Sunday 24 June 2018

Stumbling and falling but always rising

“Prayer in Action”

A number of years ago, my brother lay dying in the hospital. He spent days in the intensive care unit while members of my family, including my mother, sat for many long hours on chairs in the hallway outside his room. Among visitors who came to share the vigil was a member of our church.

“How are you doing?” the friend asked.

My mother was too exhausted to tell anything but the truth. “I’m tired,” she said. “I’m very, very tired. I’m too tired to even pray any more.”

“But don’t you see,” her friend replied, “your very presence here is a prayer.”

There are times when all words fail us, all forms seem hollow, and no one out there or inside seems to be listening. At those times, our presence, just our presence, is prayer. Our bodies, our actions, become our prayer, our connection to God, whatever God may be.

by Jane Ellen Mauldin

...This is the holiest of holy work...

...There is no greater prayer than our loving action of being there for one another...This is the creation of the Kin-dom of Love right here right now

A young woman offered to share the reading that leads into the group morning meditation I attended the other day. Just before she began she admitted that she was feeling hesitant as she was afraid that she might stumble. I said "do not worry if you stumble, we all stumble and even if you do fall we will catch you, sometimes we all fall, but we are in this together and we can all hold one another up, encourage each other to rise again and if really needed we can pick each other up. We do not sail this ship alone."

...It seemedd a little early for such words to be coming from my mouth, it felt like they were coming from another place...

As we sat together in silence I recalled how many times in my day I stumble, I also recalled how many times I had fallen and how often others had held and encouraged me rise up once again. I have been blessed by so much love in my life. I have known so many people who have had faith in me, even when I had none myself. How do I know this, well they have shown me so in their loving works, through their loving example, through their humble human being.

Following the reading we sat together in silence, as we always do. As I sat there, Paul’s letter to the Corinthian’s came mind, particularly those words on Love and the three keys that he says remain “Faith, Hope and Love”. I thought to myself, are these three the key to me? I sat in the silence and somewhere in the soul of me came an answer. Yes it was three things but three slightly different ones to Paul. It came to me that the three keys are “Being real, living in love and doing your job.”

What do you think about these three? Maybe you could consider three of your own. There you go there’s some homework for this week, for those who like it.

I’m going to attempt to explain what I mean by these three: “Being real, living in love and doing your job.”

I will begin by exploring what I mean by “being real”.

Whatever we believe about life, ourselves, the world and whatever we believe about what is at the core of it all it is vital that we are sincere about it. This is what it means to be “real”, to live authentically.

Sincerity is no easy thing. It is not easy being sincere about who we are, to show the world as we are, to live as we truly are “warts and all and beauty spots too.”

There is a phrase I often here in spiritual communities that irritates me. It is used as an attempt to get people started but to me I find it not only unhelpful but in the long term quite damaging. The phrase goes something like “You’ve got to fake it to make it.” I have found the opposite to be true. In my experience if you attempt to fake it you will never make it. I suspect that the most unspiritual thing a person can be is insincere.

If you attempt to fake it you won't truly make it...just because it rhymes it doesn't make it real...

The key is authenticity, being real, being honest, living by faithful it an honest go, no matter how many times you falter, stumble and even fall.

It seems to me that to live with authenticity is to be truly open in all four aspects of our humanity, the four being, mind, body, heart and spirit. I suspect it’s about truly being who you are.

Forrest Church suggested that to “be who you are” is perhaps the hardest task of all. To be who you are is to not "fake your existence." He claimed "each of us is unique, with unique flaws and gifts. The world doesn’t owe us a living; we owe the world a living, our very own." The key is to answer your own calling, going on to say "To envy another’s skills, looks, or gifts rather than embracing your own nature and call is to fail in two respects. In trying unsuccessfully to be who we aren’t, we fail to become who we are."

It seems to me that to live with sincerity, with authenticity is to truly be who you are. Do you know what our world needs us to live authentically; it needs us to be truly who we are, warts and all and beauty spots too. It needs us to be unafraid to let others see us stumble and fall from time to time because in so doing we encourage others to be unafraid to be who they are. We need to expose who we truly are to give ourselves fully away to life and thus encourage others to do the same. In so doing we may just begin to create that kin-ship of love right here, right now…We may just begin to live in love and thus be able to do our job.

This is what it means to be real. By being real we can begin to live in love and in living in love we can begin to give our whole selves to life and begin to do our jobs.

Now what could it mean to live in love?

One of my favourite hymns is “Let Love Continue Long” it is inspired by the following quotations by one of the father’s of Universalism Hosea Ballou, no relation to that bear from “The Jungle Book” …Sing “look for the bear necessities”…I am told that I share some of his qualities…I digress

The quotation from Hosea Ballou is as follows:

“Let brotherly love continue.” If we agree in brotherly love, there is no disagreement that can do us any injury; but if we do not no other agreement can do us any good. Let us keep a strict guard against the enemy “that sows discord among brethren.” Let us endeavor to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace.” May charity, that heaven born companion of the human heart, never forsake us; and may the promise of the Saviour be fulfilled concerning us, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”

I like this explanation on what it means to live in love. It’s not really speaking about what we often think of love being, which is merely a feeling. To live in love is to act in certain ways. It is to live in certain ways with one another. It’s about living by the “Golden Rule” of compassion “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” It is none discriminatory it is impartial. It is about giving of our selves, wholly to others. It’s about being our authentic selves and encouraging others to be their real selves and welcoming them as they truly are.

