Sunday 31 December 2017

Choose Life

Here we stand on the hinge of the year, New Year's Eve. Or as it is known in the Caribbean, “Old Year's Night”. Here standing at the end of one year and facing the new, we are offered an opportunity to await, to contemplate. No doubt we will spend time with friends, family, loved ones, or perhaps we prefer to be alone reflecting on the year of life that has now gone. I will joun with friends and community at our social and “Watch Night” service. A tradition I love more as the years go by.

No doubt we will all have experienced so much of the blessings and the curses of life this year. How has it been? What are the lessons this year of life has taught you? Whatever it has meant, whatever it has brought, it matters. For everything matters, every thought, every feeling, every word, every action, everything we do and do not do. So let’s remember the year now gone with gratitude, even if it has been a challenge and let us make of it all that we can. Let us make our meaning of this year in how we live this next year as we once again enter into another 365 new days of the book of life. Remember life itself is the ultimate grace, the ultimate free gift, for we did nothing to be given it. Life is the greatest free gift of them all.

Tomorrow is New Year’s Day, a time for new beginnings, a time for hope of what might be as we step forward into another year of life, a time to journey on in life. A time to once again experience both the blessings and curses of “Choosing Life”.

This brings to mind the journey that the Israelites took to the Promised Land. In Deuteronomy 30 vv 11-19 Moses speaks to the people on his 120thbirthday. God had just informed him that he would not enter the Promised Land, after fourty years in the widerness, with the people he had led out of exile.

As they reach the Promised Land the people gathered to receive Moses’ final blessing. And what does he say? He tells them that they must “choose life.” They are told that in order to keep the freedom that they have been given they must make thoughtful choices about their lives. I am sure that this must have been scary for them, for after all they were frightened of their freedom. Throughout their time in exile whenever they were given freedom they did not want it, they hoped that someone would make their decisions for them. Again this is such a universal predicament, it echoes through the ages. How often do we wish that someone would make our decisions for us? Wouldn’t that make life easier? But we must make the decisions, we must live our lives. We will make mistakes. I have made many this year, but we will also get much right. It’s what we do with what has been in the coming year that really matters.

Now "Choose Life" is a phrase that has seeped into public consciousness on at least two occasion over the last 30 years. Two places that would at first glance seem highly unlikely.

One was in a "Wham" pop video to the song "Wake me up before you go-go". I feel fairly confident in claiming that George Michael, Andrew Ridgley and Pepsi & Shirley didn't know they were quoting Moses when they were dancing along to this song.

It is also the inspiration for a poem by John Hodge that was spoken by Ewan McGregor to the tune for "Lust For Life" by Iggy Pop for the trailer to the film "Trainspotting". A film that is definitely not about "choosing Life", as it’s a film about heroin addiction. Addiction is the ultimate rejection of life

In “Choosing Life” we choose all of life, blessings and curses. We do not get one without the other, but we do get life, the ultimate free gift. The biggest mistake we ever make in living is that we wish so much of our lives away, we dream of some other place, a heaven, a nirvana, an Oz, Ithaka. Perhaps heaven, Nirvana, the Promised Land, Ithaka is actually the life that we have now, the kingdom is now, perhaps the true gift is life itself, the beautiful journey. It truly matters, every breath really matters.

This brings to mind that rather beautiful poem “Ithaka” by Constantine Cavafy.

"Ithaka" by C.P. Cavafy

As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn't have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

How often have we heard the phrase “Life is a journey”? Sometimes beautiful; sometimes frightening!

For all of us at times just to simply step out into the world takes all the courage we can muster. Choosing life is not always easy. Past experiences can often stop us dead in our tracks. Fear can block our attempts to step out into the world and back into the adventure of life with all its many challenges. Fear is always present to stop us to block us along the way.

What is it that calls us on, what is our Ithaka? Ithaka though is not about the destination itself, but the journey that comes with living life. Just like Moses none of us gets to truly reach the destination that is the Promised Land, for it is not a geographical location but the adventure of life itself. This is the gift, the pearl of great price, the kingdom of love right here right now and what we do with it is what really matters, for everything matters. The meaning of our lives comes from what we do with the life we have been given, in all its blessings and curses.

So as we stand on the hinge of the year let us not do so in fear of what is to come, for the truth is not one of us can know. There will be much suffering for all of us, for that is part of life. That said there will also be much joy too. For some of us it may be our last year and for some that we know and love that will certainly be the case. Now while our actual lives may not end, perhaps some aspect will. We should not fear this, for every ending is a new beginning.

So let us step forward in Hope, of what might be, of what we might make of the year ahead. Let’s make the meaning of the year that has passed with the way we live the year ahead

So let us step forward into this threshold moment that is New Eve or Old Years Night, let us do so in love. Let’s end in love and let’s begin again in love.

We have before us life, blessing and curses, suffering and joy, the beautiful journey, for life itself is the Promised Land, the ultimate free gift, the ultimate Grace. Let’s choose life.

I will end thid "blogspot"with some words of beginning by Edward Searl

Always there is a beginning —
a new day,
a new month,
a new season,
a new year.

Forever the old passes away
and newness emerges
from the richness that was.

Nothing is ever lost
in the many changes
time brings.

What was, in some way,
will be,
though changed in form.

Know this:
This moment is a beginning; 
and your lives,
individually and together,
are full of richness, of freshness,
of hope and of promise.

From “We Pledge Our Hearts” by Edward Searl

Sunday 10 December 2017

Becoming The Gift We Have All Been Waiting For

We are now fully into the Advent Season, the days that lead to Christmas Day. These are the days of waiting of preparation. The music is playing, we can hear all the familiar songs in every shop as we no doubt begin the process of selecting presents for our loved ones.

Have you done all your shopping yet? I’ve not even begun. I will soon, but not just yet. I’ve got too much to do.

Gifts of course come in many forms. Not all are wrapped in paper and tied up in ribbons. Some come in other forms, some wrapped in flesh, human flesh. I remember at primary school once being asked what was my favourite Christmas present had been, to which my answer was “Our Natalie”, my youngest sister had just been born a few days before Christmas. Her life has proved to be a wonderful blessing, even if she is a little too well named. Our Natalie never stops nattering. That said she is a gift beyond gifts.

When I look back at my life I have known some wonderful gifts in human form. Some of whom I have known for only a short time and others all my life. I’ve been thinking of these folk quite a lot these last few days. While I may not carry those people with me physically, their love is tied up in my heart. I do not forget these things, in fact in many ways my life is an act of remembrance of the love they gave, and certainly my ministry is.

