Sunday 25 February 2018

Shyness and Invitation

The Smith’s famously sang “Shyness is nice, and Shyness can stop you from doing all the things in life You'd like to… Coyness is nice, and Coyness can stop you from saying all the things in life you'd like to. So, if there's something you'd like to try. If there's something you'd like to try. Ask me, I won't say no, how could I?”

Rather cute lyrics, to a lovely and funny song.

...I love the people who are courageous enough to ask me...

I’m not so sure it’s so nice though, shyness can be excruciating debilitating at times. It has affected my life negatively over the years. How many times has shyness stopped me accepting the invitation of life, too many.

Some folk might find this hard to believe, but I can be quite shy. It takes me time to feel comfortable enough to be myself in new environments. There is a shyness about me. I’m better than I used to be. I'm sure folks who see me in my work find this hard to believe, but it is true all the same. It takes me time to feel comfortable in my own being, in new company and new situations. Thank God though that these days it rarely leads me to turn down the invitation.

There have been times when I have hidden myself from view, literally hidden my face, afraid to pop my head above the parapet for fear of being shot down. My mother knew this and saw how different I was to my siblings on my first day at school. She walked us all to school on the first day, but I reacted differently to my siblings who just joined the other children. I did not, I walked through the gates of Birstall County Primary School, swallowed hard and sat down in the corner utterly overwhelmed and bewildered by it all. I did in time adjust and found a level of comfort in the crowd, but it took time. It has been the same throughout my life. I do eventually become a part of the whole, but it takes time.

I don’t think I’m alone in these feelings, in fact I know I’m not. We all experience shyness in some form or another, especially when invited and take the first steps into something new, particularly if is something that might be wonderful, but will definitely make them feel vulnerable. By the way we are always vulnerable, that is the nature of life.

Think about how you felt the first time you walked into a new community you bacame a part of. It takes time to feel you belong and can be wholly yourself. I know it does for me.

Shyness is a beautiful thing, so long as it doesn’t stop us doing those things our hearts desire. It’s ok to feel the trembling excitement of shyness, but it can become unhealthy if it enslaves us.

David Whyte writes that “Shyness is the sense of a great unknown, suddenly about to be known. It is the exquisite and vulnerable frontier between what we think is possible and what we think we deserve”.

This is an exciting feeling actually. Yes there is fear there, but a kind of anticipated joy too. It is not in and of itself a negative feeling.

To me these feelings are the essence of the spiritual journey, which is not a safety first way of living and breathing by the way. No it compels us to deal with powerful feelings and discover new ways of being in the world. This can feel quite daunting at times, but should not cause shame. It is natural, healthy and necessary actually. To brashly step into anything without any shyness can lead to problems not only for ourselves but others too. These uncomfortable feelings are needed as we explore the great new mysteries life is offering us. This is the invitational nature of life. That said we are not alone in these feelings, no matter how alone we might feel, and this is why it is vital to be a part of a community that journeys on through these adventures, inviting us onto the great unknown that is our lives.

There is a place for shyness when it comes to spiritual growth. Carl Gustav Jung claimed that folks tend to be either introverted or extroverted. Now whether a person had an introverted or an extroverted personality depended on whether the individual increases in energy from being with others and is therefore an extrovert; conversely an individual who recharges his or her spiritual and emotional energy from being alone and recharging through solitary activities such as reading, prayer and or meditation tends to be introverted. I think ministers and those who serve tend to be introverts by nature. Yes we get meaning from giving to others, it is our purpose in life, but it’s not necessarily where we get our energy and connection with the divine from. Yes we have our peacock moments when we are listened to, but the solace and energy tends to come in those alone times.

Many of the great sages were introverted in nature and often highly sensitive individuals who needed time alone in prayer and meditation. Think of Jesus going off alone to pray, or the Buddha, Mohamad, Gandhi.

