Saturday 26 March 2016

Something Beautiful Remains: An Easter Reflection

“Rebirth” by Elizabeth Tarbox

"When the day is too bright or the night too dark, and your feelings are like an avalanche barrelling down the mountain of events outside your control, when you look down and you are falling and you cannot see the bottom, or when your pain has eaten you and you are nothing but an empty hungry hole, then there is an opportunity for giving.

Don't stay home and cover your head with a pillow. Go outside and plant a tulip bulb in the ground; that is an act of rebirth. Sprinkle breadcrumbs for the squirrels or sunflower seeds for the birds; that is a claiming of life. And when you have done that, or if you cannot do that, go stare at a tree whose leaves are letting go for its very survival. Pick up a leaf, stare at it; it is life; it has something to teach you.

You are as precious as the birds or the tulips or the tree whose crenellated bark protects the insects who seek its shelter. You are an amazing, complex being with poetry in your arteries and charity layered beneath your skin. You have before you a day full of opportunities for living and giving. Do not think you know all there is to know about yourself, for you have not given enough away yet to be able to claim self knowledge. Do you have work to do today? Then do it as if your life were hanging in the balance, do it as fiercely as if it mattered, for it does. Do you think the world doesn't need you? Think again! You cleanse the world with your breathing, you beautify the world with your thinking and acting and caring.

Don't stay home and suffocate on your sorrow; go outside and give yourself to the world's asking."

Elizabeth Tarbox

We all know suffering...We all know moments when all hope has seemingly gone...And yet from this place of emptiness, nothingness, knew hope can rise again...There need not be despair if we turn again in faith and return to love and life...This is the meaning of Easter for me...

Easter begins with the empty tomb; Easter begins with despair and fear; Easter begins with a sense of emptiness of nothingness. In the account in Mark’s Gospel when the women go to the tomb and find it empty they flee in terror and say nothing. The real miracle is in what follows, the power of love that comes to life from nothingness, from the emptiness.

This is something we can all surely relate to at one time or another this sense of losing everything, of everything being lost. This to me is the essence of the whole Easter Mythos that love can once again grow from the nothingness, from the emptiness. That abundant love can once again grow in our own hearts and our own spirits and that we can incarnate this in our own lives. That this love can be poured out onto our world that so desperately needs it, as much today as when they found the tomb empty some two thousand years ago.

This is our task I believe, our religious task, to once again bring the love that was so evidently present in the life of Jesus alive once again in our oh so human flesh. We can do it, we do not have to be afraid, we do not need to flee in fear, we just need courage gentle courage and this will sustain us. We just need to fill the empty tomb with that abundant love that is present in all life, fill it to overflowing and then let it pour out in all of life…

In all that we feel, all that we think, all that we say and all that we do...

“Easter Day” by George Landor Perin

"There is perhaps no day in all the year so full of meaning to the sensitive soul as the Easter Day. To say nothing of the beautiful music and flowers with which it is honoured, it is to multitudes the anniversary of new life by which they were borne to higher and nobler hopes. The peal of Easter bells and the melody of the Easter songs are the signals for a throng of memories and a host of suggestions to every heart. The origin of the day is simple enough. It is the anniversary of the Master’s resurrection. But what are its deeper meanings, its profound suggestions? I know not how it may be with you, but for myself they are embodied in such phrases as theses: “Victory from the ashes of defeat;” “Hope born from the soil of despair;” “Immortality crowning the grave.” The resurrection of Jesus means all this and more."

by George Landor Perin

Easter is seen through many lenses, some are very clear and precise, they are certain as to what Easter is about. Others amongst us though seem to see Easter through a kaleidoscope of ever changing colours and shapes. What comes to your heart and mind when you think of Easter?

Easter is a deeply universal festival in my eyes, I think there are so many layers to this mythos, that if we allow it to can touch all of us. In order to be touched by the magic of Easter you do not have to believe in the actual bodily resurrection of Jesus, you can believe in Easter without having to accept that this actually happened. In fact perhaps it loses some of its power if we focus purely on this. Maybe actually if we view Easter through this very clear lense we will miss much of what it can teach us. Maybe it is better to view Easter through a kaleidoscope or at least partially clouded glass, maybe we see more through the mystery than the seeming clarity.

