Sunday 31 July 2016

More than words.deeds

“There is a marvellous story of a man who once stood before God, his heart breaking from all the pain and injustice in the world. “Dear God,” he cried out, “look at all the suffering, the anguish and distress in your world. Why don’t you send help?”

God responded. “I did send help. I sent you.”

from “Teaching Your Children About God” by David J. Wolfe

Part of my work as a minister is to the wider community, beyond the walls of the congregations I serve and who pay my stipend. I see this community as ever widening by the way and not just those who live in and around the towns of Altrincham and Urmston. My printed media and social media work extends my ministry to far flung places all over this country and world. I am also invited to lead worship out and about. I wish I could do more, but I possess neither the time nor energy to do so. I do the best that I can to, to minister, to serve.

Now one of my many roles is to conduct rites of passage for those who are looking for "something religious, but not too religious", as they so often say. Whether that be child namings and blessings, weddings and of course funerals. The most challenging are funerals, especially for people I have never met and or do not know. This is never easy, it takes a lot of emotional and spiritual energy, but sometimes can be the most rewarding.

I am extremely grateful to have been called and to have accepted the role as minister these last six years. I offer thanks and praise for this challenging, deeply rewarding and spiritually enriching work. Yes it is tough at times, but I am blessed to have been given it.

That said being grateful, I know is not enough. It is vital to offer thanks and praise; it is important to recognise what life gives to us and yet I know simply being grateful is not quite enough.

People thank me all the time. I received a beautiful letter of thanks from a man recently who attended a funeral I conducted. He has attended a few others things I host at the chapel these last few years and this has led to him rediscovering some old loves and encouraged him to re-engage with them. It was lovely to receive the letter but what touched me more was not his thanks, but that what he had experienced here had led to him wanting to do something about it; that he wanted to act on his gratitude.

For me this is the difference between offering thanks and living with gratitude. You see true gratitude to me compels us to act on what we have given thanks for. To pay forward what has been freely given to us. To me this is what true spiritual living is about. This is the works that grows from faith and inspires others, fills them with that loving spirit, so that they too can pass it on.

I recently conducted a funeral for a family. Afterwards one of the family members thanked me for “making it so easy for them”. They also apologised for the way that they had been at times, I said there really was no need, as I understand. I wasn’t just saying it though, I do understand. Such times can bring up all kinds of intense feelings and at a time when people ought to be pulling together and supporting one another they can do the exact opposite and end up falling out and hurting one another. Sometimes these disputes can take years to resolve, sometimes sadly they are never resolved. I have had experience of this over the last few years too. It always leaves me with a sense of sadness and pain. When I think of the things I witness in life that cause me pain I feel that irreconcilable family disputes cause me the greatest.

Saying sorry isn’t enough. Ok it might be a start but it really isn’t enough. Again works is required here. Simply saying sorry, especially if the only person you are apologising to is a stranger, who is not a part of the dispute, does not heal a rift. Amends is required, reconciliation is required, true healing needs to come. Otherwise sorry just becomes another hollow word. It lacks both faith and works I would say, although it does perhaps appear ok.

It is a strange thing being a minister. People often find themselves saying sorry to you. I suspect at the bottom of it is a feeling that so many of us share, a feeling of somehow being wrong inside. A feeling that probably stems from some hidden sense of guilt over something from the past, something we have done or something that we have failed to. Some simple, all too human, frailty. I wish I could do something about it.

If I had a superpower I think that this might be it. Not so much to relieve people of their guilt. I don’t believe it is mine or anyone else’s job, but our own. No the superpower would be to inspire others to do the works that their souls are crying out for them to do. To either put right what needs to be put right and or to live with gratitude for the gifts that life has freely given them. Not to merely recognise these gifts and to truly offer thanks and praise for them, but to give back and make from them a sacred act of gratitude.

Recognising and acknowledging what has been freely given us is a vital aspect of true spiritual living, as is acknowledging when we have fallen short, but the words and recognition are not enough. Saying thank you and saying sorry is not enough.