Now while they were introverted in some ways this did not stop them accepting their invitations by turning down their calls. The spiritual life is all about invitation. It’s about stepping out of ourselves, no matter how shy and or introverted, to serve our world and to fully become a part of the whole.

I was recently asked, by one of the folk I serve, why I don’t often talk about my understanding of God. I remember saying at the time that it was primarily about humility, how can anyone really speak adequately about the Divine. A bit of an evasive answer if truth be told.

So what do I think of when I speak of God? Well the truth is I see God as invitation really, that God offers itself to us, invites us to walk with. I cannot accept that God has pre-ordained everything that occurs in life and controls our every interaction. I do though believe in the Lure of Divine Love, that God invites us into life and love. An invitation I sometimes turn away from, although less so these days. I do not believe events are laid out before myself or others and yet I do experience synchronicity when I am truly in tune with life around me and spirit within me. Some days if feels like the whole of life is communicating with me, compelling me to follow. At such times it feels impossible to refuse such invitations. This year it has been immensely powerful and as it has been impossible to ignore the invitation, there really was no choice. It has been so powerful at times that it has felt like I have been directed. I’m not sure I truly believe this. That said my belief either way is irrelevant as to whether it is factually correct or not. Whether I believe something or not doesn’t make it true or not. I think it is important that we all remember that. I have felt powerfully directed at times and I have never known the presence of God more intensly.

The core of the spiritual life for me is invitation and I have discovered that the way to truly live this life is to became an invitation myself. It has mostly allowed me to transcend my own shyness and given me life deep and rich in meaning. It’s amazing what we can invite into our lives and encourage others to do the same. Do you know what, the invitation is often written all over our faces.

Our faces reveal who we are you know. In many ways our faces shape who we are and can actually shape our futures by what we invite into our lives through it; David Whyte in “The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship” states that:

“We do not often admit how much the shape of our face can be an invitation to others or a warning to keep away. Our face influences our future by what it invites or disinvites. The way we face the future actually creates our future as much as individual actions along the way.”

He illustrates what he means by telling the story of two guests at a party that he hosted at his home. He stood at his door with his eight year old daughter welcoming guests. He described his daughter as being very shy with strangers and of hiding behind his legs and just waving a hand at the guests as they arrived. This apparently all changed as one guest Satish Kumar, a former Jain monk arrived, a man who had achieved great things through his presence and openness and welcome. Whyte writes that:

“At sixty, his face was so full of life and happiness and welcome and happiness that my daughter ran out spontaneously from behind my legs and held her hands out toward him. I was taken aback by the sudden courage of my hitherto reluctant daughter, but I could see what she was running toward. Satish’s face was an invitation to happiness itself. Seeing him always makes me want to practice the set of my own face as a kind of daily discipline. I only have to see him and I want to be as naturally happy and appreciative as he is, and more importantly he makes me want to show it.”

Whyte then describes another face that was the polar opposite of Satish’s that sent his daughter scurrying once again behind his legs. Whyte writes:

“A man whose face seemed to carry not only past disappointments, but also a sense that it was only a matter of time before it was disappointed again. This man’s face seemed almost hungry for circumstances to betray him.”

Whyte writes that as he observed these two faces together, all night long he could see with absolute clarity that these two faces had radically different futures in store for them. It mattered not what they did or would do, or what would happen to them. He could see it in what they invited or disinvited into their lives. One was open and welcome, while the other was closed off and disappointed. He could see it, because it was written all over their faces.

Our faces say it all...

Yes shyness is nice, there is a cuteness to it, especially in the young. There is a healthy place for it too as we step over the threshold into something new. That said if it leads us to refusing the invitations of our lives, it is not helpful at all.

So I offer you the invitation to openness, an invitation that begins to be expressed through our all too human faces. May we become the invitation that encourages others to overcome their shyness and step over the threshold and join in the courageous conversation that is the spiritual life.

