Sunday 24 March 2019

Equilibrium: Balancing the Umeres of Living

See Saw Margery Daw,
Johnny shall have a new master;
H shall earn but a penny a day,
Because he can't work any faster,

For reasons way beyond my understanding see saws have been on my mind for some time. It’s an ancient playground game, no doubt we’ve all played on them. It’s a game that you can’t play alone. You need someone else to play the game. It’s a game that is about moving constantly from one side to another. It’s a game in which equilibrium, perfect balance, is never reached. It’s a game of energy, weight and motion. When was the last time you played on one?

It is thought that the rhyme has its origins as a sawyer’s work song, as they would work in pairs and would therefore encourage the other to work faster, thus mimicking the see-saw. It is thought that “daw” in England at least was a lazy person, think of the “Daw Mouse”, always sleeping in Alice in Wonderland.

There seems to be a link between balance and movement. An engineer friend attempted to explain the importance of “dynamic stability” the other day. I am told that the instability enables more efficient response in jet engines. It is apparently the instability that allows the self correcting elements in the engine to self correct very quickly. Or at least this is how I remember the conversation.

I wonder if there is ever perfect balance, equilibrium in life? It seems to me that everything is always moving,perfect balance is never achieved. Perhaps it is better that way.

We have just passed the spring Equinox, the day when light and dark are in balance. This happens twice a year both in Autumn and Spring. Equinox means “equal night”

The March Equinox is known as the Vernal Equinox, meaning new, as it marks the beginning of spring. In the northern hemisphere as we tilt towards the sun the days grow longer and sunnier. The September Equinox is called the Autumn Equinox, marking the beginning of this season. In the southern hemisphere these seasons are at opposites ends of the year.

The next two Equinox’s will be deeply significant for myself and my family. Next September one of my sisters, our Liz, is going to marry her partner Howard Hughes, they have been together for twenty odd years and at Christmas she finally agreed to marry him. I will be conducting a blessing for them after their marriage ceremony back home in Yorkshire. Also on the next Vernal Equinix I will be marrying Sue. I kind if like the symmetry of the two events. Something beautifully balanced in it all.

Now it is said that there are magical properties to the Equinox. Many stories, in a variety cultures, speak of this. One such comes from China. Can you guess what it might be?

Well according to Chinese legend, for an hour before and after the Equinox on Li Chun (the day when Spring Begins), it becomes possible to balance things that otherwise we would not be able to do. On this day it is said that for a short time you can even balance an egg, due to gravity balancing itself. Now apparently this mythos received a great deal of publicity in the 1940’s, even Einstein commented on it. It is said that in the city of Chongqing many such egg standings took place around this time. Now it seems that this wasn’t just a trick, an illusion. The truth is with the right egg on the right surface you can stand an egg on its end on any day of the year.

I was thinking of this story as I woke up on Tuesday morning. Later that day I was talking with friends when one of them began to talk about the danger of catastrophic thinking. Then Sue began to tell the story of “Chicken Lickin”. Anyhow people began to look it up on their phones and recite different versions, there are many. It is sometimes called “Chicken Little” and also “Henny Penny”. As I heard and remembered the story I thought about how ideas and thoughts can spread quickly, particularly fear based ones. I reflected on recent news events. We live in ever more troubling times. Negativity does seem to spread so quickly. We seem to be living in ever more extreme times. I hear so many cries of "The sky is falling"  I thought about how so much of our public discourse is running at the extremes and how there is so little balance in our living these days. Where is the balance?

Maybe we need to find a new kind of equinox, perhaps this is what needs to be given birth to this Spring time. That would be the perfect Easter egg when the day of re-birth, of new beginnings comes.

Of course balance in life is something that is hard to achieve. I suspect it isn’t a constant, static, state of being. We live more like a seesaw constantly moving from one end to the other.

It seems to me that this time of celestial and seasonal balance is a perfect one to check out the balance in our own lives. Where are the extremes in our lives that need balancing out? How are our “umeres”, as the ancient physicians use to call them, are all four in balance? How is your health, your physical, your emotional, your mental and your spiritual health? These four could well be our present day “umeres”, as opposed to those four types of fluids that the ancients use to believe were our bodily "umeres".