I say this because they are good things to do, but they are not quite good enough; I say this because they are not the best. We can all do better I know I can. It’s a bit like remembrance as opposed to remembering. Remembering is merely passively recalling something in your mind, whereas remembrance is a commitment to make something better from what has happened. This is why being grateful and being sorry is not good enough. It is passive and if I have learnt anything I have learnt that the spiritual life is by no means a passive one. The spiritual life only truly comes alive in deeds, in our works, in the way we live our lives. It is this I believe that leads us to our true calling. It certainly led me to mine. The reason I became a minister was an act, in many ways, of remembrance; it was an act of gratitude for the love that had been freely given me that gave me life once again when I had given up; it has been an apology in action, an amends for wasting so much time. And I’m the one receiving the rewards as life pays me back 100 hundred fold in the blessings of my daily living and breathing.

As I once read “The spiritual life is not a theory, we have to live it.”

Now what does that mean? You may well ask. Well for me living the spiritual life is about committing to more than just what is good, it’s about committing to be the best we can be. It’s about aiming high, it’s about committing to excellence, while accepting that we will all fall short. We are all far more human than otherwise.

This is not a cop out though, it is an aspiration and hopefully an inspiration to others. For if we keep on aiming to be the best we can, than so will others and then we all benefit by making our lives and our world the best it can be.

This brings to mind the other problem with merely offering thanks and saying sorry. This is of course is the whole self-centredness of it. Where is the commitment to others? Saying thank you and acknowledging all I have and or simply offering an apology does not reach out to other. It does not bring about reconciliation nor does it ensure that they have enough. No faithful inaction is simply not good enough, it is not the best this requires works too and requires a commitment to be the neighbour both near and far, a commitment to the wider world of our shared humanity.

After all there is one humanity, one world and one spirit that runs through it all…One God.

It is vitally important to acknowledge the gifts we have been given in our lives. To offer thanks for what others have freely done and given to us, but it is not enough. Likewise it is important to acknowledge when we have fallen short, done wrong and to apologies for this, but once again I do not think this is enough. It is not enough to simply acknowledge and remember.

What is required is to turn these words into actions, into deeds to make them acts of remembrance and to do something about bringing some healing into this world that we keep on damaging with our all too human frailties.

The healing begins in our own hearts and lives, in our own families and communities and spreads out beyond to the wider human community and all life itself…It is up to us to ever widen those concentric circles of compassion…It is, I believe what we are here for…


Sunday 24 July 2016

Free the Heart and the Mind Will Follow

Last Sunday was quite a day. I along with 31 other men had been called through to the Slimming World "Man of the Year" semi-final and finals day. It is quite an honour to be one of the 32 out of some 50,000 male members in this country.

There was a beautiful moment of synchronicity that I became aware of as I switched on my computer and logged on to Facebook before setting off that morning. It showed me a memory from exactly a year before of a journey I had taken with my brother and sister to Devon to attend our nephew Joe’s wedding. During the journey my sister spent several hours selling the merits of Slimming World to me. I listened, tried to evade, but I listened. She was speaking to me because she loves me; she spoke only in and through love. She spoke the language of the heart and I was able to listen with the ears of my heart. I believed that I was always going to be the way I was and to get to a physically healthier place was just too much for me. A price it would seem I was not willing to pay. I believed that the only way to achieve weight loss would be to starve myself. This has not been the case at all, Slimming World and its method of “Food Optimising” is about healthy eating, group support, healthy living and personal responsibility. At its its core is love, it speaks another language of the heart and that day I began to have ears that could hear once again. That weekend was the turning point and I loved reliving the memory of the journey to the wedding as I enjoyed the journey to Slimming World headquarters with my group consultant Janet Cullin. I also loved the synchronicity of it all…My whole life seems to be led by it and the more I am open to it the more it seems to speak to me, constantly drawing me on to endless possibilities. Synchronicity to me is the invisible voice of love always calling to those who have ears that can hear.

