that questions that begins Psalm 121 “I lift up my eyes to the hills – from where will my help come?” Now in the Psalm the answer is that God will give the help. God who made the heaven and the earth as well as the hills that the Psalm is referring to.

Now while the hills themselves may not be the power there is something powerful about both looking up to them and being up there looking down on life from them. In many ways the thing I miss the most about Yorkshire are the hills, Cheshire is a very flat place.

Standing up on a hill top and looking down on the world in which we live and breath and have our being gives us space and perspective. It helps us rise above our worries and troubles and leads us to solutions that often cannot be found in the middle of the hustle and bustle of life. Somewhere in that space the answers as to what can be done, can be found.

A few months ago I went to see the documentary film “Between Dog and Wolf” it told the story of my musical heroes New Model Army and their long career on the fringes of the mainstream. Much of it moved me as it described their many ups and downs, many that they created for themselves. There was one moment that really took a hold of the soul of me. This was when Justin Sullivan, the creative force behind it all, talked about the few months he lived in London at the beginning of their odyssey and how he just couldn’t write there. He felt cramped up creatively and hemmed in. he needed to return to the hills of Bradford to write once again. He needed those hills to find space and perspective and to once again touch the spirit.


I understand this I need space and time alone to commune with the unseen thread so that I can connect with physical life in the right way; so I can help in appropriate ways and seek help when I need it, so as to be the best that I can be.

From the cradle to the grave we need to keep on asking for help and we need to make ourselves available to be of assistance to others in their time of need. This is not to say that we become unhealthily dependent on others and society as a whole, no not at all. We are though a part of a whole, a complex whole that makes life and community. As we grow and change and become the people that we are this changes shape and reforms constantly, it seems that we are being born again and again to new versions of ourselves. Of course we cannot do this alone. We cannot give birth to ourselves, no one can. We need help and sometimes we need to ask for help from others and in so doing we are of course doing not only a service for ourselves, but for them also.

No one is an island. We are communal beings entirely dependent on each other and life itself. In the words of Martin Luther King “We are interdependent…all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” This has never been more true than today. When someone reaches out in a time of need it is our God given duty to help and when we need help we need to be faithful enough to ask for help too. Interdependence is a physical fact, but it is also a spiritual reality.

This to me is the whole point of spiritual community, of religious living. To see, understand and experience this oneness, this Divine Unity. To see that we are all one. To be of help to one another and to seek the help when it is needed. In this way we all grow and become the best that we can be and serve life to the utmost of our ability.

So I say to you the reader, echoing the Creed of “The Lone Ranger’s” let’s recognise the power within ourselves to make this a better world; let’s gather the firewood that god has provided for us; let’s make the most of the equipment we have; let’s settle with the world and make payment for what we have taken. "Hi oh Silver, away"

I will end this this little chip of a blogspot with the following meditation “The Web of Life” by Robert T Weston…

"The Web of Life"

There is a living web that runs through us
To all the universe
Linking us each with each and through all life
On to the distant stars.
Each knows a ­little corner of the world, and lives
As if this were his all.
We no more see the farther reaches of the threads
Than we see of the future, yet they’re there.
Touch but one thread, no matter which;
The thoughtful eye may trace to distant lands
Its firm continuing strand, yet lose its filaments as they reach out,
But find at last it coming back to him from whom it led.
We move as in a fog, aware of self
But only dimly conscious of the rest
As they are close to us in sight or feeling.
New objects loom up for a time, fade in and out;
Then, sometimes, as we look on unawares, the fog lifts
And there’s the web in shimmering beauty,
Reaching past all horizons. We catch our breath;
Stretch out our eager hands, and then
In comes the fog again, and we go on,
Feeling a ­little foolish, doubting what we had seen.
The hands were right. The web is real.
Our folly is that we so soon forget.

By Robert T Weston

Saturday 5 September 2015

Face to Face

Extract from “Your Many Faces” by Virginia Satir

Life for me is like an ocean, with waves sometimes high, sometimes low, sometimes smooth, sometimes rough; so sometimes I’m high, sometimes I’m smooth, sometimes I’m low and sometimes I’m troubled. To carry the ocean analogy a little further, the current is life and the waves are essential for the movement of the ocean and for all the life that it holds inside. Waves are a natural response to all of the forces in the universe.