Sunday 18 February 2018

Desire is the point of everything

I was recently listening to young woman broken by grief at the loss of a dear friend, someone she described as a second mother. She was grieving the very real physical loss of someone who had affected her life deeply, how she longed to spend just a little more time with her. It truly was her heart’s desire. This is the power of love and loss, the power of grief. No matter what we might believe spiritually, we miss the persons flesh and bone and being. We are physical beings after all. As she shared she spoke about her own spiritual beliefs. She spoke of something I hear a lot of these days, a kind of modern take on spirituality. Something you often hear from folk who claim to be spiritual but not religious. She said that she couldn’t understand why she was finding the loss so hard as she knew that we are spiritual beings merely having physical experiences and that what really mattered was spirit. I remember thinking to myself, ouch. I think so many of our troubles stem from rejection of our physical being, that somehow this is less than spirit. I often witness the opposite trouble by the way, that which sees us merely as physical beings, “lumbering robots” to quote Richard Dawkins, a view which sees no spirit animating our physical being. Both views are problematic to me and in some ways deny what it truly means to be human. For me our lives are animated flesh, brought to life by the one loving spirit. When we lose that which we love, a part of our body and our spirit breaks with this loss. I have thought this for many years now as I have experienced love and loss, as we all do as I have grieved, as we all do. The last 12 months have revealed this ever more strongly as I have had the privilege of sharing with others in “The Colours of Grief: Our Shared Experience of Love and Loss”. I know that love lives on, it is eternal, but when we lose someone we love dearly we grieve the loss of their physical being, how we long to see them, to hear them, to touch them once again. We should never decry this very real experience. We are animated flesh, we are the spirit expressing itself in lived reality. We all love, we all long and we all desire.

They say it's not about the destination, but the journey itself, that is the gift, the blessing of our lives. It is called the beautiful journey, the ultimate gift of life. Now while I accept this as truth, I do not see it as the whole truth. You see it’s not just about our individual journeys, our singular adventures, but who we journey with. We do not sail the ship alone. Some are with us and stay until the end, some are there at the beginning, but leave along the way; some join us for a short while and then they are gone and many others journey on where we are long gone. So yes it's about the journey but it's more than that, it’s about who we journey with. We do not sail this ship alone. To me this is what it means to truly live religiously, to live our spiritual lives with others. And each time we lose one, we journey with, our heart breaks and we grieve their loss. For each matters.

By the way we don’t go anywhere. Life truly is Groundhog Day, we journey round in circles and eventually return home with treasure. You see the journey is truly about learning to be at home where you find yourself, being grounded in our truly human beings. As Wendell Berry wrote:

“A Spiritual Journey” by Wendell Berry

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

This is why we desire. We desire to journey, to commune to become a part of and to belong, to be at home in the ground of our being. Desire is a vital aspect of our humanity that sometimes the spiritual inclined do not wish to speak of. Or the scientifically inclined try to reduce or some try to buy and sell, treat as a mere commodity.

As Eduardo Galeano observes in “Walking Words”

“The Church says: The body is a sin.
Science says: The body is a machine.
Advertising says: The body is a business
The body says: I am a fiesta”

We are living breathing beings, animated and in my belief infused by spirit. What we experience right here right now is not merely a physical experience, it is the spirit manifest, alive. Yet we want to deny this, to reduce its meaning, to deny the sacredness of our all too human being.

So often desire is decried and yet desire is the point of everything. I have discovered that it is desire that animates our all too human being, perhaps it is desire that is that spark of the divine in our human being, in our flesh and yet so often it is the thing we fear the most because it cannot be controlled, it is an ungovernable beast that overcomes our rational and reasoning minds, its meant too. We are not just machines, lumbering robots. We are the body electrified, enthused with joy, wondering and suffering too.