Last week an old friend, someone who I have begun to see a little of once again in recent times, reminded me of a book I had given him as a gift 12 Christmases ago. He told me he had been re-reading it in recent weeks and reminded me of an inscription I had written in it, some simple words of gratitude, simply for being himself. He told me that reading it had led him on a path of spiritual discovery and wanted to thank me for it. I could have wept, I would have wept if I had not being in company. Now while this boy does cry, he rarely does so in the company of others, I am always the minister.

The conversation brought to mind another gift of a blessing that a dear friend gave me 11 months later, on the day my heart was broken, as I lost the most precious gift that ever entered my life, my friend Claire’s son Ethan, my Immanuel. The one who showed to me that God is indeed with us.

The day Ethan died I was utterly broken. I was alone with nowhere to go and ended up with friends from the Cross Street congregation, three in particular Alan Myerscough, Wynne Semeter and Peter Sampson. John Midgley had already come to the hospital and ministered to us as best he could. I will never forget what John gave that day, even though I have since learnt that he felt he let me down, nothing could be further from the truth. What I remember the most though about that day is a simple bowl of soup that Wynne warmed for me, sat me down and made me eat. It didn’t change anything about the hell I was in but the love warmed me physically, emotionally and spiritually. I felt God was with me, expressed in human form, incarnated in those around me. I also remember how much others were friends to me in the coming months, particularly my friend Derek.

The Christmas that followed was a hard for so many people, but in so many ways it was beautiful. A beautiful example of people coming together in love, a glimpse of the kingdom of love that I believe is at the core of the true Christmas message. It is certainly the message I read in Matthews Gospel, to me this is what it means to follow that yonder star the wise men from the east were seeking. I pay homage to those gifts of divine love that I have known in human form, that have blessed my life and shown to me that God is with us indeed.

Christmas is a time of celebration, of family and others coming together once again in love. It is a time when everything is heightened and illuminated. This can be difficult for some people, particularly Christmas Day. For some people who are not feeling so joyous, Christmas can actually increase those feelings of isolation and loss. As we sit round the Christmas dinner table we may notice not so much the ones that are there, but the ones who are not there. Often those we have lost due to death’s dark shadow, but also those who are not there due irreconcilable differences. I notice the empty chairs around my own family’s table. I always have done. I fully feel the joy of the day, but also its sadness.

Yes Christmas can be hard for some people. We need to remember this as we engage in our joy. And if we really want to bring the love at the centre of the season to life, we ought to perhaps think of ways in which we can bring a bit of love into their lives. One simple act of love can change a person’s life for ever. It certainly has mine.

There is a tradition that has developed in recent years that has begun to recognise that Christmas has its shadow side as well as its light. Many places of worship now conduct what are called “Blue Christmas” services. They are held at this time of the year for those who have lost a loved one during the year, or who are remembering losses from previous years.

Grief can sting more sharply at this time of the year because such feelings stand in contrast to what is the ideal of this Christmas season, namely, a time of the fullness of the heart, a time when one is united to all that one loves.

Christmas is about the heart, the ties of the heart, the loves of the heart, the dreams of the heart, the yearnings and longings of the heart. At Christmas we are called to concentrate on the heart; we are called to concentrate on what the heart wants, what it needs, and how it calls us to live. This is not easy if your heart is broken by grief.

By the way grief may not be the loss of person to death, it may be the end of a relationship, or the loss of livelihood and or health.

Sometimes the light of Christmas can illuminate this suffering in our hearts and lives. This can make the lives of some appear more dark and dreary as we are burdened with the memory of too many failures, too many defeats, too much sorrow. Sometimes loneliness, fear, selfishness, discouragement, and resentment turn the bells of Christmas into bitter mockery.

We need to remember this in this season of the heart. Such people need to gift at the heart of this season more than others.

So what can we do?

Well we can give the greatest gift of the season, we can give our heart. How do we do this by giving just a little bit of time and attention to someone who really needs it. In so doing we will truly begin to sanctify this season by giving one another perhaps the greatest present of them all, our true presence. A pearl of great price, a gift beyond material value. The most priceless commodity of them all.

Do you know what we can all bring the spirit of Christmas alive in our hearts and lives. It’s quite simple really, it is not even difficult. Anyone of us can do it. All it requires us to do is to open our hearts, to become the gift that we have all been waiting for. How do we begin? Well again that is quite simple too. All that we have to do is look all around us, in our own families and our own communities. You don’t need to look above to find the star to follow, you just need to look around, find the need around you and invite those suffering around you into your hearts and lives. Unwrap the greatest gift you have been given, your own heart. Become a memory that may change someone’s life forever. You have that power within you. Go use it.

This will be my focus this season, I invite you to come and join with me,  in this giving of our true presence, the ultimate present. To open our hearts to those around us. To pay attention to those close at hand. To bring the heart of Christmas alive, to incarnate love in our own lives. To become one another’s Immanuel’s, to show that God is indeed with us.

It really is that simple. We can bring the spirit of the season alive once again. We can bring Christmas alive in the presence of each and every day. We can become the greatest gift that anyone could wish for.

We no longer have to wish it could be Christmas every day, we can make it Christmas every day. By simply blessing each day with our presence, by giving our whole hearts to those who really need it.

Sunday 3 December 2017

Advent: In a Dark Time the Eyes Begin to See

Twice a week I sit in shared meditation, in the dark, with friends. The silence is lit by three simple candles. One of the things I love about the time, early in the morning, is that during the weeks of November and December we begin in darkness, as the silence ends we remain in the dark and then as we share where we are personally at spiritually the sun rises and the day begins. At the end of the hour our space is fully lit by sunlit. I love this time and space as we move from darkness, to half-light, to full light. It is a gentle transition from one spiritual space into another, without physically moving.

There is another time in the week when I do something similar, only it ends very differently. There is not the same transition from darkness into light. As the time ends the lights are switched on and I find the transition from darkness to light, a little shocking. There is no in-between space as we move suddenly from darkness into bright, shocking neon light.

We are approaching the darkest time of the year as we head towards the Winter Solstice, closely followed by the coming of the light that is Christmas. Today is Advent Sunday, the day that marks the beginning of the days leading to the coming of the new light, that is Christmas.

Advent is a time for waiting, a time of preparation. A time set aside to wait for the “coming” of Love in human form symbolised in the birth of the Christ child. A promise of what love can become if we let it grow and nurture in our hearts and lives. For every new life is the gift of promise and possibility. A gift of possibility that can be reborn in each of our lives if we allow it to be.