I am the same way, my faces are natural consequences of my being a human being, living and growing, and I need to know that storms as well as the beautiful sunshine are part of life. So I take pride in my stormy face, my sunshiney face, and I accept them as natural for the context. I don’t have to put on a happy face when I feel stormy. I can put on a face that belongs with that. And I don’t have to put on a face of doubt when I feel sunshiney inside.

...The face truly is a fascinating place...

As I mentioned in a previous blog I'm on a bit of a health kick at them moment. Going for long daily walks has become one of the many lifestyle changes I have put into place. I got a little ambitious the other day and decided to walk from my home in Altrincham to Lymm and back, following the Trans-Pennine way. It was quite an epic walk to be fair, I believe it took about three and a half hours in total. On the journey I took great delight in watching people as they approached and the many different facial expressions they pulled. I empathised with some, especially the joggers who looked somewhat pained as they ran towards me. No doubt towards the end of my walk I was pulling a similar face. In fact just as I was reaching the end of my journey a friend passed me going in the opposite direction on her bicycle - I hadn’t noticed her coming towards me as I was now focused on getting home, face forward – as she passed she commented “all this walking isn’t good for your health” I then recognised her and blurted out a “hello”, followed by a nod and chuckle of recognition.

There was also another moment a little earlier in the walk when what looked like a wolf’s head suddenly appeared by the side of me. It was one of those dogs that look just like a wolf, it was a moment of fright that took me by surprise and brought images of “An American Werewolf in London” to my mind and the two American tourists David and Jack being savaged as they walked the moors. A little over dramatic I know, but it’s what flashed through me as my fright instinct kicked in. The owner who was running with the dog just called “Don’t worry he’s ok, you just remind him of someone”. It appeared as if the dog just wanted to get a good look at me, face to face. As they ran on I thought to myself I wonder who I remind him of; I wonder what he recognised in me, that he has seen in someone else. 

As I was walking the following story played over in my mind;

There is a story told of a rabbi in ancient times who gathered his students together very early one morning, while it was still dark. He put this question to them: "How can you tell when night has ended and the day has begun?"

One student made a suggestion: "Could it be when you can see an animal and you can tell whether it is a sheep or a goat?"

"No, that's not it," answered the rabbi.

Another student said: "Could it be when you look at a tree in the distance and you can tell whether it is a fig tree or a peach tree?"

Again the rabbi answered: "No."

After a few more guesses the students said: "Well, how do you tell when night has ended?"

The rabbi answered: "It is when you look on the face of any man or woman and you see them as your brother or sister. If you cannot do this, then, no matter what time it is, it is still night."

as I continued walking I thought to myself do I always recognise every face I see as my brother and sister? Well not always it seems, I do view people with suspicion and distrust at times. Don’t we all? My fright mechanism can be sparked off, just as easily as everyone else’s. 

Facial recognition is hard wired into us. Apparently we can recognise a friend or foe, from their facial expression, from quite a distance. I for one am glad I still have a good vision and can pick up many things from distance, so long as I am facing forward and looking. It would seem I’m also good at picking up, almost intuitively, how a person is feeling from their expression. I have often taken one of those on-line quizzes that test your ability to identify emotion from facial expression. Whenever I take them I always seem to score 100%. I think that this dates backs to childhood and learning how to pick this up in the people around me, it was an early developed defence mechanism. There are advantages and disadvantages to this...