I have come to believe that our bodily desire comes from that spirit within us. This longing and yearning for communion, for connection, for completion, for fulfilment and wholeness flows from our essence. It is heard in our first cry when we are born, the cry of the newborn to be held and loved. It is found in the yearning of young lovers to experience one another as one. It is found in the urge to adventure, to discover new lands, new scientific understanding and all creative expression. It is that longing to be loved and cared for, that creates family and community and it is this that cries out when we lose something or someone we love, when we grieve. It is desire that urges us to connect with a larger reality, to that which is greater than our singular selves. It is that power that is greater than all and yet present in each. Perhaps desire is that aspect of the Divine in our humanity.

I see clearly that desire is a deep longing that comes from our souls, the essence of our human being. Sadly it would seem that the spiritual traditions have not always recognised this. In fact many of the traditions, or at least how they have been understood have suggested that our desires need to be curbed and or controlled, that we should be ashamed of them.

Desire is often associated with greed, lust and egoism. Desire is often considered dangerous to the individual and society. It comes from this idea that fundamentality there is something deeply wrong with our human nature. The idea that we are fallen creatures. The idea it appears is that to receive enlightenment and or transformation that desire must be transcended. This saddens me, as I have found that it is through my real human experiences that the spirit comes alive, love expressed through our human lives and it is our task to bring that alive through our human lives. To me this is what the gospels teach in their essence as do other traditions in their essence too. As Diarmuid O'Murchu observed in “The Transformation of Desire: How Desire Became Corrupted and How We Can Reclaim It”

"In this analysis religion breaks loose from the chain of life. It becomes an instrument of death and destruction. It undermines that which is central to all spiritual growth and development. The desires of the heart are precisely those that keep us rooted in mystery, forever reminding us that the Spirit lures us forth into the transformative power of the new. This is precisely what is happening in every one of the parable stories in the Gospels, the seminal narratives offered by Jesus to break open the meaning of the Kingdom of God.

"Jesus took desire seriously, and wishes all Christians to do the same. We engage desire, not primarily by adopting a moralistic and legal coding, but by working co-operatively for the right relationships that facilitate liberation and growth at every level of life. Striving to get relationships right is the heart and soul of the New Reign of God. And it is not merely human relationships, but right relating at every level from the cosmos to the bacterial realm. Creation is forever held in the embrace of a relational matrix, and from that foundational source all relationships find their true place and purpose."

...The Lure of Divine Love keeps on calling me, thankfully I rarely refuse the call these days...

Desire comes from our essence, our soul, our being. It is desire that leads us to connect to be more than our singular selves. It is from desire that we respond to the suffering of others. It brings us to life and makes us feel alive. We are born to live alive and then to let go of life when our time comes.

Desire is the vitality of life, it is our longing for completeness, it’s what brings us together and forms community, family, friendship and human love. We are not spiritual beings merely having a physical experience, our physical experience is the spirit dancing in life. This desire, this human yearning, is how the spirit is known. I’m with the Sufi’s who saw yearning as God’s desire to be known. We ordinary humans are the spirit incarnated in life. Actually I suspect that all life is an expression of the Divine love. Desire is the point of everything.

Do not be afraid to express your desire it is the spirit come alive. Through our desire we become all that we born to be…Fully alive…

I’m going to end this "blogspot"  with the following poem by Rene Daumal, “I am Dead Because I lack Desire”

"I Am Dead Because I Lack Desire" by Rene Daumal

"I am dead because I lack desire;
I lack desire because I think I possess;
I think I possess because I do not try to give.
In trying to give, you see that you have nothing;
Seeing you have nothing, you try to give of yourself;
Trying to give of yourself, you see that you are
Seeing you are nothing, you desire to become;
In desiring to become, you begin to live.”

Let us desire to become, let us begin to live

Saturday 10 February 2018

Let Beauty Awake

“A Modest Love” by Sir Edward Dyer

The lowest trees have tops, the ant her gall,
The fly her spleen, the little sparks their heat;
The slender hairs cast shadows, though but small,
And bees have stings, although they be not great;
Seas have their source, and so have shallow springs;
And love is love, in beggars as in kings.