What is clear to me is that Easter is about the Power of Love that grew from that empty tomb. Whatever we may think about bodily resurrection, something definitely lived on beyond the physical death of Jesus. While his body may no longer have remained in the empty tomb, some beautiful aspect of his life certainly remained.

I believe it is the same with every life and the love that life leaves behind, something beautiful always remains.

This brings to mind those beautiful words often shared at funerals by that famous author “Unknown”

“Something Beautiful Remains” – Unknown

The tide recedes but leaves behind
bright seashells on the sand.
The sun goes down, but gentle
warmth still lingers on the land.
The music stops, and yet it echoes
on in sweet refrains.....
For every joy that passes,
something beautiful remains.

Every life leaves its mark. Every life impacts in some way. We should never think that we are insignificant, that we do not matter. We impact on everyone and everything around us. Everything that we do and everything that do not do matters. There are those who I have known and who have loved me, who have been gone many years, who are still impacting on my life. Of their lives, something beautiful remains.

Easter is a reminder to me that even after death something beautiful remains. It is an acknowledgement of life’s sacredness. It is a reaffirmation of life that not even death cannot end. Easter for me is about birth and re-birth, again and again and again…

All around us life is being reborn. I see this clearly as I walk down and around Dunham Massey each morning. The spring flowers are everywhere, the birds are singing more sweetly and the deer, the beautiful deer, are increasingly going about their deer like business. I have noticed the young bucks squaring up to one and trying out their growing antlers either against tree branches or fencing with one another. It is a beautiful sight of life coming alive and it fills my heart to overflowing with a love for life itself and helps me connect to my true inner being, to all life and to that Greater reality that gives birth to and connects all life. There is something about the essence of Easter in all of this.

In each of us is written the essence and the spirit of Easter. In each of us is written to capacity to resurrect the Love that was at the core of the life of Jesus. We can bring that love alive once again. We can incarnate that love again. That love can seemingly die in the winters of our lives and come to life once again in our spring times, regardless of the time of year. It is we who can bring this love alive once again. We can become at one with that ancient tale. We can become the resurrection and the life. In so doing we will ensure that something beautiful will remain from our simple, humble, oh so human lives.

Easter begins with the death and loss of the life of Jesus, with the seeming end of his life’s promise. Every single death seemingly means just the same. It begins with the despair of the empty tomb and the despair and terror of this very emptiness. This though is not where it ends, something else happened, something grew from this emptiness, this hopelessness, this despair. Something beautiful remained. Something new was born again. This despair was transformed into a new Hope. The death of Jesus, for those who followed him, was not the end it was actually the beginning, a new beginning.

This very same possibility of transformation and renewal exists for all of us. We see examples of this all around us. Not just in nature and the earth’s renewal but in the lives of ordinary folk too. People who have experienced utter despair, have lost everything precious to them and yet have transformed this into a loving new Hope. Yes they have known utter despair, but this despair has been born again in a new Hope. Resurrection is not some mysterious event from 2,000 years ago, but a promise to each and every one of us; Resurrection is a promise and a challenge for us all that represents the possibility of transformation for everyone and a real sense of a new Hope.

Even after death, something beautiful remains. If we live lives of love and beauty. If we become all that we were born to be if we bring to life from the empty tombs of our own lives the love that is at the heart of the Easter Mythos. A love that is eternal, a love that never dies, a love that I believe is our task to bring alive.

...May we become the blessings our world needs...Not just this morning, but in every morning to come...

These are thoughts of mine about Easter, a universal festival for all people at all times. This is what it means to me, but what does it mean to you. I ask you once again what comes to your heart and mind when you think of Easter?

"Something Beautiful Remains" 

Saturday 19 March 2016

Follow Your Bliss: A Reflection for Palm Sunday

Extract from “A Big Enough God” by Sara Maitland

"I often dream I am a tightrope walker. I climb the rope ladder slowly. Carefully, adjusting to its wrigglings. The wooden slats mutter to me all the way up. The rungs my right foot stands on say “If you are afraid of falling, you will fall,” and the rungs my left foot presses say “If you believe you cannot fall, you will fall.”