A balanced life is considered a good life. We are told that we need to balance the books, in the home and in the community. The treasurer at at chapel has to ensure that they are balanced too. A balanced diet is vital to healthy living. Power needs to be balanced in the public sphere, too much power in any individual or even groups hand is dangerous. Balance is vital to performing physical activities. Most athletes are admired for their balance as much as for their strength and speed.

Balance is seen as vital by virtually all spiritual and philosophical traditions, extremes in any sense lead to danger and destruction. Aristotle proposed that the key to authentic happiness and not mere momentary satisfaction or pleasure arose from living a life of “Virtue” and that this could be achieved by the “Doctrine of the Golden Mean”, by living a life centred on a sort of dampened equilibrium. That virtue lays in avoiding excess. He saw courage as lying somewhere between cowardice and recklessness.

One of the great Greek myths illustrates this perfectly. Icarus was advised by Daedalus to fly somewhere between the sun and the sea, but he flew too close to the sun. Centuries later didn’t Goldilocks reject the porridge that was too hot and too cold for the one that was just right, she chose the middle way, thus following the virtuous life.

Now please don’t get me wrong I am not suggesting that we never rock the boat and must always live in the middle of everything. Remember balance is not a static thing. It is important to keep on stirring the porridge and to act out whatever our faith in life is. The key is to serve life and the harmony of all life in my view. The importance is to live humbly and to avoid the dangers of hubris that caused Icarus to burn and fall. We are here to fly, of course we are, just not too close to the sun.

The key to living in balance and harmony is about relationship with life, with each other, with ourselves and with God, another four modern day “Umeres” if you like.

Isn’t this what life is built upon, our relationships. I suspect above everything that this is the key. To ensure that our lives are in balance in these four aspects of our lives. That our relationship “Umeres” are inbalance. So how are your relationship “Umeres”? Are they imbalanced?

Perhaps that is something to check, in this season of balance. How are you in relation to your inner self, the people you share your life with, life itself and your God, however you understand God?

Maybe that is something you could reflect on in the coming weeks.

I’m going to end this little "blogspot" with a blessing “For Equilibrium” by John O’Donohue

“For Equilibrium”, a Blessing by John O’Donohue:

Like the joy of the sea coming home to shore,
May the relief of laughter rinse through your soul.

As the wind loves to call things to dance,
May your gravity be lightened by grace.

Like the dignity of moonlight restoring the earth,
May your thoughts incline with reverence and respect.

As water takes whatever shape it is in,
So free may you be about who you become.

As silence smiles on the other side of what's said,
May your sense of irony bring perspective.

As time remains free of all that it frames,
May your mind stay clear of all it names.

May your prayer of listening deepen enough
to hear in the depths the laughter of god.”

Sunday 17 March 2019

The "Miracle" of Letting Go

I have a confession to make. Now please try not to be too shocked, but I have something to confess, which might trouble the most rational amongst you who read this "blogspot". I have to tell you this truth, that I didn’t know I believed in, but I do.

I believe in miracles…

Now don’t get me wrong I am not talking about the kind of miracles that are described in the Gospels , that are said to have taken place at Capernaum, by the Sea of Galilee, possibly the most beautiful place on earth. No, I’m talking about every day miracles that seem to come to life as we struggle and resist and then we surrender and something new emerges,

These thoughts came to me as I struggled with finding a way to begin this piece that you are reading. The hardest part of creating anything is how to begin and how to end. By the way it’s the same in life. The hardest thing is to begin something new, or perhaps, in actual fact, the hardest thing is to end something old.

Which one do you have the most trouble with, beginning something new or ending something old?

There was one thing that I experienced in Israel – Palestine that I’m glad I did, but am not sure that I would like to repeat. Can you guess what it was?

Well it was floating in the Dead Sea, the lowest inland spot on earth. By the way it is something that none of us will probably be unable to do in at some point in the future as it is disappearing.

So, I’m glad I did it, but it was not a very pleasant experience. That said as I have reflected on it, it has revealed something of myself to me.

Now I had a feeling I was not going to enjoy the experience as soon as I discovered I had to wear flip flops, something I do not like doing. Actually I’m not a great lover of beaches full stop. I love walking by the sea and staring out at it, but I do not like beaches very much.