Advent is a season of preparation and it cannot be rushed. It requires patience. We cannot wish the days away, we cannot wish the winter away. We have to wait patiently, but not passively. We have to adjust ourselves to the coming light. If it was to come all at once, it would be too much for us. Let us not wish away the darkness of winter and look forward too desperately to the future, for what is yet to come. Let us adjust to the limited light we have been given, just enough to take the next step.

We impatient people, we who live by neon light and instant gratification do not like the dark and certainly know little about patience, about waiting. If you don’t believe me just watch yourself the next time your computer freezes when you’re trying to watch a clip on YouTube. We want it all and we want it now. We also want it all in bright lights, with bells on. We certainly don’t want to have to go through the hardships to take us there.

Yes Advent is about the coming of the light, but not something sudden and dazzling, more a journey from darkness into natural light. This is the classic spiritual journey. This is the beauty of the holy month of December. I experience this powerfully in that dark silky silence of early morning, when the frosty winds make all moan. I revere this dark, cold, humbling time that leads to the coming of the light. I have noticed these last few years that if I don’t rush and push my way through this time, If I allow myself to savour it, something shifts deep within me if I allow myself to truly embrace the darkness. Somewhere between Solstice and New Year, probably on Christmas Day, some new light comes into my vision, but not suddenly. Like most good things in life, slowly it rises. It is coming. This is Advent, the coming of the new light. If we allow it to it will work its magic and something new will grow within each and every one of us.

We are afraid of the dark though aren’t we. We want to rush through these weeks and force the light, we people born in neon times. We impatient and expectant folk. The truth is though that in order for us to truly appreciate the light we must first know the dark. Brings to mind those beautiful words from Isaiah chapter 9 verse 2 “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness-on them light shines.”

Now of course the very same light shines on us all, it’s just that we don’t always notice it. We only really notice it when we are in the deep darkness. I saw a beautiful example of this during the last singing meditation I experienced. I always light a hundred candles as we sit together in the dark. The candles are meant to light what we are engaging in, to allow those present to read the words we sing around. Now usually I leave the kitchen door open which adds a little artificial light. I now realise how much this has been a mistake. Last week I didn’t and do you know what the room seemed even more illuminated. The candles burned ever more brightly in the darkened room. The light shone even more brightly on we that were singing and sharing silence in deep, deep darkness.

We need to honour the darkness in order for us to truly rejoice in the light, when the moment of magic comes.

But first we must know the dark, we must learn the patience of sitting in the dark. This brings to mind that beautiful short poem “Know the dark” by Wendell Berry

“To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.”

But we don’t want to know the dark, we want to walk in the light. Often we spiritually inclined do not want to look at the darkness, we only want the light. Who really wants to take the time to look at the darkness within ourselves and within our world? The truth is of course that if you refuse to look at the dark, to shine a little light on it, is to truly live in the dark; this is a life without joy, this is not truly living in life. We need to bear witness to all life, to hold life with a steady gaze, to live spiritually alive.

In order to live spiritually alive we need to see life in its fullness. We need to practice holding an unwavering gaze in the dark to not look away or to flush it out with neon light, one that is far too bright.

You see as Roethke said: “In a dark time, the eye begins to see.”

I am learning to surrender to a more natural light, to the dark. I am learning to allow my eyes to adjust to the whole of reality. I need to do so to truly embrace the beauty of the dark. This includes the lingering darkness within myself that leads me to still reject and to turn away from some aspects of life.

I am slowly learning to follow those words of Wendell Berry

"To go in the dark with a light is to know the light. To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight, and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings, and is travelled by dark feet and dark wings"

I am learning the lessons of the darkness and during these Advent days I will not be waiting passively for the coming of the light. Instead I will appreciate these dark days, shed some gentle light on the dark places within myself, my life and this our shared world, so that when the moment of magic comes I can become a child of the light and become a light for others. This is what we are here waiting for. To be a light to others who may be struggling in their own dark times. We can light the way. This brings to mind the following beautiful words by Mary Oliver “The Buddha’s last Instructions”

The Buddha’s Last Instruction
by Mary Oliver

“Make of yourself a light”
said the Buddha,
before he died.
I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal—a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
even green.
An old man, he lay down
between two sala trees,
and he might have said anything,
knowing it was his final hour.
The light burns upward,
it thickens and settles over the fields.
Around him, the villagers gathered
and stretched forward to listen.
Even before the sun itself
hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched everywhere
by its ocean of yellow waves.
No doubt he thought of everything
that had happened in his difficult life.
And then I feel the sun itself
as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire—
clearly I’m not needed,
yet I feel myself turning
into something of inexplicable value.
Slowly, beneath the branches,
he raised his head.
He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.

So let’s prepare ourselves for the moment of magic yet to come. Let’s nurture the love within us and prepare to give birth to it in lives. Let’s not wish these dark cold days away. There is a beautiful gift in them if we allow ourselves to fully experience them. We need to experience each and every sensation of this season. We need to not fear the dark, we need to know it and fully embrace it. And when the time comes to once again give birth to the new light.


Sunday 26 November 2017

A Drop in the Ocean

"A Drop in the Bucket"

What it says about inadequacy, futility, insignificance!
A drop in the bucket. What’s the sense? What’s the use?
We’re no longer in the center of things.
Copernicus removed the earth from the center of the solar system.
Darwin removed humans from the center of the earth.
Astronomy has removed the solar system from the center of the universe.
Well, who are we, then, and where are we?
Physiologists call us “weak, watery solutions, more or less jellified.”
Just suppose that we are the merest drops in a bucket.
There are unspoken assumptions here.
We assume that a full bucket is what we’re aiming at
and that until the bucket is full, nothing has been accomplished.
There is never a shortage of buckets.
The empty bucket litany is long and tedious:
racism, sexism, ableism, authoritarianism, oppression, injustice,
violence, environmental degradation, overpopulation.
You feel like a drop in the bucket?
Who asked you to fill the bucket - especially all alone?
Remember how many there are who share your concern.
We may feel daunted, but we are not one drop.
A sense of isolation is the parent of the drop-in-the-bucket feeling.
Sometimes one can decide the size of the bucket.
Don’t think you can do a large bucket? Try a smaller size.
Even imparting a bit of hope - a pat on the back, a financial contribution, a
few hours of volunteer service - every drop helps!
It might even be wise to remember why you need to help fill this bucket,
possibly to quench the thirst of someone hard at work on a larger one.
That buckets of whatever size are filled a drop at a time.
If you don’t help, it will take even longer.
That your drop may be one of the last ones needed.
(Why is it that our image is of the first drop in the bucket?)
Where we’d be if everybody gave up putting drops in the bucket? –
probably much worse off.
Persistence depends on patience, on keeping at it when there is little to reassure us.
It would be too bad to give up, to sit back, bemoan the sorry state of the world,
and wonder why somebody, anybody, everybody (but not me, thank you)
doesn’t do something about “it.”
After all, the Grand Canyon was fashioned by drops of water,
As ordinary as they seem.

from Out of the Ordinary, Meditations by Gordon B. McKeeman

I love to go to the sea from time to time. Sometimes I hear it calling powerfully to me. It’s a song I hear singing in my heart. I hear it with the ears of my heart. Now what it is that I love so much I am not sure. It probably has something to do with the vastness of it. Like King Canute I am humbled by the sea. I know it is a power far greater than little old me, but it is more than that, I also find it deeply connective too. While the waves move individually, the sea moves as one. The sea speaks powerfully to me about the spiritual nature of life, both personally and communally.