Eventually I arrive on the little platform at the top. I strip off my track suit and am revealed in all my sequinned glory. I look out and down at the upturned eyes, sparkling brighter than my costume. Then the spotlight pins me, and I hear its mocking tones.

It says “and probably in the end you will fall away.”

And in my dream, I always listen politely and know it is true, and then I go out sparkling, flashing and dance on the void. That is the challenge, the moment of hope: to dance as near the edge of destruction as is possible, to be willing to fall and still not fall. And the audience cheers, because it is beautiful and because they know that this time I may indeed fall and because they know that that is precisely why it is beautiful, and I have made it beautiful."

...I wonder what it is you dream of, what calls to you in your dreams...

Today “Palm Sunday” marks the beginning of “Holy Week”, regarded by many as the most important in the whole Christian calendar. Now some will say what do these events, that seem impossible to believe in, have to do with we who live 2,000 years later. What relevance do they have to we who live today? How can we possibly believe in them? Well I would say there is so much here to teach us about human living, about spiritual living actually. There is more to the Easter mythos than the historical accuracy or inaccuracy of the Biblical accounts. In fact to get lost in the detail of what did or didn’t actually happen is to miss the whole point of the mythos. “Mythos” isn’t about whether something is true in a historical sense and more about deeper universal truth, it’s more about the human condition regardless of time or place.

Joseph Campbell taught that such mythos are metaphors for human life. That they are eternal and universal tales that can teach us about our lives right here right now. He believed that by understanding these mysteries we can begin to understand who we truly are and what life is all about.

With this in mind I can find so much in the “Holy Week” narrative that does speak to me, but then again there is much in other traditions, both ancient, modern and post-modern that speak to me too. I am a Universalist in every sense of the word. That said “Holy Week” compels me to look more deeply at Jesus, his teachings as well has his passion and death and how that can bring meaning to my life and I hope lives of others.

Central to the story is this concept of love incarnating in human form. Now it seems clear that this occurred in the life of Jesus as it is told in the Gospels. My only argument with traditional Christian orthodoxy is the view that this occurred only in one form and at one point in human history. This I find impossible to accept. I only have to look at my life and I know I have experienced this love in the lives of so many other people. I believe that we all have the capacity to become channels of the divine in this life. We can all incarnate love in our very being. We can all become the light of the world. Sadly all too often we fail to do so; all too often we fall short and we betray one another. This aspect of our humanity becomes all too clear in the narrative of Holy week.

On Palm Sunday, the beginning of “Holy Week”, Jesus enters Jerusalem riding on the back of a humble donkey or Colt and is received by the crowds waving palm branches and shouting “Hosanna, hosanna in the highest heaven” The crowds welcome Jesus who they believe will save them. This though does not happen and just a few days later he is betrayed, rejected, brutalised and killed. The body is killed, the figure dies, but the love that is left behind lives on. It is this love that I believe is the true Easter mythos. A love that can live on and once again incarnate in the lives of all people.

There is though something more that is universal about the “Palm Sunday” and “Holy Week” narrative, than this concept of universal love. It is not just a mythos about Jesus, it is also about the crowd and all the people around him. People just like you and me. Just like them we can all get caught up in the crowd mentality can we not? We can all identify with the crowd despite the world in which we live being very different today. We share a common humanity with them. We are all formed from the same breath of life, we all have the Divine spark within us; well at least I believe that we do. We are not God’s though, although we can become the light of the world if and when we live in love. We are fully human just like those folk on the side of the street waving their palms grateful for any reason to celebrate. People are always looking for something to celebrate, doesn’t seem to matter what this is. People looking for joy, looking for meaning, looking for a bliss to follow. People who just like us are prone to disappointment, who fail to live up to the very ideals they would like to strive for. People who fall short, get ill, and become bogged down in little and bigger things, finite human beings. People who are looking for hope, to lift them out of their suffering. People looking for someone or something to lead them to better things, to give them another chance to live better lives. People just like us who want to not only find, but also follow their bliss. People looking for a meaning to their lives.