Anyhow we booked into a resort and took the trailer down to the Dead Sea. Everyone else there seemed to be from eastern Europe and were having a wonderful time. I took off my robe and began to walk out into the warm water. It was a windy day and the water was choppy. The ground beneath my feet was rocky. I struggled and stumbled in unfamiliar footwear that began to slide off my feet. I stumbled over a couple of times and cut my foot slightly on the rocks. Not something to do in salty water. I had been careful not to shave that morning as I was warned not to have exposed cuts. So I kept on stumbling and struggling and not at all enjoying the experience and then I found myself up to my waist in warm salty water and I began to lay down, holding onto a post with one hand and one of the flip flops, that had fallen off, in the other. I let go of the post, I let go absolutely and let the salty water support me. Wow! What an amazing experience. There I was floating on the water, being moved around by the tide and the wind. I waved and laughed and just floated. It was lovely, if only for a few minutes. I eventually moved back to the post, struggled to put on the flip flop. I succeeded and then struggled to my feet and stumbled back to shore. I did fall over again, but made it back without too much trouble. I then washed all the salty water away and let Sue have her turn. She had similar struggles, but not with the flip flops.

It was a new and perhaps magical experience, but not one I am desperate to repeat. Now you may ask where was the miracle? Well the miracle was in the fact that I was able to let go, to let the water support me and to experience floating on water. Like so many folk, I do not let go, I do not surrender easily to anything. I’m getting better at it.

I was chatting about this with a friend the other day, about the sweet surrender that comes when we let go. As we talked they mentioned the following poem “The Avowel” by Denise Levertov

“The Avowal” by Denise Levertov

As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,
so would I learn to attain
freefall, and float
into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace.

Gosh if only it was that easy. If we could just lean back and let ourselves fall, believing that this love would sustain us. How often in life do we trust anyone or anything, how often do we trust life at all? How often do we feel we have to control everything and everyone just to get by? Do we trust life? Do we trust each other? Do we trust that the Creator Spirits deep embrace will hold us? Rarely I suspect. The miracle comes, I have come to believe, whenever we act in faith, play our own part in life and not try to control everybody else’s.

Now some people tell me that the struggle is a lack of faith. I do not agree at all. In many ways the struggle is the most faithful thing we ever do.

M. Scott Peck famously wrote in his seminal work “The Road Less Travelled” that “Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

In some ways living faithfully, spiritually alive, is the most difficult thing we do. It is not easy, it is a struggle. Searching for truth is difficult, understanding what we are here to do is difficult, beginning something new is terrifying and letting go of something old even more so. The answers only really come in the struggle as we fight, and wrestle until we finally surrender and often it just comes, from nowhere, as if it were some kind of miracle.

And when the sweet surrender comes, the same conclusion always follows. A voice somewhere in the core of my being gently speaks to me in a voice less than a whisper, but somehow more than silence "Just keep on doing what you are doing Danny, all is well. Just keep on doing what you are doing." It is not a voice I hear but a deep knowing.

Whenever I think of such struggles with ourselves, with one another, with life, with God I think of Jacob and his struggles in Genesis ch 32.

In the passage Jacob is depicted wrestling with a mysterious man, who it turns out is probably God, although is not clear. As he wrestles with this being, he is grievously hurt, but he fights on. As the night ends and dawn breaks the being tries to leave but Jacob holds on and demands it blesses him as the price for ending the struggle. The being relents and blesses Jacob by giving him a new name “Israel” meaning “one who struggles with God” or as I once heard a friend say “one with whom God struggles.”

Don’t we all wrestle and struggle with ourselves, with others, with life, with God, or perhaps its others, life and God who struggles with us? So many times I have struggled to just experience what was on offer to me for fear of trying something new, or letting go of something old. I am not alone, I know.

What about you? Maybe, maybe not? You decide…

Sometimes we try too hard, sometimes we over think things instead of just allow ourselves to go with life. This seems to happen when we are caught up in storms and or troubles, we try to force it. I am certainly guilty of this, but again I know I am not alone.