It was an amazing day listening to many inspirational men who had embarked on the same journey as myself and were now living amazing lives. I got through to the final and then waited for the final result…Of which I cannot yet reveal as they have asked the finalists to remain silent about the result for at least the next few days…So you will have to watch this space if you want to know who the winner is…

Now during the day the former professional footballer and current TV presenter Dion Dublin gave us an inspirational talk before the semi-finals began. I listened intently to what he said. What stood out was him talking about how every time he was injured and presented with disappointments he had to face and question his beliefs about his ability to overcome them and to carry on with his career. The pinnacle for him being when he finally played for England at Wembley. He compared this to the journeys we all had been on, something he couldn’t identify with as he had always been a fit athlete. That said he did suggest that our journeys must have begun with our own minds, with us challenging our beliefs about ourselves and lives and that it must have taken great courage to keep journeying on. As he said "If the mind is right, the body will follow."  He came across as warm and caring, I really liked him. More than that I believe that he understood exactly the journey we had been on, certainly mine.

As I shared my story in the semi-final and final I spoke about beliefs about myself that had been ingrained from a young age, beliefs that at the time had given me a certain amount of security and stability but had eventually tethered, tied me down, enslaved me. Over the years I have challenged many things that I believed about myself and life in general. I have changed my mind many times. This is never an easy task. It is amazing how these beliefs can cling and at times re-emerge seemingly from nowhere.

I am not done with my changes…Are any of us?

There is a poster in the small schoolroom at Dunham Road chapel that reads “Anyone who is a slave to anything is not free. The first step to freedom is to free the mind.”

It has been up there for a few years now and I have noticed many people comment on it on a number of occasions. A friend did so just the other day as he reflected on how he had been enslaved by his own thinking, even though he would consider himself quite a rational man. I identify with him strongly, as I have said many times before I have become enslaved many times by my own beliefs. The very things that I thought gave me security and the illusion of stability, that gave me an anchor on which I could depend, were actually chains that enslaved me, kept me trapped and stopped me flying free.

Bob Marley once sang “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds.”

There is real truth in this statement. No one else can set us free from our own self-created mental slavery. If they could wouldn’t that be the worst kind of slavery? The enslavement of handing over responsibility for our own lives to another. There is no freedom in this. One of things I love about Slimming World is that while it offers you a simple method and there is a great deal of mutual support, in the end responsibility is with the individual. It is up to us to live this way, day by day. I see this as vital as it build genuine self-esteem. At its core is of course love and support, but also a development of true love for self also.

So how do we then free our minds from our own mental slavery and live the lives we are born to live? Well I actually believe it takes more than just questioning our thinking. Yes that is part of it, but it isn’t the full picture; yes discernment is a vital aspect, but it is not enough on its own. For me it begins with spirit and it comes alive in and through love.

Everything worthwhile in my life has to come through love. True religious community is built on love and lives through love. The 12 Step Fellowships I have belonged to have at their core the simple principle of love. Slimming World is about love. To me they are all about love, love for self, love for other, love for life; they are about love for self, love for neighbour and love for whatever it is that we experience is at the core of all life, God for me.

I have discovered that it is by living in and through love that one is then able to truly question ones beliefs, for love is about more than belief it is about faith, something deeper than belief and it is this that sets one free to live and be in love.

If my life has taught me anything it has taught me that in order to change your mind and therefore change your life requires first and foremost a change of heart, or perhaps more accurately an opening an awakening of the heart.

So how do we bring the heart alive, how do we live in love?

Well I believe it requires attention and application. Love is not soft and mushy. It is not about sentimentality. It requires discipline. It is about raising our heads and observing where love is present in life, rather than merely focusing on what is wrong with both ourselves and our world. It requires us to live in the solution, rather than the problem. It requires us to live fully open to the love out there as well as the love in here. It requires courage, which of course means heart, it means love, from the French word “Cour” meaning heart.