Now all this got me thinking about the word “face”. It seems to have many meanings. Etymologically it comes from the Latin “Facia” and “Facies” meaning appearance, form, figure, countenance. It seems that “Face” literally means “form imposed upon something”. Now from this the many understandings of the word “face” have developed. Think about how many expressions are involved in the word face. Such as:

Face up, face into, facing something, face off, face forward, saving face, the face of, faceache, face to face, the face that launched a thousand ships and many more…

Now each and every face is unique, no too are alike, each speaks of each individual life. Each changes with mood and circumstances too. We have one face and yet each face changes with our every mood. Abraham Joshua Heschel captured this perfectly when he said:

“A human being has not only a body but also a face. A face cannot be grafted or interchanged. A face is a message, a face speaks, often unbeknown to the person. Is not the human face a living mixture of mystery and meaning? We are all able to see it, and are all unable to describe it. Is it not a strange marvel that among so many hundreds of millions of faces, no two faces are alike? And that no face remains quite the same for more than one instant? The most exposed part of the body, it is the least describable, a synonym for an incarnation of uniqueness. Can we look at a face as if it were a commonplace?”

There is power in the face, perhaps even danger too. Many religions recognise this, hence the wearing of the veil, who’s original meaning was to protect those that gaze into the face. This is why veils can be found in holy places too. This brings to mind Exodus chapter 33 and an interchange between Moses and God. It recounts how God lovingly protects Moses from looking into his face, after granting him favour and recognising him. Moses so longed to see God’s face and therefore asked to see it directly “Pray thee, show me thy glory.” Of course he could not, for that would have destroyed him.

There is a real power even in a human face, for after all do we not also bare the image of the divine? To truly look into another’s face can be overpowering, frightening and make us feel a little vulnerable. To look at another face to face is a powerful experience, but also a little scary. You could say that it is truly awful, in the original meaning of the word. As to truly look at another’s face will fill us we awe. As no doubt it would if we looked truly at our own face. Look what happened to Narcissus as he became transfixed by his own reflection.

Remember that etymologically face originally meant “Form imposed upon something”. Interestingly John O’Donohue said that the “Face is an icon of creation”. In Anam Cara he stated that “The human face is an artistic achievement. On such a small surface an incredible variety and intensity of presence can be expressed. This breath of presence overflows the limitation of the physical form. No two faces are exactly the same. There is always a special variation of presence in each one. Each face is a particular intensity of human presence.”

It is the face that reveals the person. It shapes who we are perhaps even shapes our very future. David Whyte in “The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship” states that:

“We do not often admit how much the shape of our face can be an invitation to others or a warning to keep away. Our face influences our future by what it invites or disinvites. The way we face the future actually creates our future as much as individual actions along the way.”

He illustrates what he means by telling the story of two guests at a party that he hosted at his home. He stood at his door with his eight year old daughter welcoming guests. He described his daughter as being very shy with strangers and of hiding behind his legs and just waving a hand at the guests as they arrived. This apparently all changed as one guest Satish Kumar, a former Jain monk arrived, a man who had achieved great things through his presence and openness and welcome. Whyte writes that:

“At sixty, his face was so full of life and happiness and welcome and happiness that my daughter ran out spontaneously from behind my legs and held her hands out toward him. I was taken aback by the sudden courage of my hitherto reluctant daughter, but I could see what she was running toward. Satish’s face was an invitation to happiness itself. Seeing him always makes me want to practice the set of my own face as a kind of daily discipline. I only have to see him and I want to be as naturally happy and appreciative as he is, and more importantly he makes me want to show it.”

Whyte then describes another face that was the polar opposite of Satish’s that sent his daughter scurrying once again behind his legs. Whyte writes:

“A man whose face seemed to carry not only past disappointments, but also a sense that it was only a matter of time before it was disappointed again. This man’s face seemed almost hungry for circumstances to betray him.”

Whyte writes that as he observed these two faces together, all night long he could see with absolute clarity that these two faces had radically different futures in store for them. It mattered not what they did or would do, or what would happen to them. He could see it in what they invited or disinvited into their lives. One was open and welcome, while the other was closed off and disappointed. He could see it, because it was written all over their faces.

It really matters how we face life…

The human face is not a common place. Each one is unique and each one reveals how we face life.

And it really matters how we face life. The very shape of our features can be a warning to others to keep away or an invitation, a warm welcome. There is immense power in each of our faces. This power will influence our futures and that of those who we come into contact with. Our face influences the future by what it invites or disinvites into our lives. The way that we face the future actually creates our futures, just as much as our individual actions along the way. In not just about what we do, or do not do, but the spirit in which we face the things that we do.

How are you facing life today?