I have witnessed a wonderful example of the miracles that can occur when we are able to stop fighting against ourselves, especially our own bodies. I have on a couple of occasions observed and spoken with Martin, an elderly member of one of the congregations I serve. Martin has for some time struggled with walking due to the onset of Parkinson’s disease. Well it seems that his family have discovered a new technique that has helped sufferers to improve their gate and thus reduce falling, the technique is simply to listen to music while moving, it seems that the rhythm helps the sufferer to walk. Who knew that ABBA, Martin's favourite, could bring about miracles. From what I have been told the technique stops the individual from focusing too much on their struggle to walk, instead they get caught up in the rhythm of the music and thus can walk more naturally, it sets them free. It reminded me of “King’s Speech” and how in the film the King was able to overcome his stammer by listening to music while he spoke. It also reminded me of being distracted while taking my driving test and how this allowed me to let go of fear and to simply drive the car. Somehow when we relax and just let things go we somehow find ourselves able to do things that over concentration stops us from doing.
Simple, ordinary, everyday miracles. Not the walking on water types, but the simple walking, speaking and driving kind.

Sometimes all you’ve got to do is surrender to the struggle and suddenly you find yourself able to do the things that you thought you could not.

It’s simple, but it sure aint easy.

Now comes the hard bit, how do I end this "blogspot"? Well the truth is I don’t know. How do I end when the journey continues on? So I thought I’d end with a piece on miracles by Walt Whitman. I will leave it with you and let you form your own conclusions. So please lean back and fall into these words.

“Poem of Perfect Miracles.” By Walt Whitman

REALISM is mine, my miracles,
Take all of the rest—take freely—I keep
but my own—I give only of them,
I offer them without end—I offer them to you
wherever your feet can carry you, or your
eyes reach.

Why! who makes much of a miracle?
As to me, I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward
the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach, just in
the edge of the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love—or sleep in
the bed at night with any one I love,
Or sit at the table at dinner with my mother,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive, of an
August forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,

Or birds—or the wonderfulness of insects in the
Or the wonderfulness of the sun-down—or of
stars shining so quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite, delicate, thin curve of the new-
moon in May,
Or whether I go among those I like best, and that
like me best—mechanics, boatmen, farmers,
Or among the savans—or to the soiree—or to
the opera,
Or stand a long while looking at the movements
of machinery,
Or behold children at their sports,
Or the admirable sight of the perfect old man, or
the perfect old woman,
Or the sick in hospitals, or the dead carried to
Or my own eyes and figure in the glass,
These, with the rest, one and all, are to me
The whole referring—yet each distinct and in its

To me, every hour of the light and dark is a
Every inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is
spread with the same,

Every cubic foot of the interior swarms with the
Every spear of grass—the frames, limbs, organs,
of men and women, and all that concerns
All these to me are unspeakably perfect miracles.

To me the sea is a continual miracle,
The fishes that swim—the rocks—the motion
of the waves—the ships, with men in them
—what stranger miracles are there?

Sunday 10 March 2019

For the Greater Good: Masada and the Wisdom of Chimpanzees

A friend of mine has been in a new relationship for a few months now. His girlfriend has moved north from the south of England and he, like me, is an outsider who has come to live in Cheshire. He is obviously spending time showing her the sights of Cheshire and Manchester. The other day they visited Chester Zoo, it sounds like they had a good time.

While we were chatting he told me about the different monkey enclosures, particularly a group of Chimpanzee’s. Now the name for a group of chimpanzee’s is a “congress”. My friend observed himself, the chimpanzee’s and the other people there that day and said it was like sitting in an AA meeting. He noticed a couple of elders who seemed to be getting on quite well. The zoo keeper spoke with him and said that the day before the two old timers were screaming at each other, but had made up today. She said that the reason that they do not carry their arguments into the next day is that they know that the congress needed them to put aside their differences for the greater good, that it could not function if they were at war with each other. So they put aside their personal wants and needs for the greater good.

Oh if only we humans could be that wise and see the wider view, give up our small little grievances and live for the greater good. Maybe that’s something to work towards this Lenten season. If we are going to make any personal sacrifice this year, maybe we should put aside our personal grievances and move towards building a human “congress” for the greater good of all.

We seem to be living in ever dividing and divided times, this is something that troubles me deeply. Violence also appears to be on the increase, both here and in other lands. I was deeply shocked by the death, by stabbing, of the young man in Hale Barns last Saturday. Apparently, it was due to a turf war. Knife crime is something that young people have to face increasingly. Not that violence, or the glorifying of it, is anything new, sadly it has always been with us. Thank god that we do not have a gun culture in this land and our young people do not have to face what the school children in the USA have to. Surely of all the freedoms we cherish, the one not to be killed trumps all others.