It requires spiritual discipline too. For me that means practising prayer and meditation each day and throughout  the day. It’s about taking sacred moments, so as to connect more fully to the love within each and every one of us and the love present in life.

It requires attention to one another. To support one another and encourage one another when it is needed, without taking over one another’s lives. This is because love requires responsibility for our own lives. For if we don’t we will not bring to life the love present deep within us and we will not be free.

Freedom begins in love and continues through love. To free the mind the first requirement is to live in and through love. Freedom does not begin in the mind, it is much deeper than that, although I was once a slave to the former belief. To free the mind you must first free the heart, this is the first step to freedom. Free to what? Well free to be love…

The key to freedom's gateway is love…Love for self, love for other and love for God…First and last and always love…Love is all that we need…We need it to begin and we need it to continue…

So keep on rocking in the free world all you groovers and shakers out there...It's the only way to be...Yeh, really free...May we always have ears to hear life's redemption songs...

Saturday 9 July 2016

Daily Bread for the Daily Journey

Every morning we step out into the world uncertain of what the day will bring. Yes we make our plans and designs and have our own ideas about what will be. Sometimes things work out exactly as we expect, but often they do not. Sometimes they work out far better than we could have dreamed of, but at other times they do not. We cannot predict life and I do not believe that it is already pre-ordained. I believe that the book of life always remains open. I do not believe that God has pre-ordained anything. I do believe in the Lure of Divine Love, but that this is not controlled by some primal centre, but hey I could well be wrong. I do believe that this Love speaks to us in and through life, as well as in and through us. This is why I believe that everything matters. Life feeds us and we feed life. We are all a part of the Great Co-Creation. This is why it matters how we journey on in life. This is why it is so important that we keep on stepping out into the world, on this continuous journey, experience all that life offers to us in all its blessings and curses. Always remembering that we do not journey alone.

Many people describe life as a journey that moves from one stage to another, sometimes full of joy and sometimes full of fear. Like the seasons life is forever changing. My life has taken me to different stages and I have journeyed with a rich variety of people. Some have been there from the very beginning, some have joined and stayed and others I have travelled with for only a short time. They have all touched and blessed my life in deep, rich and meaningful ways and I hope I have blessed theirs likewise.

Much has changed these last twelve months and these changes seem to be increasing in pace as the days go by. Yes there are the obvious physical changes, but those are just the ones on the surface. There are many other changes, unseen, that have been occurring deep within me. One thing I know for certain is that I am not done with my changes and life certainly isn’t done with changing me. I have never felt more fed by life, nor do I feel I have fed life more positively at any other stage of my life. I have never felt more alive and I want to share this aliveness with everyone.

How do I know this? You may well ask. Well because I feel that I know myself now better than I ever have before. Even these last few weeks’ deeper and newer truths have been revealed. The journey into who I truly am has gone deeper.

Now the inner journey is very much a spiritual journey. It is not really about physical travel, one of distance, it is more one of depth. This is captured beautifully in the following poem by Wendell Berry

"A Spiritual Journey"

And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles,
no matter how long,
but only by a spiritual journey,
a journey of one inch,
very arduous and humbling and joyful,
by which we arrive at the ground at our feet,
and learn to be at home.

by Wendell Berry

Now no doubt the Wendell Berry poem is inspired by the Christian mystic Meister Ekhart. It was he who claimed that the spiritual journey is not one of distance, that we do not so much travel on a physical pilgrimage from A to B to C to D etc, that the spiritual journey is some kind of linear progression in which we reach some goal, some new state of being way over there in some distant realm. No instead we discover new truths, understandings and experiences as we journey through life in a cyclical sense and that as we do so we move deeper into the core of our own being and find ourselves at home within ourselves.