When I think of the “Triumphant Entry”, The “Palm Sunday” narrative and the whole “Holy Week” Mythos, what I see clearly is an archetype of “Following your Bliss.”

But what does it mean to “follow your bliss”? Well according to Joseph Campbell it is a sacred call to action. It is a call from your soul to light the fire within you to do what destiny asks of you, to bring yourself fully to life and therefore to become a light in the lives of others. Following your bliss is about doing the things that bring meaning and fulfilment despite the troubles that may accompany it. It is about meaningful living despite the very real suffering present in all life. As Campbell says by following our bliss doors will open up for us where we could only see barriers before.

Following our bliss is about saying yes to this call and beginning our own heroic journey. In doing so synchronicity will seemingly be abound and luck will follow. By following our bliss we seemingly become guided by something more than ourselves. This is what Campbell observed and it has certainly been my experience, at least for the last dozen or so years.

"Following your bliss" though is not an easy ride, quite the opposite actually. Yes there maybe moments of triumphal entry when all are for us and no one seems to be against us, but there will also be moments of suffering and betrayal when everyone and everything seems to be against us. As Campbell observed that like all heroic journeys there are tests and trials along the way. There are monsters and dragon to slay on the journey although most of these are the ones we carry with us. It is our fear of the adventure that is our greatest enemy. It is this that stops us taking the first vital step.

Human history is littered with figures who have been drawn out of themselves, have followed their bliss and begun their adventure thus inspiring others to do likewise. Some have done this on a mass scale, figures like Nelson Mandela and Gandhi, while many others have done so on a much smaller, but no less important scale. All have had to face their trials and tribulation and all brought so much light to our world. They were not special people though, they were ordinary people just like you me; ordinary people who followed their bliss. Ordinary people who found the courage to be all that they were born to be.

Here is a clip of Joseph Campbell talking with Bill Moyes about "Following You bliss"

This blogspot began with an extract from Sara Maitland’s “A Big-Enough God” where she recounts a reoccurring dream of hers in which she is a tightrope walker. I think that this is a beautiful example, in metaphorical form, of this sacred call to action to “follow your bliss”. She describes the dangers and the fears, the excitement and the applause and the anticipation of the baying crowd. In it she catches beautifully what I believe it means to “follow your bliss” and the reaction of others to us attempting to do so. She writes:

“Eventually I arrive on the little platform at the top. I strip off my track suit and am revealed in all my sequinned glory. I look out and down at the upturned eyes, sparkling brighter than my costume. Then the spotlight pins me, and I hear its mocking tones.

It says “and probably in the end you will fall away.”

And in my dream, I always listen politely and know it is true, and then I go out sparkling, flashing and dance on the void. That is the challenge, the moment of hope: to dance as near the edge of destruction as is possible, to be willing to fall and still not fall. And the audience cheers, because it is beautiful and because they know that this time I may indeed fall and because they know that that is precisely why it is beautiful, and I have made it beautiful.”

Now this is all metaphor, pure mythos, of course for her to follow her bliss does not require her to become a tightrope walker, it is purely an archetype of “following your bliss” of becoming the light of the world and shinning bright in all our glory with folks cheering us on and some also wishing us to fall. Fall we will many times. This though is life, in all its beauty, glory and suffering. Again as Maitland writes:

‘The wooden slats mutter to me all the way up. The rungs my right foot stands on say “If you are afraid of falling, you will fall,” and the rungs my left foot presses say “If you believe you cannot fall, you will fall.”’

Yet in her dream she carried on. Just as Jesus carried on despite all the fear and doubt and all the barriers that built up ahead of him. He followed his bliss, what he saw as his destiny and in that “courage to be” this lived on as an example to us all of what we can be if we follow our bliss. We can become the “light of the world”. The one’s we and our world have been waiting for.

This brings to mind a little bit of wisdom from one of my favourite writers, a man who is beautiful example of “following your bliss”. A man who’s wisdom has lived on beyond his physical life, John O’Donohue.