As I look back at my time in Israel – Palestine I think one of the saddest sights I saw was that of teenagers in army uniform with machine guns. Yes our young people have their troubles but compared to many in other lands it is not on the same scale.

I see no glory in violence and yet so many of our "heroes" have lived by it. During the last century society seems to particularly glorified gangster culture, from Al Capone, to “The Krays”, “The Godfather”, “Scarface” and or in recent times “Peaky-Blinders”. Is there really glory in violence towards others, just to get your own way or protect your “patch”.

I would much rather hold up those who promote none violence. What was it Jesus said on “The Sermon on the Mount” “Blessed are the Peace-makers, for they shall be called children of God”. Aren’t we all children of God? Aren’t we all from the one tribe of life? If only we could be as wise as that congress of Chimpanzees at Chester Zoo and put aside our personal squabbles for the greater good.

Glorifying violence is not a new thing by the way. I remember as a child I loved films like “The Alamo”, “Khartoum”, “55 Days in Peking” and the mini series “Masada”. Now I lacked the understanding of what these historical events were really about, instead I got caught up in the pomp and ceremony like most young boys. So I do get what these young people experience, although I was never violent myself as a boy and teenager. Committing violence has always felt deeply unnatural to me, I thank God for that.

“Masada” and the heroic defense and sacrifice that its mythos has portrayed is one story that has stayed with me over the years, which is why I so wanted to visit it during my recent trip to Israel - Palestine. We set off very early one morning and drove their and began the long walk as they day awakened. We had planned to get there for sunrise but didn’t quite make it. It was long walk to the summit, it really took it out on the calves. Something I noticed all week, I am too use to the flatlands of Cheshire. We reached the top and took in the ruins and attempted to empathise with those brave souls who had fought off the Roman legions for so long, until they chose to sacrifice themselves instead of being captured.

Masada is said to have fallen on 16th April 63CE. Its "mythos has risen to enormous symbolic importance in Jewish history, particularly since the Holocaust and the creation of the state of Israel. The story did not have the same importance in early Jewish history as it was considered controversial due to the nature of its mass suicide, forbidden in Jewish law. The story survived because of its recording by the historian Josepheus.

The inhabitants of Masada, from the rebellious Zealot sect known as the Sicarli held out the Romans for months but in the end facing starvation and or capture into slavery they chose mass suicide. Lots were drawn and ten took the lives of the other 950 and one took the lives of the other nine, before taking his own life. It is said that when the Romans finally found them they were deeply disturbed by what they saw. It was a strange feeling walking round the ruins and soaking up the history and atmosphere.

As we travelled down from the summit of Masada, this time in the cable car, I thought of another example of self-sacrifice for the greater good that I had visited last summer with Sue. This was the village of Eyam in Derbyshire, just three miles from Great Hucklow. Another powerful story I remember from my childhood. Eyam is known as the “plague village”. It was the village that basically quarantined itself during the plague of the seventeenth century. It cut itself off from all the surrounding villages so as not the spread the plague that had arrived on cloth from London. Of the 350 village inhabitants only 83 survived. Incredibly one of the survivors was the grave digger. This is a powerful example of self sacrifice for the greater good. That said it is not one that is glorified in the same way as Masada and I did not buy a hat saying “Eyam” on it when I visited, as I did at Masada.

Sacrifice is heralded as one of the great human qualities and it is certainly the theme of Lent, that we have now entered. That said sacrifice can at times lead to all kinds of destruction and is not always for the greater good at all.

One story that has become central to the three monotheistic traditions is that of Abraham and Isaac. It is found at the beginning of the Bible in Genesis, when it is thought that God is working out his relationship with man. It is a story that makes little sense in any literal way for we who live in the 21st century. And yet there are universal themes if we pay close attention. It portrays moments of truth, something we all face and unavoidable decisions that must be made within these moments. There are lessons about paying attention and not being too focused on your perceived mission. There are lessons about the dangers of sacrificing others for your perceived view of what is right. Ultimately I discover a lesson about the sanctity of all human life, but maybe that is just my eyes.