Where rivers smoothest run, deep are the fords;
The dial stirs, yet none perceives it move;
The firmest faith is in the fewest words;
The turtles cannot sing, and yet they love:
True hearts have eyes and ears, no tongues to speak;
They hear and see, and sigh, and then they break.

I suspect that this poem by sir Edward Dyer maybe one of the most beautiful in the English language. He must have known and recognised the beauty present in life. He must have been touched deeply by life, to recognise the beauty of the most humblest aspects of life. To be touched by beauty is to be fully alive. This is how love feels...

The great American poet Walt Whitman also recognised beauty in the ordinary, particularly the people in whose company he found himself. I feel it too when I am awake and alive to life. I have felt it intensly and powerfully all of this year. Time has felt very thick these last few weeks. I have been around much suffering and pain, but also deep, deep love and joy. I have felt alive and touched deeply by the beauty of life.

I have felt closer to the people around me than I have ever done before. To quote Whitman, from

“The Body Electric”:

“I have perceiv’d that to be with those I like is enough,
To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough,
To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing,
Laughing flesh is enough,
To pass among them or touch any one, or rest my arm
Ever so lightly around his or her neck for a moment
What is this
I do not ask any more delight, I swim in it as in a sea.”

To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing, Laughing flesh is certainly enough to awaken me to life, to bring me alive, to truly animate my being, to awaken the soul of me. Such beauty makes one feel alive and thus to feel a part of life and act in life in ever more loving and open ways and thus pour out my own love on the world in which I live and breathe and move and have my being.

Matthew Fox claims that “The universe is in the habit of making beauty. There are flowers and songs, snowflakes and smiles, acts of great courage, laughter between friends, a job well done, the smell of fresh baked bread. Beauty is everywhere”

J. Ruth Gendler once claimed "Beauty doesn't mind questions and she is fond of riddles. Beauty will dance with anyone who is brave enough to ask her.” She later described beauty as being like water “ordinary and essential, as well as extraordinary and magnificent. That it takes many forms and permeates our whole environment.

She writes:

"Writing about beauty feels like drinking water out of the cup of my hand from a clear spring. As I bring this water to my mouth, so much spills away. The water tastes delicious; the freshness and purity startle me. I have been drinking water that was mediocre for so long. I have forgotten how good water can taste. Like water, beauty is ordinary and essential, as well as extraordinary and magnificent. That it covers everywhere, gathers and concentrates. “Beauty rinses our eyes. Sometimes beauty moves us to tears. We bathe in, drink the presence of beauty.”

She claims that “Beauty is an energy, not an image, and that energy can go anywhere; that energy takes on an image, a form, many images, many forms.”

Beauty awakens one fully to life, beauty makes you feel alive and thus a part of life and so act in more loving ways. Beauty awakens the soul of me in so many indescribable ways and it compels me to act in such a way as to pour out that beauty within on to all I engage with.

Beauty manifests itself in so many ways in the world in which we live and breathe and move. It awakens all our senses and thus feeds and nourishes our souls; it awakens our souls and it fills our hearts to overflowing. We not only drink from the well of beauty, we also fill it too. Beauty truly is about the heart, about filling the heart to overflowing. In "Beauty: The Invisible Embrace" John O’Donohue wrote

"The heart is the place where beauty arrives; here is where it can be felt, recognized and shared. If there was no heart, beauty could never reach us. Through the heart, beauty can pervade every cell of the body and fill us. To use a word that feels like it sounds: this is the thrill of beauty through us. Perhaps this is why we sometimes feel the absence of beauty in our lives; we have allowed the prism to become dull and darkened; though the light is near, it cannot enter to have its inlay of beauty diffused. Sometimes absence is merely arrested appearance. Compassion and attention keep the prism clear so that beauty may illuminate our life. Prayer of course is the supreme way we lift our limited selves towards the light, and ask it to shine into us. "