"Though we know one another's names and recognize one another's faces, we never know what destiny shapes each life. The script of individual destiny is secret; it is hidden behind and beneath the sequence of happenings that is continually unfolding for us. Each life is a mystery that is never finally available to the mind's light or questions. That we are here is a huge affirmation; somehow life needed us and wanted us to be. To sense and trust this primeval acceptance can open a vast spring of trust within the heart. It can free us into a natural courage that casts out fear and opens up our lives to become voyages of discovery, creativity, and compassion. No threshold need be a threat, but rather an invitation and a promise. Whatever comes, the great sacrament of life will remain faithful to us, blessing us always with visible signs of invisible grace. We merely need to trust."

So as we stand on threshold of Easter, on the threshold of spring on the days of new beginnings. Let us do so in trust; let us trust in life. That despite the many struggles, sorrows and grief’s, that despite the suffering present daily in life we can know love, beauty and deep meaning if we would but only find the courage to be and “follow our bliss”

This blogspot began with some wisdom for Sara Maitland and it will end with this beautiful poem by Mary Oliver

“The Journey” by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
‘Mend my life!’
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognised as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Saturday 12 March 2016

Live to eat or eat to live

In “From Beginning to End” Robert Fulghum wrote

“Since the beginning of time, people who trust one another, care for one another, and are deeply connected to one another have shared food as a sign of and a reaffirmation of their relationship. When attention is paid to this sharing, it takes on a ritual character. The nurturing of the body becomes a metaphor of the mutual nourishing of lives. Every time we hold hands and say a blessing before a meal, every time we lift a glass and say fine words to one another, every time we eat in peace and grace together we have celebrated the covenants that bind us.”

Our lives are steeped in ritual, even if we don’t always recognise and acknowledge them, and perhaps the most significant are based around food. I suspect that eating in every sense is a form of communion, of coming together in love. On its most basic level it is our connection and communion with the earth from which we are all formed. Is there a more intimate and holy relationship in life than with that in which we live and breathe and have our being?

Thoughtful, mindful, reverential eating is surely an awareness of what it means to participate in the holiness of life itself. How we eat, the way that we eat is not only about feeding our bodies but also our minds, our hearts and souls. For the bread of life does not merely feed the physical body it feeds our whole personhood and if fed in the correct way we then respond to life in reverential ways and participate in life in all its holiness.

Eating reverentially feeds our interconnectness; interconnectedness feeds our sense of belonging; a healthy sense of belonging feeds our wholeness; a sense of wholeness relieves us from the spiritual hunger that so many seem to suffer from. If we eat reverentially we understand how we are interconnected not only to the earth from which we live but all that exists within this beautiful blue, green and brown planet of ours. Eating reverentially links us to the people who prepare our food, those who grow our food and produce and transport the food as well as the plants and animals from which our food comes. Eating reverentially also connects us compassionately with those who have nothing, who struggle to survive in this abundant world of ours, those for whom the search for daily bread is a daily struggle.

Food is valuable beyond its ability to merely fill us physically. There are many other benefits too. Health benefits come from eating certain food types, as do healing and soothing benefits too, whether on a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual level. Food can also arouse the many senses, more than just taste, it can even re-awaken memory. It connects beyond our own singular selves to those we share our food with and to all people and all communities on earth who come together in communion in sharing their love and food around the table. As Robert Fulghum wrote:

“Since the beginning of time, people who trust one another, care for one another, and are deeply connected to one another have shared food as a sign of and a reaffirmation of their relationship.”

I see clearly a ritualistic and interconnected relationship with others and with life itself, but what about a personal relationship with food? How does how we eat and relate to food impact on how we relate to ourselves and then life itself? Well surely everything in life stems from how we are fed and how we feed life itself.

Over the last few weeks I have been attending and participating in a series of Lent Breakfasts with Churches Together in Urmston. These begin with the sharing of tea and toast before a theme talk and conversation. This year we have been exploring “The Lord’s Prayer”. Each week someone from one of the Urmston Churches has chosen a line from the prayer and we have spent time reflecting and discussing our thoughts on it. Recently we looked at the line “Give us this day our daily bread”. Now as it happens I have not been taking my daily bread for quite some time. One of the changes in my diet has been giving up bread. This along with other changes in my eating habits have enabled me to move from a weight of over 20 stone (284 pounds) to one a little less than 12 and a half stone (173 pounds) and a Body Mass Index (BMI) that once was 38.5 to a healthy 23.5. My relationship with food, with myself and with life itself has changed considerably these last few months.