It seems I am not alone in this. Frederick Buechner in his beautiful meditation titled “Tears” wrote the follow about the great twentieth century theologian Paul Tillich

“Tears” by Frederick Buechner

"They say that whenever the great Protestant theologian Paul Tillich went to the beach, he would pile up a mound of sand and sit on it gazing out at the ocean with tears running down his cheeks. One wonders what there was about it that moved him so.

The beauty and the power of it? The inexpressible mystery of it? The futility of all those waves endlessly flowing in and ebbing out again? The sense that it was out of the ocean that life originally came and that when life finally ends, it is the ocean that will still remain? Who knows? . . .

Maybe it was when he looked at the ocean that he caught a glimpse of the One he was praying to. Maybe what made him weep was how vast and overwhelming it was and yet at the same time as near as the breath of it in his nostrils, as salty as his own tears."

...I think I get it...

I feel fully human when I open my senses to the sea, it humbles and connects me to life. It reminds me that I am not God.

Last weekend and at the early part of this week I felt tired and somewhat weak, I seemed to lack my usual energy. My mood wasn’t low though, my mind was still and I felt connected spiritually, but still I lacked energy. It troubled me somewhat. I began to ask myself what on earth was wrong with me. It took me the best part of week to get back to my usual self. I think it had something to do with being away with my ministry group for a few days and not exercising and eating as I normally would. These days I tend to eat a diet high in protein, fruit and vegetables and this was lacking in my diet during my time away and this impacted on me. I felt weak internally and I didn’t like it. Thankfully I was soon back into my healthier energising habits after a few days and got back to my usual self.

No one likes to feel weak, to experience a sense of powerlessness and yet to a great degree we have little control over the events that go on all around us. Like King Canute we cannot hold back the tides, we cannot control the nature of life. In fact when we try to we just end up going against the tides of life and get into an even bigger mess. Yes we are a part of life, but really just a drop in the ocean.

Now an awful lot of modern day spirituality doesn’t seem to recognise this. It suggest that actually we can do absolutely anything we want if we just believe that we can. We just need to manifest our desires and harness the energy. Now while it is true we can be held back by faulty beliefs that stop us becoming all that we were born to be, my life is absolute evidence of this. These last few years I have found myself overcoming all sorts of faulty beliefs that have held me back. That said I do know that I cannot do anything. I am not omnipotent, no one is. Even the mighty eventually fall. Hubris is perhaps the greatest danger to our own and others humanity.

The key I have found is to discover the power we each of us carry and bring that power alive lovingly for the good of all. To truly become the wave on the ocean. Remembering always that we are not the ocean, just a drop. A vital drop, but one drop all the same.

Power is often misused. Some use their power to control and manipulate others; while still others surrender their power to those who they consider more powerful than them. The daily news seems to be filled with examples of the misuse of power on a daily basis. Thankfully, eventually; life has a way of bringing even the mightiest down. Not without casualties though, how many innocents are left damaged by the misuses and abuse of power? I pay homage to those who take responsibility and speak up against such abuses of power that we witness every day.

Now misuse and abuse of power has occurred throughout history. I suspect that it stems from forms of Hubris that some are considered above or higher than others. We can see examples of supremacist ideas everywhere. Some of the worst horrors committed by humanity have been justified by such ideas. It still goes on by the way, in this land and others too.

It happens in families and communities too, where bullying occurs when individuals try and have their own way regardless of others. I know this feeling well. I grew up such an environment and thankfully it is something that has repulsed me all my life. That said I do from time to time not take full responsibility, I turn away and do not always face such behaviour. I do not use the power I have within me for the good of all, through my own fear. I’m better than I used to be, but I’ve still got a long way to go.

Life has taught me many things. Perhaps one of the greatest lessons is that people who try and laud their power over others, those who act in supremacist ways, are not as strong as they wish to appear. It is generally the weak who desperately hunger for power in order to compensate for their feelings of vulnerability and fragility. It is one way in which they can delude themselves into believing that they can somehow hold back the tide. It can be so terribly destructive. So often of course we surrender ourselves and our own power to such figures. Some bully their way there and others do it through manipulation.

The solution, I have come to believe is to find ways to access the power we all have within us, to become our own authority and to play our roll fully in the sea of life; the key I have come to believe is to become the drop in the ocean, to fully contribute to the sea of life. You see when we wake up to the power we already have within us, that same power that is at the core of all life, a loving power, a connecting power that does not seek supremacy, when we awaken to this power we become our own authority. In so doing we do not need to seek power over others, nor surrender to those who we perceive to be more powerful than we are. In so doing we become authors of our own ideas and actions and we participate fully in the ocean of life. This is essentially true leadership, because by doing we inspire others to do the same. To inspire is to awaken the spirit within another, that source of power within us all. This is true leadership, this is what the great spiritual teachers throughout human history did. This is the task of the spiritually mature.

I have come to believe that this is what is at the core of the ministry of Jesus. That he was attempting to show those of his time to seek the power within themselves, to become all that they able to be and to serve one another and life, to overcome those who ruled them in their time. When he tells the crowd on “The Sermon on the Mount” that they are the light of the world and that they must become beacons to others this seems pretty clear. The parables about the kingdom seem all about this as do other accounts such the story of him calming of the sea. Now this story sadly portrays the disciples as failing to see this, instead they seemingly marvelled at his power to calm the sea. He wanted to show them the power to overcome the fear was within them, but they instead wanted him to calm the storm for them. Faith though is not about calming the storm, it’s actually about coming through the storm together, encouraging and inspiring one another not to be afraid, to become responsible for the welfare of the community, to build the kingdom of love right here right now. Where no one has supremacy over another, that all are at one in the ocean of love.