John O’Donohue captured this beautifully when he wrote:

“Meister Eckhart radically revises the whole notion of spiritual programs. He says that there is no such thing as a spiritual journey. If a little shocking, this is refreshing. If there were a spiritual journey, it would be only a quarter inch long, though many miles deep. It would be a swerve into rhythm with your deeper nature and presence. The wisdom here is so consoling. You do not have to go away outside yourself to come into real conversation with your soul and with the mysteries of the spiritual world. The eternal is at home — within you.”

(John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: a Book of Celtic Wisdom)

Now strange as this may sound a life time’s journey can only be taken in one day. Did you know that the word journey is derived from the Latin word "diarnum" meaning daily portion from which the old French word "jornee" which meant a day’s work or a day's travel, is derived. I love this truth, it makes me smile broadly. Of course any spiritual journey can only be taken one day at a time and can only be achieved through taking our daily bread, feeding our spirit, and feeding life itself with our spirit. The key is of course to keep on going deeper and deeper feeding and being fed by and on the journey, while constantly being humbled and opened by the experience and thus feeding life.

Now while each of our journey’s are individual, they are not private. They are not taken alone nor in isolation. We are all a part of something far greater than ourselves. We are influenced by all that is around us, just as we influence all that we interact with. This of course begins with the people we share our lives with, those we journey with. We feed them and they feed us. We care for others and they care for us. Howard Thurman captured this rather beautifully in what follows. The Reverend Howard Thurman, was a theologian, minister, a Baptist with heavy Quaker leanings, Dean of Theology and Chaplain at both Howard and Boston Colleges, and the co founder, with Dr. Albert Fisk, in 1944, of “The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples”. America’s first fully multicultural church. Thurman wrote:

“Every person wants to be cared for, to be sustained by the assurance that we share in the watchful and thoughtful attention of others—not merely or necessarily others in general but others in particular. We want to know that—however vast and impersonal all life about us may seem, however hard may be the stretch of road on which we are journeying—we are not alone, but are the object of another's concern and caring; we want to know this in an awareness sufficient to hold us against ultimate fear and panic. It is precisely at this point of awareness that life becomes personal and a person is free to ask and find answers to this question: What makes me come alive, and how can I share that aliveness with the world?”

Here Thurman captures how vital communal spirituality is to personal spiritual development and journeying. Spirituality cannot be truly expressed in isolation otherwise it just becomes self-centred and self-serving, thus stagnating personal growth. True spirituality needs community. It needs to feed and be fed by community. It kind of has to become religion, in its truest sense, to mature into all that it can be. I’m not talking about religious dogma here. I mean free religion, I mean coming together in love. I mean the idea that be bind together in fellowship. A living, breathing, fellowship of love. A community of loving support and understanding who journey together hand in hand.

It’s about more than just fulfilling our own personal needs. It’s about building something more. Not just for ourselves but for the good of all, for we all depend upon it. That though is not to say that the individual journey does not matter. Of course it does. It is about the individual becoming all that they can be within community with others. It’s about, as Thurman says the individual coming alive and sharing this aliveness with life. In so doing we inspire others to be all that they can be. In so doing they then inspire us to become even more than we could even dream of becoming.

This to me is what it means to build the kin-dom of love right here, right now. Yes this kin-dom is already here, right here right now if we would just let it come to life. It is there within each and every one of us. Our task is to let it come to life and to share it with our brothers and sisters and thus inspire them to do likewise. In so doing they will too inspire us to become even more than we could even begin to dream of.

Life is a journey, a journey we are engaged in even if we are not fully aware of it at the time. Yes ok, it’s not really a journey that goes anywhere. Even when it ends all that we are really doing is returning to the beginning. Yes changed by the experience in some way, but still the essence remains. What matters is how we travel, we can always go first class; what matters the most is the journey that we travel today. What our days’ work is today, remember that is what journey really means, today's work. Our day’s work today, is how we feed life and to do our day’s work, our journey, to our best ability depends on how we feed ourselves and how we feed life. It matters you know, it really does.