When the Book of James says, “Faith without works is dead”, living in love, impartially is the actual works. It’s about helping to create that kin-dom of love right here right now, which in my view is doing my job.

Living in love is about living faithfully and hopefully with one another and with ourselves. It’s about stumbling along through life accepting that you will trip on many occasions and sometimes fall. It’s about encouraging one another to keep on and from time to time to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and start all over again and when we can’t to ask for help and let someone pick us up and encourage us to walk on once again.

This is doing our job, our loving work, to encourage one another whenever we stumble and fall.

You cannot do your job unless you are being real, living authentically and doing so in love, without partiality.

To do “your job”, to live faithfully through our works, is as much about how we do what we do as what we actually do. It begins close in, close at handand it begins with the little things too.

It is your love that will show through your works and this is what it means to be real. This is authentic love, the real work of life.

I'm going end this little chip of a"blogspot" with a tale from my life that occurred a little while. I was reminded of it by the young woman who was somewhat self-conscious about stumbling the other morning.

I was sat in my vestry one day waiting for a friend to come round to talk through some things. Suddenly I heard a loud thud at the door; I looked up to see nothing there. So I got up opened the door and still I could see nothing. I looked all around, but still I could see nothing. I was about to go inside, assuming that maybe somebody had thrown something at the window, when I saw a little bird laid at my feet. I was shocked and didn’t know what to do. I thought that is was dead at first, as it was lifeless, but saw that it was still breathing and was just laying there stunned. It had obviously flown into the glass, the “silly bugger” (as my granddad would say). I was going to pick it up but thought better of this and just left it there, as I didn’t want to distress it any further. I watched over it, kind of standing guard I suppose. I felt I had to just in case my friend arrived and didn’t see it lying there. After a few minutes it got to it’s feet, but did not move, just kept on breathing deeply. Then suddenly it just flew to a nearby bush and I never saw it again. Then my friend arrived and we shared tea and a wonderful conversation.

Later that day another friend of mine told me that they had been struggling with something that morning, but that all was well, it would be ok. This is of course true and I reminded her that today we both have the courage and strength to rise again no matter how many times we stumble and fall. Of course this is not always instant. Sometimes we do have to take whatever ever comes at us. At times it can even stun us and knock us unconscious. Sometimes we have to lie there for a while and simply get our breath back; then slowly get to our feet and fly off into the blue yonder to experience life once again.

I have discovered that by being real. living in love and doing my job I somehow find the courage and strength to live, to pick myself up, no matter what happens to either myself or those I love. Sometimes I do need other people too. Sometimes to simply watch over me until I get my breath and senses back and at other times to simply encourage me and tell me that I just need to keep putting one foot in front of other and that all will be well.

That morning was definitely a tale of the unexpected but it has taught me a lot or do I mean it reminded, me once again, of one or two or maybe three vital truths.

I have discovered that if I continue to be real, live in love and do my job that every morning I find that love does indeed continue long and it does indeed show me the way for such love is always and eternal, and as a result no hurt can ever ever have a say.

Sunday 10 June 2018

Fullness brings stillness

This year has been full, very full indeed. I have certainly been living in “thick time”. I pretty much limped through May, it was a struggle at times to keep going, but I did. I oh so needed the week off I have just enjoyed.

This year has been full indeed, a near perfect example of the blessings and curses that come with “Choosing Life”, to paraphrase good old Moses. There has been professional fulfilment when I was given the honour of delivering the address at the “Anniversary Service” at our denominational annual meetings. There is no greater honour, especially for a minister as junior as myself. Mixed with this though have been the hardships in both congregations, as we have lost so many beloved members, the pastoral demands have been somewhat overwhelming.

Personally it has been a mixed year too. I have fallen beautifully in love, my relationship with Sue is just the most incredible joy and blessing. That said it has not been without challenges within both our families. My own family has been torn apart by the suicide of my step brother Daniel. To witness the pain and suffering in those I love has been almost unbearable at times.

This year has been oh so full. Too much, oh too much at times. My mind has felt filled to overflowing and this has left my heart almost empty. It’s a strange feeling to be filled up to brim with life and yet at the same time to feel almost empty in my being at the same time. A very strange paradox indeed.

My life and my mind have been too full and as a result I have felt emptied of my inner resources, my heart and my soul. This has led to a disconnect at times.

All this brings to mind the story of a university professor who visited a Japanese master to inquire about Zen. The professor began to ask questions while the master just sat quietly, listening. After a while the master began to pour tea into the professor’s cup. The cup soon filled up, but the master did not stop pouring. The tea soon began to spill over on to the table. Initially the professor just sat there in stunned silence, he did not know what to do. Eventually he could take no more and shouted out “It’s overfull. No more will go in!” The master stopped pouring and simply said “Like this cup you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

It would appear that a full cup, an overflowing cup, is not such a great thing.

