Sunday 11 September 2016

Blue Moments: Epiphany Moments

"The Gift of the Blue Moment," an excerpt from “SMALL GRACES” by Kent Nerburn

Her garden has fallen to ruin. Irene is old now, maybe ninety. Her memory has fled, leaving her eyes like lights in an empty room. I always try to say “hello” to her when I see her. She is guileless, full of wonder, a child in awe of the universe.
Her garden used to be the most beautiful around. She took such pleasure in tending its flowers and plants. She and my wife would share knowledge of bulbs and buds.
There is no such knowledge in Irene now. Her eyes are watching other worlds. When she answers at all, it is in response to questions only she can hear.
I listen to her closely. What remains alive in the dim chambers of her memory?
She thinks I am her son, goes on about her mother. A story about a little dog. It makes no sense.
But this is not about sense. She has woven other tapestries from the threads of her life. She is responsive to other colors, moved by other winds.
I would leave, but there are echoes here.

I am carried back to a time years ago when I was living in the medieval university town of Marburg, Germany.
I was 25, penniless, alone, frightened, and ill. I was living in a garret. I had no friends and I was far from family. My days were spent working in an antique restoration shop of an embittered alcoholic man, and my nights were spent wandering the streets watching the passing lives of people who neither spoke my language nor knew of my cares.
I had never been so alone.
The mother of the man for whom I worked was a very insightful woman. As a child of twelve she had watched the Nazis come into her classroom and take the Jewish children away. No one spoke of it and class went on as if nothing had happened. But day by day, night by night, she saw her friends and playmates disappear.
She became a watcher and a survivor.
For months she watched me struggle with the demons that were driving me. She would see me sitting with the neighborhood children, drawing cartoons in the shadow of the castle. She would see me staring vacantly into the distance when I thought no one was watching.
One day she took me aside.
“I watch you,” she said. “I see the loneliness in your eyes. I watch your heart running away. You are like so many people. When life is hard, they try to look over the difficulty into the future. Or they long for the happiness of the past. Time is their enemy. The day they are living is their enemy. They are dead to the moment. They live only for the future or the past. But that is wrong.
“You must learn to seek the blue moment,” she said.
She sat down beside me and continued. “The blue moment can happen any time or any place. It is a moment when you are truly alive to the world around you. It can be a moment of love or a moment of terror. You may not know it when it happens. It may only reveal itself in memory. But if you are patient and open your heart, the blue moment will come. My childhood classmates are dead, but I have the blue moment when we looked in each other’s eyes.”
I turned and stared into her lined and gentle face.
“Listen carefully to me,” she continued. “This is a blue moment. I really believe it. We will never forget it. At this moment you and I are closer to each other than to any other human beings. Seize this moment. Hold it. Don’t turn from it. It will pass and we will be as we were. But this is a blue moment, and the blue moments string together like pearls to make up your life. It is up to you to find them. It is up to you to make them. It is up to you to bring them alive in others.”
She brushed her hand through my hair and gave me a pat on the side of the head.
“Always seek the blue moment,” she said, and returned to her work.
Irene’s mind is wandering now. A little dog. Her sister. Names I’ve never heard.
I smile and nod. She smiles back and continues. The blue moments are calling to her, filling her memories with light.

I recently attended “Summer School” at the Nightingale centre at Great Hucklow. This year’s theme was “This changes everything”. It was a fantastic week and one in which it was a pleasure to participate in. I gave a theme talk and led a “Singing Meditation”.

Here is a audio recording of the "Theme Talk" I led. Here I talk about many of my "Epiphany moments", moments that changed everything. Just click on the link to hear it...

This changes everything

 I also participated in an engagement group led superbly by Rev Margaret Kirk and Rev Cody Coyne. The title of the group was “Taken at the Flood – Epiphany Moments”. The title comes from Shakespear’s Julius Caesar Act 4 scene 3

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218–224

Words suggesting we must go with the flow of life, that this is where the power is. If we do so we can make each moment precious, we can bring it to life. That each moment can become momentous and perhaps life changing. The key is to “ learn to seek the blue moment,” that Kent Nerburn spoke of in the earlier reading and to string these moments together and bring them alive in the lives of others.