Now while I may not be literally “taking my daily bread” in many ways life is feeding me more nourishingly than it ever has before and as a result I am feeding life in ways I never have before. As a result I am communing with life in new and wonderful ways.

The morning following the Lent Breakfast I went for a walk with thoughts about feeding and being fed floating around my consciousness and the following words from Socrates singing in my heart and soul. The words were:

“Worthless people live only to eat and drink; people of worth eat and drink only to live.”

It is a phrase I’ve heard in many forms, many times before. The most common form being “There are two types of people in the world, those who eat to live and those who live to eat”, which I suspect is rooted in this quote from Socrates.

As I walked I was thinking about my relationship with food and life and the relationship we all have with the two. I was thinking about food addiction and addiction in general and the things that rule our lives, the things of value in life, the things we worship in life and how they and our relationships with these things impact on our lives and the way we live. You see how we are fed and how we feed life really matters.

Just as these thoughts were floating around I noticed a long line of deer in the park, all congregated together in a kind of communion line. The park rangers had obviously laid out a long line of feed for them. I smiled as I observed them eating. Then I noticed something that made me smile ever more broadly. One after another the young deer, probably a little too old to still be called fawn’s, got up and just began skipping off and enjoying themselves in the beauty of the park. These animals and all the animals in the park were eating to live, not living to eat. They were not slaves to the food they were eating it was not their object of worship, the thing that meant the most to them. No instead it was the fuel by which they lived.

This got me thinking about worth and worship itself. It particularly brought to mind a favourite quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson

“A person will worship something, have no doubt about that. We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts, but it will out. That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and our character. Therefore, it behoves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming.”

Whatever it is that dominates our thoughts are the things that we worship, the things that are of highest worth in our lives. So if we live purely just to eat then that is the thing that is of highest worth in our lives and our lives will be ruled by this. By doing so we will become consumed by the very thing that we are consuming and we will remain hungry in our hearts and souls.

Now I am sure there will be objections from some claiming that this isn’t worship. Well actually this is exactly what worship is. Worship has its roots in Anglo-Saxon English “worthscipe” or similar variations and meant a condition of being worthy, honoured or renowned . It only became connected to reverence paid to a supernatural being during the 13th century. Worship is not something that is only conducted in places specifically set aside for this function. We worship all the time; we worship whatever it is that we hold in highest regard. As Mr Emerson says what we worship is what dominates our lives our actions. Therefore it is important that we are careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming.

Well people do say “you are what you eat.” Well perhaps this is true if you “live to eat” instead of “eating to live.”

As I have said many times before I am a great believing that everything matters. Everything we do and everything we do not do matters. How we are with one another and live with one another also matters. How we relate to all life and the people we share this life with really matters. It is the same with food and our relationship with the food that we eat, for it too will reflect on how we live our lives.

Food and the eating of it is something that connects all of us to one another. We all need food to eat in order to live, we cannot live without it. Therefore it is no surprise that the most basic human rituals have been based around food. It is these rituals and our engagement with them that help us to sanctify life, to recognise the sacredness of our existence and all existence. Therefore if we bless the food we eat, the source that this food came from and those that we share this food with we will sanctify all life and in so doing we will sanctify and make sacred both our existence and all life. We will develop reverence for life itself.

In so doing all that we do will be of true worth, for we will be truly worshipping and sanctifying life and we will begin to commune with ourselves, with one another, with all life and with the great mystery that permeates all life and we will truly begin to eat so that we can truly live.

Now I began this "blogspot" with a little bit of Robert Fulghum and I would like to end with a little bit more of his wisdom too.

He wrote:

Once upon a time, somewhere far back in ancient human history - so far back that personal survival was the only concern - a defining event must have taken place. Someone didn’t eat what he found when he found it, but decided to take it back to the cave to share with others. There must have been a first time. A first act of community - call it communion - in the most elemental form”

Saturday 5 March 2016

Returning Home to "Mother"

“Mother’s Day” and or “Mothering Sunday” has a long history. It dates back to the time of ancient Greece and Rome. It is not merely, as some would suggest, a creation of the greeting cards company to make money out of us. The celebrations of mother and motherhood has been with us for many centuries. In Britain Mothering Sunday was about returning home either to family and or the Mother Church.