Is this so? Is a cup filled to overflowing always a bad thing?

There is another image of an overflowing cup that comes to mind. This is from the 23rd Psalm. Here it is said that King David sings of God as a shepherd who will see him safely through the Valley of Death. “Thou prepares a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.” In the psalm the overflowing cup is an excess of goodness, a symbol of abundance, a source of joy. I I believe that the same is true of love. Can you ever be too full of love?

So we have two images of cups overflowing: One depicting a mind that is too full and therefore unable to focus or learn something new; the other depicting a cup overflowing with love that will enable us to live full lives despite the presence of fear.

Is there a contradiction here, is this a dilemma? Well only if you get lost in the metaphor, the curse of the literalist. The two images are of course depicting different aspects of our humanity.

The Zen story is describing the mind, whereas the Psalm is depicting the heart. It is talking of God’s infinite love. So yes we can be full abundantly with love and yet still have a mind that is clear. Experience has revealed to me that it is the full heart that enables me to clear my mind and not a clear head that leads me to a full heart.

As I look back at my life I can see clearly that it is when my heart is filled with love that my mind begins to clear. There have been times when my head has been so full that there just was no more room for anything else; times when my life was just too full and I couldn’t create space, when prayer and meditation was not enough. My head doesn’t spin these days, thank God, but I can still begin to not feel life again, as my body becomes detached from my soul.

This has happened again in recent months. I so needed last week. I needed to stop, my soul needed to catch up with my body. I needed to let my heart be filled; I needed to once again be touched by the joy of living, as I was in danger of becoming detached from life.

You don’t always get what you want though. The week began with pain and suffering as a dear friend of Sue and mine died. It began in sadness as we felt our pain and that of our friends and our friend's loved ones, not least her children. We set off to Yorkshire, with heavy hearts, as we headed over the hills to be with my family. We spent two days with them. It was a time filled with a great deal of joy and love, but also deep sadness. There is a high level of anxiety and suffering about. This is pretty clear as we are coming to terms with Daniel’s death. It was a beautiful but also a painful time.

There was though joy and laughter too as we came together in love and concern. I also spent time showing Sue around the places I grew up. There were several amusing moments. One was walking around Morley town centre. Did you know you can get a haircut there for £4.99. I also showed her the worst statue in England. It is of Ernie Wise, which is nothing compared to wonderful one of Eric Morecambe. The statue looks like it was made on Scarborough Beach and could be of anyone. A drunken man passed us as we stood there aghast, I said “It looks nothing like him.” To which the drunken man replied “ey’ looks less him by the day.” We wandered off in laughter. I then shared stories of my childhood, some sad, some beautiful and other hilarious as we headed up over hills and down valleys. We visited Batley Park. As we got out of the car I looked up at a house opposite and saw something I did not expect to see. I said to Sue “Look there’s Mrs Doubtfire”. She looked at me dubiously thinking I was being rude about someone. I kept on repeating “Look there’s Mrs Doubtfire” until she eventually looked up and stood there wide eyed. There in the upstairs window of the house was a life sized cardboard cut-out of Mrs Doubtfire peering through the curtains. We just burst into laughter, took a picture and have been sharing it with folk ever since. We laughed a lot that week, finding joy, love and humour as our minds began to clear and our hearts filled.

The second half of the week was spent “glamping” (which is merely glamorous camping). We stayed alone in the middle of knowhere sleeping in a Romany caravan and living in beautiful cabin in the middle of an orchard. It was a beautiful time as we slowed, slept, enjoyed each others company and our souls truly began to catch up with our bodies. My heart as never been fuller and my mind could not have been emptier.

We all need to let our souls catch up with our bodies. We are not fully alive when our hearts, minds, bodies and souls are not at one. This brings to mind another favourite tale about a workaholic businessman who decided to take a Safari. He plotted a course and determined a time-table. He hired workers from a local village to carry the various containers and cases. On the first morning, the entire party roused early, travelled very, very fast and went very, very far. On the second morning, they roused early, travelled very, very fast and went very, very far. On the third day, the same. On the fourth morning, the local tribesmen refused to move. The man gestured irately and fumed at the translator to get them going. “They will not move,” the translator relayed.

“Why not?” the man bellowed, thinking of all the time wasted and dollars spent. “Because,” the translator said, “they are waiting for their souls to catch up with their bodies.”

We need to allow our souls to catch up with us. We need to fully experience our lives, otherwise we become human doings as opposed to human beings. We need to pause and to make space in our lives, to truly appreciate what is actually there. To fully feel life, to fill our hearts to overflowing this allows us to find stillness in our being and fully live our finite lives.

What I have learnt, again, is that in order to fully live our lives we need space, we need a kind of emptiness, we need a cup that is not overly full in order to focus on what life is offering us. That said in order to do this we need to be still at times, still enough to allow our souls to catch up with our bodies and for the love that is always there to fill our open and vulnerable hearts. We all need to allow this abundant love to fill us up and to flow from us and to let it pour out into our lives. For after all we were all born to love.

So I say to you this day and every day sing and rejoice abandon yourself to love and anoint one another regardless of the troubles that may come your way.