The purpose of the engagement group was to encourage us to look at our lives and uncover life changing, epiphany moments. Now an epiphany is a moment when you suddenly feel that you understand, or suddenly become conscious of, something that is important to you. It can be in the nature of a sudden and profound religious or spiritual experience or less dramatic. I suspect that the “Blue moments” described in Kent Nerburn’s earlier reading are another way of naming such moments.

Now Epiphany was originally understood and is celebrated as the 12th Day of Christmas, when the Magi saw the Christ child and were filled with the presence of the divine, an epiphany. The understanding has broadened over time. We can all experience them. We can all experience moments when we glimpse the essential nature of things in ways that change the course of life dramatically and powerfully for the better. We can all experience moments of sudden discovery and or revelation when things seem to seamlessly fall in place and a new clarity is gained. We can all experience epiphanies.

During the week we were given a variety of tools to explore our lives. The image that they came up with was to describe our lives like a journey through a forest, a deep dense forest, in which there were moments of clearing and illumination where sudden realisations would come. Throughout the week many “blue moments”, many epiphanies came to mind. As I traced my life I saw how these moments seemed to stitch together. The moments of illumination have seemingly accelerated in recent years. I have shared many of these moments with over the years in my "blogging. I wonder as you look back over your lives if you too can uncover similar moments in your lives. What have been your epiphanies your “blue moments”? Can you see a thread through them, do they seem to seamlessly stitch together? Perhaps you could think about them in the coming days and weeks.

As I look back at my life I can bear witness to many “blue moments”, moments of illumination or as I prefer see them moments of awakening. You see every moment our lives can become such moments if we would learn to seek them and learn to bring them alive in our lives and in the lives of others. We just need to be alive and awake to these possibilities.

During the week many sources of material were shared. One being extracts from “Memories, Dreams, Reflections” by Carl Jung from chapter “First Years” pgs 21 and 22

Here Jung is recalling experiences from his early childhood, epiphany moments that shaped his whole life. Moments of illumination, moments of wholeness and connection when he felt safe and protected and finally at one with life and moments that shaped his whole life. He wrote:

“One memory comes up which is perhaps the earliest of my life, and is indeed only a rather hazy impression. I am lying in a pram, in the shadow of a tree. It is a fine, warm summer day, the sky blue, and golden sunlight darting through green leaves. The hood of the pram has been left up. I have just awakened to the glorious beauty of the day, and have a sense of indescribable well-being. I see the sun glistening through the leaves and blossoms of the bushes. Everything is wholly wonderful, colourful, and splendid.”

“From a somewhat later period comes another memory. My mother took me to the Thurgen to visit friends, who had a castle on Lake Constance. I could not be dragged away from the water. The waves from the steamer washed up to the shore, the sun glistened on the water, and the sand under the water had been curled into little ridges by the waves. The lake stretched away and away into the distance. This expanse of water was an inconceivable pleasure to me, an incomparable splendour. At that time the idea became fixed in my mind that I must live near a lake; without water, I thought, nobody could live at all.”

Seemingly these are moments, epiphany moments, “blue moments” that helped to shape him and which he carried with him all of his life. I remember as I read these accounts familiar words from William Wordsworth came to mind and the following words from poem “Prelude” that has been singing in my soul these last few years. The phrase is “spots of time”. Wordsworth wrote:

“There are in our existence spots of time,

That with distinct pre-eminence retain
A renovating virtue, whence–depressed
By false opinion and contentious thought,
Or aught of heavier or more deadly weight,
In trivial occupations, and the round
Of ordinary intercourse–our minds
Are nourished and invisibly repaired;
A virtue, by which pleasure is enhanced,
That penetrates, enables us to mount,
When high, more high, and lifts us up when fallen.”