We cannot calm the sea, we cannot hold it back. That said we can become at one with it and we need not fear it. We do not sail this ship alone. We are in this together all the way.

So how do we begin? Well first of all we need to accept that we are not the all-powerful. That like King Canute we cannot hold back the tide. Neither can we expect another to simply take all our troubles away, we must not surrender responsibility for our lives to someone we consider to be more powerful than ourselves. We then need to recognise that the same power that is at the core of life is also at the core of our being, we need to recognise that great reality deep down within each of us and to bring this to life, to become the light of the world. We need to share that in loving community with one another, to become that drop in the ocean. In so doing we know that we belong and we will no longer feel the need to laud our power over others.

How do we begin? Well I will offer an answer with this simple story that speaks of the power within us, the power to begin to create the ocean of love.

From “Invisible Acts of Power: Personal Choices that Create Miracles” by Caroline Myss

"Years ago I had a conversation with a man who told me that the most important truth he had learned was to be kind. He learned this, he recounted, during a cab ride in New York City. As he was paying the driver, he said, 'Thank you, sir.' At this, the driver leaped, ran around the back of the cab, and opened the door for his passenger. Startled, the man got out and said to the cab driver, 'You didn't have to do that,' to which the driver responded, 'I wanted to. You are the first person in this country to honor me by calling me sir, and I thank you for that respect.' The man had never before considered the power inherent in a respectful gesture, but from them on, kindness became the pillar on which he built his life and the legacy he hoped to pass on to his children. That exchange, he said, changed his life."

May we all become drops in the ocean of love. You never know you might just change someone’s life for the better.


Sunday 19 November 2017

Wholeness and completeness

In life there are many things that separate we human beings, often our beliefs and disbeliefs. Whether these be religious or anti-religious, political, social, cultural we separate ourselves through them and yet we are all human. We all love, we all long and we all grieve when we lose those we love. To quote Eugene Ionesco “Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish bring us together.” We are united by a common humanity; we are united by our shared hopes and despairs. We are each of us unique and complete as ourselves and yet we only truly know ourselves through our relationships with one another and with life. To quote Mark Nepo “It is a great paradox of being that each of us is born complete and yet we need contact with life in order to be whole. Somehow we need each other to know that completeness, though we are never finished in that journey.”

We are living in ever more dividing and divisive times. We do not see ourselves as one people. This is dangerous. Not only to ourselves but to our shared humanity. By separating ourselves we will never know wholeness, we will never truly be all that we can be. No one is an island. We need to be at one not only with ourselves, but with all of life and whatever it is we believe is at the core of all life to truly become completely ourselves, to touch perfection. Remember perfection originally meant completeness, I suspect perfect love is in a sense wholeness. This is one way to salvation by the way. To quote Forrest Church. “What I'm talking about…is salvation. The Latin root, salve, means health. The Teutonic cognates, health, hale, whole, and holy, all share the same root. Being an agnostic about the afterlife, I look for salvation here—not to be saved from life, but to be saved by life, in life, for life.

Such salvation has three dimensions: Integrity, or individual wholeness, comes when we make peace with ourselves; reconciliation, or shared wholeness, comes when we make peace with our neighbors, especially with our loved ones; redemption, in the largest sense, comes when we make peace with life and death, with being itself, with God.”

When we experience this wholeness we are as close as we will ever be to perfection, to completeness, although only for a moment as our lives go on. By becoming whole we begin to truly live our lives. Life is the greatest gift of all, the ultimate Grace. So choose life.

This brings to mind those words I so love from the Sermon on the Mount “Therefore be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect.” This is heaven on earth, this is the Kingdom of Love right here right now. This is the purpose of the spiritual life, this is the religion of love, of true communal spirituality. This is what it means to live in perfect love. Perfection is not flawlessness as we often think it is. Quite the opposite perfect love is sincere, it’s about showing our cracks, our flaws, our scars, showing who we truly are. The Latin root of perfection is “perfectus” which meant “completeness”, or wholeness, health in mind body and spirit, wholeness with self, others, life and God.

This is the purpose of spiritual community; this is the purpose of the free religious faith I am honoured to serve. This is what it means to me to be a minister of religion in the Unitarian tradition, in my view at least.

But how do we become whole, complete, perfect? How do we become at one with ourselves, one another, life, with God? Well it begins by being truly present in what we are doing; it begins by not being caught up in worry and fear, our own and others. It’s about not going into things hard, but rather by softly melting into what we are doing, by being who we are in what we are doing, by almost not focusing too hard, by looking through soft eyes. By being natural, who we are, by becoming what we are doing.

I remember when I was learning to drive. I did so late in life, when I was training for the ministry. I was never going to drive. I used to proudly proclaim it. The real reason was fear, fear of ridicule. When I was eleven years old I once had a go on a quad bike and I couldn’t handle it. I kept crashing and the man had to sit on the back of the bike and steer it for me. Everyone seemed to be laughing and I was so ashamed I vowed to myself that I would never allow that to happen again. I also remember another time when I worked in a warehouse and we were given forklift truck training. I was utterly hopeless, I just couldn’t do it. So I was never going to drive. Then when I began training for the ministry it became apparent that I had to learn in order to minister, to become who I am supposed to be. So I did.

Driving did not come naturally to me. I remember the instructor telling me that it would take time with me. I remember him saying “you are a thinker. I get some young men who just do it naturally, but you are a thinker, you analyse everything.” I did, every time I made a mistake I would spend time working out why and then I would make many more.

It took me a long time to learn and each time I had a lesson I would dread it. I got a sickly feeling in my stomach. Prayer alone did not take this away. Instead what took it away was walking and connecting and become one with life around me. Something that would come as I walked and connected to the people and geese in Platt Fields Park. It took my mind off my mind and helped me become more at one with what I was doing.

That said it didn’t help on the day I took my second test. I had failed the first time and the second time I was more nervous. I had to pass, my ministry was starting in two weeks time. I was putting intense pressure on myself. My left knee was shaking and it affected me. I made a minor error immediately. The examiner must have been in a good mood as he asked me to stop. He then said when ready I was to pull off. I checked properly and saw a car pulling out behind me, so I stopped and prepared. The car though pulled up next to me. I looked across and saw a car full of pensioners. One was waving at me to wind my window down. I looked at the instructor and he said to me “Tell them you are on your driving test and that you can’t talk”. I wound down my window, but before I could speak the woman said “Can you tell me the way to Manchester Royal Infirmary please?” I looked at the examiner and he repeated Tell them you are on your driving test and that you can’t talk.” I did to which the woman repeated “Can you tell me the way to Manchester Royal Infirmary please.” I again looked at the examiner, who repeated. It went on and the next time he remained silent, they weren’t going. So I paused, worked out where I was and gave them directions. They then drove off and when it was safe I drove off and completed my test and passed. My mind was no longer on my mind I was at one with the clutch and the wheel, the car and the task at hand. I was not at war with anything, I was at one, I was complete. By getting out of my mind I was better able to become what I was doing and to do so successfully.