So how are you going to journey today? What is your day’s work today? How will you allow life and those around you to feed you today? And just as importantly how will you feed life today, in all that you feel, all that you think, all that you say and all that you do?

It matters you know, it really does…

Sunday 3 July 2016

Hope not Despair: Coming into the peace of things

This piece was originally day after Jo Cox's murder as I visited home, in shock, to bare witness to the scene...

"The Peace of Wild Things" by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Like Wendell Berry we all feel despair at the world at times. We all fear for our own lives, our loved ones and the lives of others. This is something common to the whole of humanity, something that unites us all. No life is immune from suffering. I have experienced such moments these last couple of weeks, as I have been recovering from surgery. I have had to spend much time alone as company has been too exhausting. This has not been easy for an active man such as I. It has been deeply uncomfortable at times, but I know in so doing my soul has opened up and I have grown. In the pain and suffering I have found the peace that passeth all understanding and if truth be told the suffering has not turned to despair.

One of the darkest moments was a week last Sunday as I stood in silent suffering in the market square of the village where I had grown up. I stood there in Priestley’s shadow weeping with many others. I grew up in the village of Birstall, in West Yorkshire. Birstall was not known to most of the world until a couple of weeks ago, but sadly now the world does know its name. Birstall of course was the scene of the brutal murder of the M.P. Jo Cox. Murdered because she served and loved all of her people, which in the eyes of some is somehow treachery.

The tributes in the market place were beautiful, all gathered around the statue of Joseph Priestley. The Unitarian minister and scientist who himself was chased out of England for his beliefs. His home and laboratory were destroyed by a baying mob.

I walked away from Birstall market place heart broken. They say home is where the heart is. Well this is home and it feels broken, my heart is broken. I walked away and wanted and needed to be alone. I thought of Wendell Berry’s poem I too wanted to come into the peace of wild things. I didn’t have the energy to be with people, even loved ones. I needed to be alone. I need to feel this horror and suffering and to come to terms with this awful destruction of love. So I went off alone, low on energy, in physical discomfort and pain, and I just wept.

Now what has followed since and caused me to weep more and more. I have found much that I have witnessed and heard since hard to take as people have torn one another apart. As division has risen and as hate has grown. Some of the things I have seen on the news and some of the things I have heard from people I know personally has broken my heart again and again and again and all I could do was sit silently and try and take it in, struggling to come into the peace of anything. There does seem to be so much turmoil and division about everywhere.

Now of course this is nothing new, it’s been going on for a long, long, time. The human capacity to Love and to create knows no bounds. That said the human capacity to Hate and destroy knows no bounds similarly.

As the days have passed I have continued to sit in the silence, alone, hoping against hope to come into to the peace of something. As I did other words came into my heart. I thought of Viktor Frankl and “Man’s Search for Meaning” and his equation that D=S-M that despair is suffering without meaning. I thought of Jo Cox herself and her legacy. I thought of her words during her maiden speech in the House of Commons, her belief that there is more that unites us than divides us. I thought of what I have learnt during my life, that hope is born from despair. That in these ashes of all our hearts that love and hope can rise again, but it is up to us. I thought of the beautiful words of Margaret Kirk’s Meditation "Something there is that doesn't love a wall". That bridges between difference can be made. That we are all the same people, all of the same earth, born under the same sun. That we can live together as one. It is up to us though. We are responsible. It is up to us to create meaning from the ashes of suffering. It is up to us to bring healing in our lives, in the lives of those around and to the wider human community. We are responsible, every single one of us. For everything matters. Every feeling, every thought, every word and every deed.

Below is Margaret Kirk's Meditation mentioned above...