William Wordsworth, The Prelude (Book XI, ls 258-278)

“Spots of time” are “blue moments”, epiphanies, those moments when life not only feeds but truly nourishes us on a deep, deep level, deeper than the marrow of our bones; moments when the common becomes uncommon,; moments when the veils we create ourselves seem to slip away; moments when we seemingly see beyond the ordinary; moments when we experience reality on a deeper level.

These “spots of time” are sacred moments that are made holy by their mysterious ability to nourish us and perhaps even repair us in body, mind, heart and soul. These moments are so special because they seem so rare. They are a kind of grace; they seemingly come to us, from a place somewhere beyond ourselves.

These moments can happen anywhere. For Wordsworth these “spots of time” occurred primarily in nature. We all experience them in different ways, in different states and in different settings. Those moments when time seemingly stands still; those moments that touch us at the core of our being; those moments that transform our lives; those magic moments. Time seemingly becomes compressed or concentrated in these moments when the senses become heightened, when life seemingly has a deeper meaning. Moments when life becomes denser and deeper. These are not necessarily supernatural moments by the way; no they are firmly grounded in reality.

In these moments time appears to be slowing down, although obviously it does not. Time does not so much stop as become compressed, the moment becomes concentrated. There just seems to be more of life in that moment, but it lasts just as long. Maybe the moment is deeper, not longer. Time is time after all.

When I look back at my life I can think of those moments when deep powerful meaning has emerged seemingly out of nothingness and all of life has felt connected. I can see a thread running through these moments, these “blue moments”, as Nerburn wrote in the extract at the beginning of this "blogspot":

“Listen carefully to me,” she continued. “This is a blue moment. I really believe it. We will never forget it. At this moment you and I are closer to each other than to any other human beings. Seize this moment. Hold it. Don’t turn from it. It will pass and we will be as we were. But this is a blue moment, and the blue moments string together like pearls to make up your life. It is up to you to find them. It is up to you to make them. It is up to you to bring them alive in others.”

We have all of us experienced such moments in our lives, moments that we carry with us, throughout our lives. Moments when time has seemingly stood still, moments that have changed us or as I prefer to see it woken us up or woken something up within us. If we look back through our lives perhaps we can see a pattern form, a thread or string running through it all, or perhaps not. I certainly can when looking back at my own life.

The question is though, what can we do with them? And can we “bring them alive in others”?

I believe so. I also believe it is our task to do so. This is where the meaning comes in our lives. This is the thread and this is how we become a part of the Divine, the “Golden Thread”.

So this is what I’d like you to do. To look back through your life and recall such moments. Moments like Nerburn, Jung and Wordsworth described, moments that have stayed with you. Perhaps you could look for a pattern in moments that either woke you up and or put you to sleep and perhaps think of ways in which you can bring these moments alive in others.

Sunday 4 September 2016

Love Letters: It matters what we leave behind

“Love letters” by Edward Hays in “Secular Society”

"You and I are meant to be “letters” to the world. People who “read” us receive a message from the Divine Mystery. Now, there’s a delightful vocation – to be a sort of “valentine” from God to a love-hungry world! But if we are to be living, divine letters, “words made flesh,” we, of all people, should keep alive and treat with respect the beautiful custom of letter writing. As we take time to do this, let us remember that such activity is always prayer. Let us remember that it is also prayer to receive and read a letter. Perhaps we could pause at the conclusion of having penned a note to a friend and trace the sign of the cross upon the letter to remind ourselves of this fact. Or we could breathe part of our spirit into the envelope. More than just a puff of breath, we could send along with our message a part of our soul. Since love is invisible, some ritual or sign helps us to remember what it is we are really sending when we send a letter to someone we love."

Huw a member of the Urmston congregation recently asked me if people treat me and act differently towards me since I lost the weight. I thought about it for a moment and said, no I don’t think so, or at least I hope not. After all I am still the same person I always was, it’s just that I now I live in a smaller shell than before.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot since. Do people treat me the same way now that I have transformed myself physically? Have the physical changes altered the way I am in the world? Do we judge people more on their appearance than on their inner being? Does the way we see ourselves affect the way we live with others and live in life?