Learning how to drive was the hardest part of my ministry training and yet it taught me more about how to live, serve and be. How to be whole and complete more than anything else I did in my time at college.

This brings to mind the following beautiful poem by Hafiz

“Each Soul Completes Me”

Beloved said,

"My name is not complete without

I thought:
How could a human's worth ever be such?

And God knowing all our thoughts — and all our
thoughts are innocent steps on the path —
then addressed my

God revealed
a sublime truth to the world,
when He

"I am made whole by your life. Each soul,
each soul completes

We are never truly whole, complete, unless we are at one with ourselves, one another, life and whatever it is that we believe is the power that permeates all life. We can never truly become ourselves alone. This is why true community is so vital to the spiritual life. We need right relationship to become wholly who we are. To me this is the purpose of the free spiritual communities I serve. Yes it’s about becoming who we truly are, but this cannot be done in isolation. This is the purpose of free religion. It allows the birth of the true spirit in each of us, but no one can completely give birth to themself, by them self. To repeat those words of Mark Nepo: “It is a great paradox of being that each of us is born complete and yet we need contact with life in order to be whole. Somehow we need each other to know that completeness, though we are never finished in that journey.”

There is no end to any of this...We live in the thresholds of life...Becoming whole is just the beginning of the true journey...To where? Well God only knows...I certainly don't...

Sunday 29 October 2017

Restraint of Pen, tongue, fingers and thumb

"There is a Hasidic story about a town gossip. This fellow thoughtlessly told and retold stories about others that brought them shame. The town's rabbi met with the man and confronted him with his words. The man was stunned. He had no idea he was spreading such hurt. He broke into tears and begged the rabbi for help. 'There must be something I can do to atone for the wickedness I have done.'

"The rabbi instructed the man to take four pillows out into a field. Once there he was to slice open each pillow with a knife and shake its feathers into the wind. The man thanked the rabbi and rushed off to do as he was told. He purchased four fine feather pillows and cut them open in the field, watching as the feathers scattered in every direction.

"He returned to the rabbi to let him know he had completed his penance. 'Not quite,' said the rabbi. 'Now go back to the field and retrieve the feathers.'

“'But that is impossible,' said the man. 'The winds have taken them everywhere.'

" 'It is the same with your words,' the rabbi said gravely. 'Just as you cannot retrieve the feathers once spilled, so you cannot withdraw words once spoken. No matter how sincerely you desire to undo what you have done, the harm caused by thoughtless speech cannot be rectified.' "

To Practice: Monitor your words so that they do not set in motion harmful things. And when they do, ask for forgiveness.

From “Minyan: Ten Principles for Living a Life of Integrity” by Rami Shapiro

I wonder how many times I’ve said the wrong thing and lived to regret it? Sometimes immediately and sometimes later as I have realised that what I have said was wrong or perhaps worse hurtful?

There is a wonderful phrase in recovery circles, I recently saw reference to it on the cover of a magazine at a friend’s house. The phrase is “Restraint of tongue and pen”. It comes from an essay on the 10th step of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. The 10th step reads “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.” Here is the extract that includes the phrase:

“Nothing pays off like restraint of tongue and pen. We must avoid quick-tempered criticism and furious, power-driven arguments. The same goes for sulking or silent scorn. These are emotional booby traps baited with pride and vengefulness. Our first job is to sidestep the traps. When we are tempted by the bait, we should train ourselves to step back and think. For we can neither think nor act to good purpose until the habit of self-restraint has become automatic. -pg. 91, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions

These days when I say or do the wrong thing I tend to admit it quickly and try to put right what is wrong. That said sometimes it is still too late, the damage is done and some people just won’t forgive, my all too human frailties. As the Rabbi taught in the earlier story:

" 'It is the same with your words,' the rabbi said gravely. 'Just as you cannot retrieve the feathers once spilled, so you cannot withdraw words once spoken. No matter how sincerely you desire to undo what you have done, the harm caused by thoughtless speech cannot be rectified.' "

Mostly I practise restraint of pen, tongue, fingers and thumb these days, fingers and thumb refers to comments on social media. I don’t always get it right though. Sometimes I fail to pause and respond from self-centred fear. When I do there is usually a price to pay.

That said when I am wrong I do admit and usually promptly these days. This, I have come to believe, is a sign of spiritual maturity. The spiritual immature cannot admit fault, they cannot appear weak, and they cannot lose face. We see examples of this constantly. I suspect that most of us have witnessed this several time in recent months, particularly the last week or so and from the most powerful man on the planet, who would rather bully and harass than admit that he may just well have made a human error. Apparently apology is a sign of weakness. Nonesense. Apology is a sign of strength and faith in life itself.

I know well the damage that such behaviour can bring as I was brought up by such a man. These days I just smile at such memories but I do remember well the pain of fearing to disagree especially if I came across as clever or insolent.

We live in a world where we are constantly bombarded by all kinds of opinion, from many sources of media. It comes at us from all directions. Not just the radio, television and press, but many forms of social media too. That said not only are we bombarded by news outlets but also a million and one opinions, often formed from that fear based reptilian mind that we all possess.

Just think about how we take in and respond to the constant bombardment of news, always bad news stirring up fear and separation, from all sides. Now in days gone by most people would just shout at the television or radio, nowadays though people respond through social media and often the responses are not thought out at all, they can be quite viscious. Yes it’s not just restraint of pen and tongue we need these days, its more restraint of fingers and thumb. Once said those feathers are spread all over the world.

This is why it is so important to pause in life, to take stock and to sit in silence. This is not easy in a world that demands our attention and instant response, in a world that is terrified of silence. Yet silence is so vital, it is said it is golden, it is also true humility. It is ok to have nothing to say, to just bear witness to life, whatever is happening. There are at least five occasions in my immensely busy week where I humble myself in silence with other people and many occasions when I pause and humble myself in silence when I am all alone. I pause in silence many times each day.

The problem is that so many of us are talking and not enough of us are listening. It is another sign of our modern hubris, our view that we are all knowing and all powerful, when the truth is we are finite human beings, with our all too human failings, whatever happened to true humility…The recognition of our human finiteness.