We feel alive in the presence of beauty, it awakens the soul and fills the heart to overflowing, it certainly compels me to pour my heart out on the world in loving ways. In fact perhaps true beauty, certainly in a human sense, is to act morally. As John O’Donohue has pointed out Plato believed that Love was born of beauty and that it tapped into our basic human drive and desire for Good, that it was not a private or self-indulgent act of pleasure and that “the ability to love beauty has created all the good things that exist for gods and men’. He quotes Pseudo Dionysius the Aeropagite who said, "For beauty is the cause of harmony, of sympathy, of community. Beauty unites all things and is the source of all things. It is the great creating cause which bestirs the world and holds all things in existence by the longing inside them to have beauty. And there it is ahead of all as…the Beloved…toward which all things move, since it is the longing for beauty which actually brings them into being."

We feel alive in the presence of beauty, it awakens our souls and inspires us to act lovingly in the world to pour out our love on the world. How do we do this you may well ask? Well I believe it begins with our neighbour the very people we interact with on a daily basis.

Matthew’s Gospel (Ch 26 vv 6-13) is a much debated passage, primarily because it has been used by some as a justification for tolerating poverty. I believe that to focus on this is to fail to recognise the central message of Matthews Gospel, the abundant blessing of love.

The power in this story is in its recognition of abundant love. The woman loves and cares for Jesus. She anoints him with oil because she loves him dearly. It truly is an act of loving, nay gracious abandonment. This is in complete contrast to the grumpy disciples who are definitely of the glass half empty brigade. At least they are consistent though as they appear this way throughout the Gospels. The woman though is overflowing with love and wants to anoint those she loves with this. This is beauty in action, bringing us to life, making us feel alive. This is a soul awakened by beauty and inspired to act lovingly. Her heart is over flowing with love and she wants to pour out this love onto Jesus who will soon no longer be with her or the disciples.

This is something we can all do we can all pour out this attentive love on one another and all life. We can offer care and attention to each and everyone around us. In so doing we will help create beauty all around us. It brings to mind the following little anecdote by William McNamara:

“I once lived near a mansion where only one of the many gardeners employed had succeeded with every one of the roses. I asked him the secret of his success. He told me that the other gardeners treated all the roses not unwisely, but too generally. They treated them all in precisely the same way; whereas he himself watched each rosebush separately, and followed out for each plant its special need for soil, manure, sun, air, water, support and shelter.”

To act beautifully is to pay attention to the individual needs all around us

Beauty is all around us. We are surrounded by it. If we open ourselves to it, it will fill our hearts, awaken our souls and lead us to act lovingly and morally. In so doing we feel truly alive. This is beauty in action. If we create beauty with our own hands we will touch each individual soul we meet and they will grow and flower to their own full potential. We are here to enjoy the beauty that we are surrounded by and to pour out the beauty that lays within us and thus bring it to fruition in the world around us. We are here to live our lives fully alive.

As Desmond Tutu has said:

“We were made to enjoy music, to enjoy beautiful sunsets, to enjoy looking at the billows of a sea and to be thrilled with a rose that is bedecked with dew…Human beings are actually created for the transcendent, for the sublime, for the beautiful, for the truthful…and all of us are given the task of trying to make this world a little more hospitable to these beautiful things.”

Let beauty awake for beauty's sake. Awake from slumber and awake from dreams. Let beauty awake from deep within us, Let beauty pour from us and be lavished upon our world.

Let beauty awaken us to life, fully, abundantly.

...Let beauty awake for beauty's sake...