The more I’ve thought about it the more I have become aware of people treating me differently actually. I’ve also realised that I am acting differently in the world and am once again seeing the world through fresh eyes. I have changed once again, or do I more accurately mean I have woken up once again. I am and will always be the same man in essence. This part of myself never changes the spirit that lays at the core of me. Whatever happens to my physical being, my emotional being and my mental being, this core always remains, although I believe that it just more awakened today. In fact there have been times in my life when that aspect of my being has been fast asleep.

There is no doubt to me that my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual being are interconnected, not one is separate from the rest. Just as all life is connected, nay interconnected. Nothing exists in isolation from anything else. Even the time we exist in now is influenced by all that has ever existed before. Yes we live in this moment right now. But this moment does not exist in isolation we only have this moment because of all that happened before and we are only the people that we are, in this moment, because of all that has existed before. We bring our whole selves alive in this precious moment right now. We do so by not rejecting any aspect of our lives up to now. We do so by allowing our whole being to come alive, to come to flower right here right now. This is what being alive really means. This is what bringing the moment alive really means. It is not enough to passively live in the moment, you’ve got to bring the moment fully alive. In so doing you live the life you are here to live and you play your part in the cosmic co-creation. All that we do and all that we do not do matters. Each moment that we live we leave behind us a legacy, a love letter if you like, that others will pick up on as they too continue on through their lives.

Just think of the people that have influenced you in your lives. People who are no longer physically with you, but who are still impacting on you today. Even when they are gone, something beautiful remains.

It matters how we live in the world. It matters how we see the world and think about the world and feel about the world. This is influenced by how we have lived in this world. It’s not just something that comes to us in isolation and it is influenced by how we see and experience ourselves.

Who do we think we are? What do we believe about ourselves? What do we see when we gaze at ourselves in the mirror, in the glass, in the water? Do we see ourselves with loving eyes, or with the eyes that despise? For how we see ourselves will influence how we see life and see others. You see we all do live by the “Golden Rule” we do in fact love or hate our neighbour as we love or hate ourselves. I just that one day we can all live by the Golden Rule of compassion and not of loathing or indifference.

My dad once shared a story with me, just weeks before he died. It’s one of those things that has stayed with me all these years and has only truly begun to make sense to me these last few years. Now whether it actually happened in his life, or not, doesn’t matter. I have come across versions of this story in my reading. What matters is the universal mythos in the tale. This is the story:

He recounted a tale when he was once at Appleby Horse Fair, a place he loved; where he was probably at his happiest. He was talking to me about faith and God. It was during a time of my life when I was a man of little or no faith; I certainly had no belief in God. He recounted that he saw a priest staring down into the water from a bridge. He asked the priest what he was doing and the priest told him that he was staring into God’s eyes. My dad looked into the water and said he could only see himself and the priest. At which point the priest replied that this is where God dwells within you, within me and within everything.

Whenever I remember this moment, that has stayed with me ever since, even in my darkest hours, my nihilistic despair, the memory would come alive deep within me. Its real meaning only really made sense many years later. What I do know is that whenever I looked into the water or into the glass, whatever I saw looking back at me was reflected in how I saw life and lived in the world. It impacted on how I lived in whatever moment, whatever place and whatever people I found myself in the company of.

When I look at life today and when I look deeply, compassionately into the eyes of others I can see something of the Divine present there, sometimes awake and sometimes fast asleep. Most of the time though, somewhere in between.

The very first Unitarian I ever met was Peter Sampson. I met him as I passed through the threshold of Cross Street Chapel all those years ago. He taught me so much about what it means to live as a human being. He is also a talented poet and hymn writer. He wrote the following piece for a collection of named "Heart and Mind" It speaks powerfully to me,

“Incarnation” by Peter Sampson

'"The incarnation is true not of Christ exclusively but of Man universally and God everlastingly. He bends into the human to dwell there and humanity is the susceptible organ of the divine."

James Martineau (1805-1900)

James Martineau’s distinctly Unitarian ‘take’ on the transformation of God into our human – all too human – flesh and blood has been a constant inspiration to me.