Silence though frightens us. How often in life do we have to fill the space we are in with noise, even if it just senseless babble? I remember as a young man how much I treasured the sanctuary of silence I would love to wander off alone in my own silent protective bubble, this though faded as I entered into adulthood. By the time I was in my late twenties I could not even sleep without the radio on. These days silence and space is once again a dear treasure.

Before breaking silence, before filling it with noise, with our words, we really ought to check ourselves, so as not to cast those feathers. But how do we do this? Well there is a test that has been around for a long time. It is referred to as the “Three Fold Test” for right speech. According to this test there are three things that we ought to ask ourselves before speaking:

Is it kind?

Is it true?

Is it necessary?

Apparently It dates back to 1835 and a poem by Beth Day, titled “Three Gates of Gold”.

"Three Gates of Gold" by Beth Day

If you are tempted to reveal
A tale to you someone has told
About another, make it pass,
Before you speak, three gates of gold;
These narrow gates. First, “Is it true?”
Then, “Is it needful?” In your mind
Give truthful answer. And the next
Is last and narrowest, “Is it kind?”
And if to reach your lips at last
It passes through these gateways three,
Then you may tell the tale, nor fear
What the result of speech may be.

Now no doubt this poem was influenced by an old Sufi tradition which suggests that we should only speak after our words have managed to pass through four gates.

At the first gate we should ask ourselves “Are these words true?” If so then we let them pass through; if not, then back they must go. At the second gate we ask; “Are these words necessary?” At the third we ask; “Are these words beneficial?” At the fourth gate we ask, “Are they kind?” If we answer no to any of these questions, then what we are about to say ought to be left unsaid.

Luminaries from Sai Baba to Eleanor Roosevelt have offered variations on the same theme over the years “Is it kind, is it true, is it necessary”. There is also the “Triple Filter Test”, usually attributed to Socrates which asked if it is “true, good or useful.”

Right speech seems so be central to all traditions. I suspect that this is because of our own too human capacity to put our foot in in...

Right Speech is central to both Christian and Buddhist morality.

“Samma Vaca” is the third aspect of “The Noble Eightfold Path”, in Buddhism. It is basically abstinence from gossip, slander, lying, maliciousness and hate speech. So to speak wisely or rightly is to do so truthfully with kindness, purpose and meaning.

There are many passage in both the Old and New Testament that refer to “Right Speech. Many preachers in the Christian tradition will offer the following words from Psalm 19 before preaching a sermon “Let the words of my mouth and meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O God." In the New Testament the book of James makes reference to how a person should use their mouth “With it we bless God, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.”

The Sufi, Christian and Buddhist traditions as well as other ancient and contemporary ones are saying similar things about how we ought to conduct ourselves with our brothers and sisters. They are saying how damaging wrong speech can be to both our neighbours and ourselves, you sense the essence of the “Golden Rule of Compassion” running through them all in they way that they teach about right speech.

How we communicate is so important. We may not have control over what goes on in the world all around us, but how we act towards others really matters. We need to be mindful in how we speak because what we say and do and what we do not say and do not do has an impact on all around us. As the old saying goes, if you haven’t got anything good to say then its best to probably keep your mouth shut.

It is ok to have nothing to say. It’s ok to not have answer to the question of others. It might not be your question, it might be there’s. Give up on other people’s questions, ask your own.

Words have the power to cause the utmost damage. That said they also have the power to heal. A word rightly spoken can also heal deep wounds, reconcile former enemies and save countless souls. It is amazing how a few words of kindness can lead to a tidal wave of love, another example of that chaos theory of compassion.

The key is to give words their proper respect. They say a person ought to be judged by their deeds and not their words, but I see words as deeds myself. The action of our tongues can have a much bigger impact than those of our hands, unless of course it is our hands with which we are speaking.

I jnow I need to keep on practising restraint of pen, tongue, fingers and thumb.

When we are about to speak we need to ask ourselves.

Is it kind?

Is it true?

Is it necessary?

If what we are about to say fails this test, then it probably best to remain silent. That said, if we do speak and say the wrong thing then the mature thing to do would be to apologise immediately. Apology is not a sign of weakness it is a sign of strength and spiritual maturity.

So may what we say be kind, true, and necessary. And when we are not, lets us be humble enough to recognise this and make amends quickly. In so doing we may just be able to catch one or two of those feathers.

“Patience and Silence” by Charles A Gaines

How quiet it is when we have the patience to be silent
How much we can learn in moments like these.
We can learn to have patience with ourselves,
to better understand and like who and what
we are.
We can learn to have patience with others,
to better listen to what they say and how they
We can learn to have patience with life,
to better work with it, rather than against it.
How much do we need silence:
Silence for truth so that we may learn wisdom.
Silence for wisdom so that we may love,
Silence for love so that we may be just,
Silence for justice so that we may live fully.
May we be more patient and more silent,
so that we may proceed with courage and

Sunday 22 October 2017

Oz or Some Other Place

One of my favourite places on earth is Crosby Beach. What I love are those 100 identical sculpture’s that go by the title “Another place”. There they stand staring out to sea, perhaps looking for another place, any place but here. These naked, lonely scarecrows staring out into the great big nothing, dreaming of another place. Have you ever felt like that? I have. I have stood there staring out to sea so many times dreaming of something other than the life I was living.

There was a pinky orange glow to everything, not just the sky, on Monday morning. I heard people describing it in many different ways, one friend called it a “Vanilla Sky”, a mystical, mysterious sky, pointing to some kind of otherness. Some folk didn’t like it, I know it disturbed them, change can do that to people. The strange sky somehow tapped into the fear of the unknown that is inside each of us.

Now don’t they say “Red sky at night, shepherds delight, red sky in the morning seaman’s warning?/ I suspect that the mysterious sky was a fore warning of Hurricane Ophelia that was coming in from the Atlantic. There have been some terrible destruction caused by such winds on the other side of the Atlantic this year, there was in Ireland on Monday. Are there more storms these days than in the past? There may well be. Or is it that we just hear more about them these days? Is the news of the destructive winds merely a symptom of the fear based global news state that we currently live in? I suspect it is not an either or question, but that both are true.

On Monday as I took in the strange tint of the atmosphere I too dreamt of another place, I too became like one of those Gormley statues. I dreamt of another place, but not for long as I soon entered into the day, I felt at home in my own body and at home in the ground I found myself. As I walked through the streets of Altrincham that morning I realised I was not like those cold lifeless statues; I realised I was not a brainless scarecrow, or a heartless woodman or even a cowardly lion. As I walked through the streets words began to filter into my mind of someone else who dreamed of another place, but who too learnt to find that their treasure was found at home and not some technicolour dreamland.