Sunday 4 February 2018

The Incredible Hulk

As a young lad growing up the 1970’s and 1980’s I loved the superheroes I used to see on American television programs. We had only three rv channeks to choose from back then, so we all watch the same things and we would act it our at gme and in the playground at school, My favourite was the Incredible Hulk, the version played by Bill Bixby and Lou Faringo. I was the younger brother and often felt physically weak, in a family of giants, so I would dream of being big and strong like the Hulk. My older brother used to call me the Incredible Sulk. He would wind me up until eventually I would explode, but I could not win. I indetified with the gis sdaness, loneliness and frustration.

There were many memorable lines and themes in “The Incredible Hulk”, one of the classics being “Mr McGee don’t make me angry, you wouldn’t like me when I am angry.” It had two memorable theme tunes too, the opening one and the one that closed it each week, a beautiful piano piece titled “The Lonely Man”. A sad and poignant piece of music that would bring a tear to the hardest of hearts.

I was talking with a dear friend the other day, we are the same age, and she mentioned the theme tune. Sge described Dr David Banner, the Hulk in human form, as a lonely wounded man wandering on. Each week he walks away from a situation alone, unsure of how he really feels, alone with no one to share his life with, for who could accept someone with the monster, buried but not so deeply inside of him. So on he wanders, a vagabond, but one who does good deeds though; he cries out against injustice and goes green with anger at bullies and he stands up and defends the weak, but still he is alone in the world, a feral creature.

My friend continued…”Maybe he is ok with that. Being useful and knowing we have helped goes along way but we have our own pots too, we can’t fill them by giving love out all the time, we have to be courageous enough to let it in too.”

She really made me listen. I remember thinking anyone can be a hero and do heroic acts, but courage requires us to live with a vulnerable heart. The wanderer, never stays long enough, in the company of anyone, to live with their hearts cracked open. This maybe ok for superheroes, but we humans need courage, we need heart. Doing good is a wonderful thing, but courage requires letting others love you too.

Dr David Banner set out seeking a cure for what ailed him, carrying his wounds with him, his lost wife who he did not have the strength to save and the monster within him that he cannot control. He wants to be incognito, but that is difficult when he keeps on transforming into a giant green monster who smashes everything up. As I was thinking of this I remembered other similar tv shows I loved as a child, such as the A-Team and The Fugitive. People in exile going about their business, on the run and doing good for others. Such characters brought healing to others, they help solve their troubles, they stand up for injustice, but they do not know healing themselves. They don’t form roots, or community, they journey on alone, vagabonds and fugitives, forever rolling stones.

This is an ancient story, the human cannon is full of such tales. This is the “Wounded Healer” Mythos. A universal tale that runs through human history. Like Chiron, they can bring healing and solve the troubles of others, but they cannot heal themselves and they continue walking on, or in Chiron’s case limping on. They don’t stay anywhere long enough to let healing come to them. so they journet on, forever seeking, all alone.

Heroes are easy, the stories are everywhere and every hero is flawed, cracked and wounded. They can be found in every single human tradition. They have existed ever since we began telling stories around the camp fire. Ancient Greek and Roman mythology spoke of Aneaus, Hercules, Odysseus and Theseus. The Hebrew Scriptures describe the heroic deeds of David, Joseph, Moses and Samson. Similar stories can be found in every culture. They describe heroic figures who stood up for righteousness and made a difference in their time and place. They were journeyers, but how many of them stood still for very long? How many formed roots?

The stories we tell today are full of heroic characters too. We only need look at the recent remaking of the comic strip super heroes such as Spiderman, Batman, The X-Men, The Avengers or Star Wars, Harry Potter, Dr Who, the Lord of the Rings, James Bond, Indiana Jones, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. These are modern day heroes, but they are no different in character to the heroes of ancient times.

The heroes of ancient times were endowed with great strength and were often descendants of the gods; while the modern day heroes tend to be superhuman mutations. Both the ancient and modern seem beyond the reach of mere mortals.

But do we really need heroes? Maybe we should not bemoan the fact, as “The Stranglers” sang, that there are “no more heroes anymore”. I’m not convinced. What we need are people of courage. We need humans, mortal humans who have the courage to live fully alive in life. Ordinary folk like us. Fools like us. People who have the courage to know themselves, to be true to their humanity..