Our responsibility for our own lives and necessarily, for the lives of our brothers and sisters throughout the world lays upon us all a duty which cannot be dodged; our humanity is defined by how we serve and care for the needs of the human family. You can’t have faith without works and working for the good of all inspires our faith in God-given life.

It is a small comfort to me to be told that God died for our sins. I see every one of us missing the mark in our lives and whenever a fellow-creature is harmed we must pray for forgiveness for ourselves. We are all culpable but if we are to serve human progress we have to say ‘sorry’ from the bottom of our heart and move on.

When we look around us we tend to focus on what’s going wrong: suffering – often caused by human ignorance – waste, devastation, degradation, contempt, the whole sorry spectacle of “Man’s in humanity to Man”. I see this as a betrayal of our God-given humanity, a trivialisation of our God-endowed divinity.

Resorting to armaments and inflexible war-talk of politicians, shouting at those we don’t agree with and throwing our weight about if we don’t get our own way – I want to say “Come off it! Who do you think you are? There is that of God in every person, in every creature on the planet.
Peter's piece begins with the following quote by the great 19th century Unitarian James Martineau who stated that:'

"The incarnation is true not of Christ exclusively but of Man universally and God everlastingly. He bends into the human to dwell there and humanity is the susceptible organ of the divine."

Could this be true? Is humanity the susceptible organ of the divine?

I do believe that there is that of God in everyone, but that is not all that we are. Yes we have the potential to do incredible things we humans and I do believe that God lives through our lives. But that is not all that we are, we are also capable of incredible hatred, destruction and evil. I believe that both these potentials lay within each of us. It is important that I recognise this when I look at another and when I look at myself. When I look at another person I must recognise myself within them. This sometimes fills me with absolute bliss and on other occasions it fills me with nothing but agony. Humanity is a mysterious duality indeed.

Abraham Joshua Heschel said the following of man...

“Man is a duality of mysterious grandeur and pompous aridity, a vision of God and a mountain of dust. It is because of his being dust that his iniquities may be forgiven, it is because of his being an image that his righteousness is expected.”

It is an incredible thing to be human, we are fascinating creatures. Even the word human itself interests me. It is formed from the same root as humility, possibly humanity’s greatest attribute. It is also closely related to humus (not to be confused with hummus) and exhume. The root for all of these words is “hum” which originally referred to the earth or dirt. Our earliest forbears perceived that we humans originated from the soil – you would think that this would keep us grounded, but seemingly not - this is made clear in the second creation story found in Genesis II which reads “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” The ancient Hebrew word for Adam is closely related to the word “toadamah” which means soil or earth. There are other ancient creation stories too which associate the origin of humankind with soil or the ground. Such as the Sumerian myth of Marduk who created people by killing Qingu and mixing his blood with clay. Or the Greek myths of Decallion and Pyrrha who by throwing rocks over their shoulders created man and woman.

We are indeed a mysterious duality we humans. Yes formed from dust but with the spirit of the Divine breathed into our very being.

We need to remember this when we look into one another’s eyes and when we look into our own eyes. For how we see ourselves and how we see one another will impact on how we live in the world and that really matters. We need to look a little deeper than the surface too, for that will change. Beauty is more than skin deep, our real beauty and true essence lays way beneath the surface of our skin; it is way deeper than our thinking minds and our feeling emotions. It is in our essence, our spirit our souls. This never changes, it remains the same it’s just that it awakens and goes to sleep at different times and stages of our lives.

How awake and alive we are in the world in this moment really matters too. For how we live will impact on those around us too and will impact on how they live in the world, for no one and no-thing lives in isolation.

In every moment of our lives we are creating and leaving a legacy for those who share this time and those who follow in this beautiful co-creation that is life. Each moment we leave behind us letters that those who follow will then pick up and read and be influenced. So let us ensure that the letters we leave behind are letters of love and not of indifference, letters of Hope and not of Despair.

I’m going to end this little chip of a "blogspot" with this beautiful extract from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”:

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