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” by Rev Margaret Kirk

We see barriers erected between people of different lands,
We see sheets of steel and towers of concrete called Protection.
We see boundaries policed,
watch men, women and children running from hunger and persecution,
looking for a gap in the wall………

Something there is that doesn't love a wall…………

We see walls of fear –
Fear of the young, fear of the stranger,
Fear of sexuality that is different, fear of the educated, fear of the poor,
Fear of the Muslim, fear of the Jew –
Fear upon fear, endless and perpetuating,
And we offer our silent prayer that solid walls of fear will crumble to dust.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall…………

We hear the language of separation,
The jingoistic chant, the racial slur,
words of indifference and dismissal,
words arranged for the purpose of exclusion,
words that sting and taunt,
words that lie.
Let us find words that ring with love and truthfulness,
that reach out through the emptiness of separation.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall…………

We see the deluded barriers of the mind protecting self,
We see relationships stripped of affection
as one person becomes closed to another.
We see people trapped in misunderstanding,
old hurts re-ignited,
bricks placed higher on the wall,
goodwill and trust suspended.
and we ask for boundaries that are not impenetrable,
through which light can shine and distance be dissolved.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall………….

And when we need these boundaries for our own well being,
Let us know them for what they are,
Use them wisely and kindly,
Recognising our own vulnerability and that of others –
So each of us can find the space for retreat and succour,
find that peace that passes all understanding
and be renewed with strength and love
for the task of living life joyfully in communion with all others.

...A beautiful poem...A heartbreaking poem...

There are moments in every single one of our lives, when darkness seemingly over comes us. We all experience tragedy, loss, bereavement, rejection and failure. No one can avoid this. There is no wall we can build around ourselves that will protect us from this. In fact if we do build up such walls all that we will achieve is to cut ourselves off from the love and the joy present in life. This leads to the worst kind of suffering, the suffering within the suffering, hopeless despair. It leads to nothingness.

This despair, this nothingness often turns to blame, to pointing the finger, to scapegoating to hatred of the other who we see as being somehow different to us. There seems to be a growing tide of this at the moment. Whether that be against people from other parts of the country, other sections of society, other genders, religions, sexualities, nationalities, colour of skin, even other age groups. The young not trusting and blaming the elderly and the elderly not trusting and blaming the young. This helps no one and it just makes things worse.

So what can we do? How do we build bridges of love between those divisions in our lives and our own communities? How do we bring light into the darkening aspects of life? How do we bring the light of Hope into the darkening shadows of despair? How do we ensure that the light shines in the darkness and that the darkness does not overcome it? Well by becoming the light of the world and letting that light shine from our being. This is how we bring Hope to life and light. This is where meaning will grow from the ashes of despair. This is what I remembered as I came to the peace of everything, alone and in the silence. In this silence that still small voice of calm seemed to speak to me in a voice that was somehow more than silence and yet less than a whisper. I remembered also why I had become a minister of religion in the first place, that too had been born from personal loss and suffering. I remembered how my heart had been broken many times before and I remembered all the many broken hearted and broken people I have known in my time ministering to the communities I serve and how they too had come to life once again in their grief and suffering. My heart was filled once again and courage began to rise within me.

Hope had risen from the ashes of suffering...There was no despair...

Like Wendell Berry we all feel despair at the world at times. We all fear for our own lives, our loved ones and the lives of others. We all seek to come into the peace of something. We can find that peace. I know this to be true and when the peace comes, provided we do not close down or close in, hope can once again come to life and we can begin to bring healing not only in our lives, but in the lives of those around us stretching out to the wider reaches of this our shared world. We cannot avoid suffering, but we can give birth to meaning in that suffering in the way that we live our lives. We need not despair, we can live in hope, we can live in love. We can heal what separates us from one another. 

We can live in love. In all that we feel, all that we think, all that we say and all that we do.

I’m going to end this "Blogspot" with these adapted words by Sidney L. Freeman, which my friend Jane Blackall recently shared...

'Only a few things wear the mark of the eternal:
the giving we have invested in others,
the love we have expressed in deeds,
the kindness we have shown, the work
we have done because we loved it,
the light we have shown that others may not stumble,
the evil we turned into good because we saw
that none of us lives apart,
but all are members one of another.'