It is a story about sacrifice in a religious sense, as it is about Abraham’s willingness to give up his son to prove his fealty to God. Sacrifice is generally seen as act of giving up something of great value for something considered to be of greater, perhaps of ultimate value. Sacrifice I suppose is about giving up something personal for a greater good. What is so horrific about the Abraham and Isaac story is that he is willing to give up his son to prove his obedience to God. Now of course in the end he does not, God intervenes and he passes the test. What a cruel test and yet it is a story and test that is central to all three of the great Abrahamic faiths “Judaism, Christianity and Islam.”

How many from all three traditions have being willing to sacrifice others for what they see as obedience to what they understand is God’s will? By the way such action is not limited to monotheism or even religion. How many people have been willing to sacrifice others for what they see as the greater good? The last century is littered with such examples.

This brings to mind a story I was recently told. “A warrior stands before three seated men, a king, a high priest and a rich man. The king says, “I command you to kill these other two men for the good of the realm.” The high priest says, “I command you to kill these other two men in the name of God.” The rich man with bags of gold at his feet says, “I command you to kill these other two men and I will give you all this gold if you do it.”

Which one did he choose?

Well it depends on the warrior. Could he walk away and obey none? Maybe instead he listened to the beat of his own heart and for once refused the command for violence. Abraham did not take his sons life. Instead he was awake enough to hear that voice that I believe never stops speaking if we could just listen to it. Sadly too often we are closed off to empathy for one another and somehow justify violence for one reason or another, or sometimes none at all.

I believe that at the heart of The Unitarian tradition is the principle that we do not follow anyone or anything blindly, to test what we are told and make wise decisions, not only for ourselves but also for the greater good. Our tradition teaches the importance of listening to the heart but also to discern what is the compassionate thing to do.

There is a form of sacrifice to which I believe we ought to be adhering, that is to live beyond our narrow selves and do only what enhances life and to think of creating a human congress, like those chimpanzees.

So let’s look for the great examples all around us and attempt to live our lives by them. Those from the past and those from the present. Let’s not glorify violence in any form, lets instead hold up as the great example those whose work was doing good, not merely for themselves, but for the good of all.

Sunday 3 March 2019

Joy and Suffering: Opposites and Equals

During my time in Israel – Palestine I found myself quoting Moses’s well known words from Exodus, during his final sermon just before the people entered the “Promised Land” without him after 40 years in the wilderness. The words are of course “I lay before you life blessings and curses, therefore choose life”. To me this is what it means to live truly alive, to live spiritually; to live spiritually alive to embrace the whole of life as it truly is. Now my use of the phrase has been questioned, especially the choice of the word “curses”. What is questioned is the idea that life’s troubles are seen as curses. I have to say I kind of agree with the protest, as to see life’s troubles as curses is to see them as something that has been bestowed upon you , a kind of punishment and burden that you have to live with. So I’m trying to come up with an alternative to curses that means the troubles and sufferings that we live with each day. You can’t pick and choose I know that. To know the joy of life, you also have to know the sufferings, for as the Buddhist say, life is Dukkha.

Life by its nature is paradoxical, it is full of contradictions. Some of the days of greatest joy also contain some suffering. Actually a day of celebration for one set of people can be one of utter dismay for others. Life truly is Dukkha. Choosing life for me is to embrace this, to live in the middle of the paradox of joys and sufferings, this is the nature of life, this is what it means to live spiritually alive. As Barry Lopez has said:

“One must live in the middle of contradiction, because if all contradiction were eliminated at once, life would collapse. There are simply no definitive answers to some of the great pressing questions. You continue to live them out, making your life a worthy expression of leaning into the light.”

To live spiritually alive is of course to lean into the light, or perhaps its more than this it is to let the light shine out of us, to truly become our destiny and become the light of the world.

Now a classic example of the mixed nature of life came on the day I proposed to Sue at Capernaum at the water’s edge of “The Sea of Galilee”. A day that will probably be the most joyful in memory had actually begun in heartbreaking tears. I had awoken to the news that a woman I have called “Auntie Hilda”, or “Auntie Hazel” as she preferred as she didn’t like the name she had been given, had died. She had been my beloved grandfather’s partner since I was two years old and her children Samantha and Troy were like cousins to us as we grew up. So that morning I wept for her, her children, my loved ones and of course my grandad who died a few years ago. In many ways it was the tears that opened my heart fully to the experiences of the day and helped me find the spot and moment on that rock at Capernaum as we stared out at Galilee that beautiful day. As auntie Hilda’s children Troy and Sammi said a few days later she would have been so happy for me to hear of mine and Sue’s engagement, I will go and say my farewells to auntie Hilda next Friday. I hope there is Walls Vienetta at the funeral, something she always gave us for "afters" when we went for "tea".