These days Mothering Sunday in the UK has become known as Mother’s Day, following the American tradition that is celebrated in May, and not the middle Sunday of Lent as it is in Britain. Interestingly though this Mother’s Day was as much about returning and bringing healing and wholeness as Mothering Sunday. The original Mother's Day was organized 1868 as a way to bring families together who had been torn apart by the “American Civil War”. Four years later Julia Ward Howe, an important Unitarian activist and author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, attempted to set June 2nd aside as a day when mothers would "especially pray that war may not come to slay any mother's son." The idea did not take hold though and slipped away. Then in May of 1907, the daughter of Anna Reeves Jarvis, also named Anna, began the Mother's Day which is celebrated in the USA today. Her intention was that it be "religious and personal", a day when Americans would attend church and wear a red carnation if their mother were alive, and a white flower if deceased. President Woodrow Wilson added a patriotic flavour to it in 1914 when he signed a Congressional resolution establishing the second Sunday of May "for displaying the American Flag as a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country."

Mothering Sunday, Mother’s Day, whatever its actual true origins is enshrined in this image of returning home, and this sense of belonging to something more than ourselves. Whether that is actually of children returning to the family home having been working away or of people returning to the mother church. Either way it’s about returning home to a place of safety; it is about returning home to a place of renewal, of re-birth, not only for ourselves but for others too; it is about returning.

So there was always a sense of a celebration of something more than just our own mother’s in “Mother’s Day” whether that be the “Mother Church” or the “Mother Land”, there was always a sense of belonging to something greater than our individuals selves and even our biological families in “Mothers Day”, returning to a place of love and total acceptance of who we are, exactly as we, no matter what we have done or where we have been, we are accepted with open loving arms.

This always brings to mind those beautiful words by Rumi that I often sing in the “Singing Meditations” I lead. Although interestingly perhaps the most important words are often missed out.

“Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. It doesn't matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again , come , come.”

By Rumi

In many ways the key is in the words we don’t sing “It doesn’t matter…even if you have broken your vows a thousand times”

When we return home to the loving arms of our idealised mothers we are a returning to a place of total acceptance. It doesn’t matter where we have been or what we have done. The love is there, the total acceptance is there. Now for me this is the ideal of religious community and I suspect it is also what the “Kin-dom of God” would look like, what the “Commonwealth of Love” is meant to be like. It is the prodigal son or daughter returning to the loving arms of the “Mother Community” totally accepted as they are and ready to begin again in love.

This brings to mind some beautiful words of prayer, a redemptive prayer, I first heard many years ago.

"We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love."

For remaining silent when a single voice would have made a difference

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

For each time that our fears have made us rigid and inaccessible

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

For each time that we have struck out in anger without just cause

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

For each time that our greed has blinded us to the needs of others

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

For the selfishness which sets us apart and alone

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

For falling short of the admonitions of the spirit

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

For losing sight of our unity

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

For these and for so many acts both evident and subtle which have fuelled the illusion of separateness

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love

When I think of Motherhood and or the Mother Church I think of returning to a place of sustenance of nurture where one feels that they can recharge and renew in safety. A place where you are accepted wholly as you are. From here you can begin again in love, you can if you like be born again, be given birth to once again.

Columbian author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, wrote in, “Love in the Time of Cholera”, “…human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but…life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”

Our lives often take different directions at times. We turn down a new path way, again and again and again. Often we will go down blind alleys, again and again and again. Often we repeat the same mistakes again and again and again. We do not always learn from our mistakes. This is so very human and even if we have made those mistakes a thousand times, we can always begin again in love, we can always return home to a place of acceptance.

This brings to my mind the wonderful poem “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters” by Portia Nelson

1. I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost … I am hopeless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

2. I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I’m in the same place.
But it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

3. I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

4. I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

5. I walk down another street.

We can begin again a thousand times if we need to. We can turn down a new path, or we can return home to the very beginning. It is ok. 