Someday I'll wish upon a star
Wake up where the clouds are far behind me
Where trouble melts like lemon drops
High above the chimney top
That's where you'll find me

Oh, somewhere over the rainbow bluebirds fly
And the dream that you dare to,
Oh why, oh why can't I?

Dangerous words those sung by Dorothy in the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz”, for did they not bring the Tornado. In fact the sky that Monday morning reminded me somewhat of her Kansas sky. Dorothy dreamed of another place somewhere over the rainbow, a place away from dull, grey, flat Kansas. Is there another place that we dream about, that we Hope for, a Heaven, a Nirvana. Who knows, I don’t. Either way I do not believe that we are meant to live our lives dreaming of another place, a place beyond this life. Our task, I have come to believe is to create heaven here and it begins within each and everyone of us. I much prefer to follow that simple message in the  “Sermon on the Mount” and become the light of the world. To create the Kingdom here and now.

We bring heaven alive through our loving living or we create Hell by fearing one another, fearing life, turning away and dreaming of some other place, somewhere over the rainbow, somewhere beyond this life.

That said it is so human to dream of some other place, way over there, somewhere over the rainbow, like those Gormly statues. Sometimes to appreciate what we have, what is our heaven, we have to go away or even almost lose what we have. The Holocaust survivor Eli Weisel said of gratitude, that it was a gift of the night. It was not something that came from the good things we have in life, instead it comes almost as a sense of relief as we step outside of a living hell. Finally by almost losing everything, certainly what is dearest to our hearts, we learn to want what we have.

Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz" is a wonderful example of learning to want what you have, to find the realm of love within, where ever you are. Her journey is an archetype of the spiritual quest; her journey symbolises a movement towards self-actualisation, whole-ness, atonement, at-one-ment, holiness; her journey symbolises what it means to return, to remember, to become who you are; her journey symbolises re-birth. It is important to realise that the word conversion comes from the Latin “Convertere” which meant to turn, or to return, that is what re-birth means, something that can happen a thousand times or none at all in a person’s life. Re-birth is of course never the end, it’s a new beginning.

All the great stories, especially the journeys of the heroes within them, share much in common. Dorothy is an archetype of what Joseph Campbell called the “Hero’s Journey”, just like Jesus, the Buddha, Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Hercules, Arthur, Jack and the Beanstalk and countless others throughout human history.

Dorothy shares many similarities with Jesus in the Gospel accounts. Both had questionable parentage; began life as very ordinary people; had to escape danger when very young; travelled a path that was laid out for them with an end that could not be avoided; battled many forms of evil and power; found imperfect companions who joined them on the way and who fled when trouble hit; travelled through wilderness; found a hidden power deep within that helped them transcend their experiences; eventually returned home leaving behind those same companions; finally they both took a stand for what is right and just, they stood against power. You will see similar characteristics in all the heroes of human mythos.

That said I suspect the characteristic that stands out about Dorothy, more than any other, is her desire to return home, how she learnt that this is where she belonged, that this was her hearts desire, rather than her dreams of some distant Nirvana, or Heaven or Oz. I suspect she is not alone. You see the true spiritual quest is to uncover the beauty where we find ourselves and to bring the love deep within alive in our lives. I believe that the spiritual journey is about learning to be at home, to create heaven here on earth, to bring the love alive in our lives, Dorothy says towards the end of the film that she was looking for her heart’s desire. Isn’t that what we are all looking for, our hearts desires? Isn’t this the spiritual journey, what Joseph Campbell called “Following Your Bliss”

Most folk begin their spiritual quest just like Dorothy did hoping, longing, desiring something more, but her desire like so much desire is aimless, a road to nowhere. So Glenda (The Good Witch) suggests that the best place to start is at the beginning, or what David Whyte describes as “Close in, with the first step”. Dorothy’s journey begins with the yellow brick road. This is the road that leads us home.

No path is ever straight. Dorothy on her journey met all kinds of people, each representing aspects of both the inner and outer life. The most obvious are the three that travel with Dorothy: the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion. These three were seeking brains, a heart and courage. Now don’t we all need our brains, our hearts, and to keep our nerves on our journeys? For after all isn’t it true that to live spiritually alive is to feel with all our heart, to use our minds thoughtfully and to act courageously. The spiritual life is about using our minds compassionately so that we can give our whole selves to life, in love and service for all.

The three main characters who join with Dorothy believe that they are lacking something, this is why they join her on her journey. Remember also that Dorothy misses home, something she rejected. She left home in the first place because she felt that something was missing. She ran away following some aimless desire. Now she’s in Oz though she has found an aim, to get home. In order to do so she has to find the wizard. Now don’t we all fall for the fools gold of finding a wizard or some other shinning thing that will fix our problem? Don’t we all look for answers outside of ourselves? Don’t we all miss the treasure deep within?

The four companions do eventually find the Wizard, as they arrive at the Emerald City. They ask the Wizard to give to them what they believe they lack. This he promises to do if they would kill the "Wicked Witch" and bring to him her broomstick, a task which he believes is beyond them. But of course they succeed and return to the Emerald City expecting their reward.

Despite doing all that was asked of them, the Wizard disappoints them. During a frantic scene Toto pulls back the curtain revealing the truth about the Wizard. It had all been a case of smoke and mirrors he is an ordinary man, with no magic powers. Dorothy tells him that he is a very bad man. To which he replies "Oh, no, my dear; I'm really a very good man, but I'm a very bad Wizard, I must admit."

A disappointing end it would seem, there was nothing there at the end of the rainbow. But is this true? Let’s look a little more closely.

The scarecrow did indeed find his wonderful brains; the tin man did indeed find his lovely heart; the lion no longer lived as a coward. And in the end Dorothy did find her way back to Kansas as she clicked her ruby slippers and recounted the chant...“there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.” She got her heart’s desire, she discovered her bliss.

Surely this is the lesson from this beautiful tale. Wherever we journey, however we get there and whatever it leads to in the end the real purpose is to uncover that pot of gold that we already have within each and every one of us. Hopefully by uncovering our own pots of gold we will help others to do likewise.

Surely this is the purpose of free religious communities. To help one another uncover our pots of gold and to let them shine.

Surely this is the purpose of the spiritual life, to learn to be at home wherever we find ourselves and to help others to do the same.

You see the truth is that Kingdom of God is already here, we just need to let it shine out of us; we just need to learn to become the light of the world; we just need to learn to follow our bliss.

So let’s stop dreaming of some other place, let’s learn instead to be at home, here now, lets learn to let out our heart’s desires and become the light of the world, the ones that we have all been waiting for.