The ancient Greeks believed that the ultimate aim for a person of virtue was to know themselves. “The unexamined life is not worth living.” And other aphorism have been heard throughout time, or to quote Shakespeare “to thine own self be true” Now “Know thyself” has been understood in many ways but ultimately to know oneself is to know that you are mortal and live in such a way, fully a part of mortal life. We are not God’s we are mortals, we bleed, we wound and we can bring healing to one another if we can find the courage to live with one another with hearts cracked open.

Know yourself, know that you are mortal.

I remember sometime back I was visiting “Our Mandy” She was out, so while I waited, I chatted with her husband, my brother in-law and my niece. In the middle of the conversation my niece Aimee asked what the difference between heroism and courage was? Dave struggled to answer and I thought about it for a short while and then said something like “heroism is a single act, a momentary thing that a person does on the spur of the moment without really thinking about the consequences, it is also something that is recognised by others; whereas courage seems a quiet consistent ordinary activity that almost goes unnoticed and is rarely glorified. It's about sticking at something despite the presence of real fear. Courage is something that materialises in the ordinary.”

Courage is about life, the ordinary life, real life, it’s about living fully alive. It has nothing to do with heroism and certainly not super heroes. Courage is the very essence of our mortal being, it is our daily bread. Anais Nin once said “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” Courage is about living by heart, fully alive. I’m sure we can all think of moments when our own lives have either expanded or shrunk in proportion to our courage, when we have felt more or less alive. Courage formed from the French “Cuer” meaning heart. To have courage is to have strength of heart. Courage is a consistent and sustaining love, it is a spiritual energy that sustains us in sickness and in health in loss or disappointment. It is this that brings healing not only to ourselves but those we share this life with and ultimately our world, but it is a two way street. Courage is as much about receiving as giving love.

As Howard Thurman said:

“...There is a quiet courage that comes from an inner spring of confidence in the meaning and significance of life. Such courage is an underground river, flowing far beneath the shifting events of one's experience, keeping alive a thousand little springs of action. It has neither trumpets to announce it nor crowds to applaud; it is best seen in the lives of men and women who do their work from day to day without hurry and without fever. It is the patient waiting of the humble person whose integrity keeps his spirit sweet and his heart strong. Wherever one encounters it, a lift is given to life and vast reassurance invades the being. To walk with such a person in the daily round is to keep company with the angels"

Courage is a way of living and breathing it’s about living openly and vulnerably in the world. It’s about walking with and not walking away from. It is this that brings healing not only to others, but also ourselves. It is courage that allows us to stay open to life, to give love, but also to accept it. There is no power relationship in love, something we ministers need to remember. It is courage that is formed in the heart; it is courage that is the ultimate act of faith; it is courage that keeps us open to life so that we can walk on together. As the song goes, “It’s not where you run, but who you run with.”

Yes we can all be heroes, we can perform heroic acts, we can all be heroes even if it is just for one day. Courage though is something more, something deeper, something that comes from the heart, from that place deep within each of us. It’s about walking side by side with others in and through love. It’s about loving and living our mortal lives, with hearts wide open giving and receiving healing love.

It’s not so much about journeying on alone, running from or running to, it’s about walking side by side, it’s about being rooted in reality…You see courage is about sending down roots into reality and being alive to our finite lives, an element of the interconnected whole.

I will end with the following words on courage by J. Ruth Gendler.

“Courage has roots. She sleeps on a futon on the floor and lives close to the ground. Courage looks you straight in the eye. She is not impressed with power trippers, and she knows first aid. Courage is not afraid to weep, and she is not afraid to pray, even when she is not sure who she is praying to. When courage walks, it is clear that she has made the journey from loneliness to solitude. The people who told me she is stern were not lying; they just forgot to mention that she is also kind.”