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...