It is a curious phrase to turn, or to turn again or even to return. Did you know that to turn or to re-turn was the original meaning of the religious word “conversion”; “conversion” is rooted in the Latin word “convertere”, which meant to turn around to transform.

Now for a long time I use to think that if a person had been converted that this was the end of a process. Thankfully I no longer live under this delusion. Today when I think of conversion I think of it as the beginning of something of the start of a journey. Today I see conversion as an ongoing process, not a once or perhaps twice in life time experience. We can begin again even if we have broken our vows and made same mistakes a thousand times. We can begin again in love. We can turn again, we can return to a place of re-birth.

Herein, I believe, lays the association with Mothering Sunday and this idea of returning to the Mother Church. I believe that is the purpose of communities such as ours to be a place that welcomes the traveller home, to the loving arms of mother. A place of total acceptance, wherever they have been. Not merely tolerance, as I don’t think that that is enough, no a place of acceptance, where you can come as you are, exactly as you are in this moment. A place of loving nurture where you can either continue or if need to begin again in love, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times.

I believe that the purpose, of free religious community, such as the Unitarian congregations I serve is to nurture one another’s spirit. Our purpose is to nurture that love that is present deep within the souls of every one of us. To nurture and develop these qualities in each other is not just the responsibility of our mother’s, we all have nurturing qualities and we can all help to bring out the best in one another.

We can all offer one another unconditional love. We say that all our welcome here. This though must be an active quality, rather than merely words. To love each other unconditionally is to love as a mother loves her only child. This of course is easier said than done. For those of us who have been hurt by those who were supposed to love us to offer love unconditionally is not easy. Therefore before we can offer that love to others we must first of all become reconciled with our own pain and our own suffering. This is one of the purposes of a church that calls itself free, to offer a safe secure space where one can come to terms with themselves and their lives. Security and protection are both nurturing qualities of motherhood. They are also qualities which a free religious community needs to help develop in those who come, so that they will feel safe enough to develop their souls. To be who they are and to become who they are, not just to come as they are. It is the purpose of the beloved communities I serve, to create an environment that is secure enough to enable each who come to explore in a safe and secure environment.

A free religious community exists to nourish and feed all. This requires those who come to give and not just take from what they find here. For each soul to be fed each needs to give and receive wholeheartedly. This requires the development of both sensitivity and understanding towards one another and the openness that allows all to learn from the wisdom of each other, from those who have walked many and varied paths.

Perhaps the greatest quality though needs to develop is humour, one the most wonderful qualities of motherhood. Humour helps us to deal with life’s trials and tribulations. It also helps us to explore those most difficult and testing issues that as a spiritually vibrant community needs to explore. Humour is something that is present within the communities I serve.

So on this day set aside to honour Mother’s let’s remember those who have offered us the unconditional and wholly accepting love of the mother ideal. Those who have offered their unquestioning love to us, even when we have broken our vows a thousand times, those who have offered their nurturing heart and encouraged us to begin again in love. Let us also though commit to living this way ourselves to offer this love to all that we meet. To not just tolerate the people we meet as they are, but to love them and accept them, even if they have broken their vows a thousand times. Let’s offer to them the nurturing hand of love and to do so with real humour. Let us all begin again in love.

Prayer for All Who Mother

We reflect in thanksgiving this day for all those whose lives have nurtured ours.

The life-giving ones
Who heal with their presence
Who listen in sympathy
Who give wise advice ... but only when asked for it.
We are grateful for all those who have mothered us
Who have held us gently in times of sorrow
Who celebrated with us our triumphs -- no matter how small
Who noticed when we changed and grew,
who praised us for taking risks
who took genuine pride in our success,
and who expressed genuine compassion when we did not succeed.
On this day that honours Mothers
let us honour all mothers
men and women alike
who from somewhere in their being
have freely and wholeheartedly given life, and sustenance, and vision to us.
Dear God, Mother-Father of us all,
grant us life-giving ways
strength for birthing,
and a nurturing spirit
that we may take attentive care of our world,
our communities, and those precious beings
entrusted to us by biology, or by destiny, or by friendship, fellowship or fate.
Give us the heart of a mother today.