Capernaum will be forever etched in my heart, but last weekend I had a very different experience of the place. This time it was watching the Oscar nominated Lebanese film “Capernaum” which according to its opening credits means “Chaos”

The film tells the story of a 12 year old boy named Zain who is growing up in poverty in Beruit. He is deeply embittered by his situation, he has no official identity and he and his family struggle to survive.

The film is told in flashbacks. He had been imprisoned in the notorious “Roumieh” prison for attempting to kill the man who is responsible for the death of his sister Samar who had been sold to him for marriage at just 11 years old. From the prison, encouraged by a tv programme,  Zain launches a lawsuit against his parents, suing them for the fact that he has been born.

Zain is a modern day anti-hero, cynical despite his years. Foul mouthed and living on his wits, but with a caring heart. Following the sale of his sister he runs away and meets all kinds of characters. He ends up looking after an Ethiopian cleaners child, who is also on the run, while she works. She is arrested and he is left with the child alone, struggling to survive. In the end circumstances lead to him having to give up the child to a people trafficker. Zain returns home to find identity papers in an attempt to escape Lebanon but the family has none. He learns of the death of his sister which leads to him attacking the man responsible and he ending up in prison.

There is some hope the in films ending, as Zain gets his identity papers and the Ethiopian woman is reunited with her child. That said it also ended in a deep feeling of sadness too. A sadness for the plight of so many people caught up in poverty and violence in this world. It led to a sense of powerlessness too for the plight of these people and all those who suffer.

This is real life though. Something that cannot be avoided. It brought myself and Sue back down to earth too. It brought more tears.

Joy and suffering go hand in hand. To know joy is to also know suffering, you cannot have one without the other. Being in a place of joy opens your heart and it should make you more aware of the sufferings around you. It can make you very vulnerable too, an open heart is a vulnerable heart and an awakened heart. It’s also worth noting that just because you are filled with joy, it does not mean that others will necessarily share in this. There has been a small amount of negativity towards Sue and mine’s loving announcement and we both have our share of suffering amongst our nearest and dearest even in our joy.

Does this mean we should inhibit our joy? I do not think so. It does not serve the world and actually only feeds the darkness ever more. It is easy to be cynical to hide the light, this is a betrayal of God given life. I know only too well the dangers of this.

A memory came back to me over the weekend as I was talking about Capernaum both the film and our time there as well as the challenges of life. It was from my childhood. I remembered being at a youth club, I would have been 12 or 13 and it was a challenging time in my family life. I remember I felt safe and free at the club and was just enjoying watching the others dancing. I felt happy, I felt free for the first time in quite a while and this broad beaming smile spread across my face. Suddenly, for no reason known to me, a boy just hit me in the face. I was in utter shock. The leaders spoke with him about it afterwards and asked him why he did it, to which he said “I don’t really know I just hated the fact that he looked so happy, it made me feel so bad.”

It’s strange how it came to me as I was talking over the weekend as I haven’t thought about it for years. It reminded me of a scene from that nihilistic film “Fight Club” and the leading character saying that he was going out to destroy something beautiful, because he felt so terrible inside.

Sometimes seeing the light can remind us just how dark things truly are and can lead to ever darker responses. Light doesn’t always encourage others to seek ever more light. It can lead us to turn away, reject life and sometimes lead to the destruction of light and life.

To live fully alive, is to accept life in its entirety, both the joys and sufferings. It is to walk with others in their sufferings too, to hold them in their time of need and to let them hold you when you need comfort too. It is not to hide your light. This serves no one, although it might not always be appreciated. How often in human history have we destroyed the lights that have shined the brightest. That said sometimes you can spend too much time basking in that light and that serves no one too.

We did that day at Capernaum. So much so that it meant we didn’t get to stand on the ground that is said to have been where the “Sermon on the Mount” took place. We didn’t quite get there. We were a bit like the grand old Duke of York, we only got half way up the hill, before we had to turn back as the car park was closing.

We didn’t need to in order to live the message that was delivered there. A message that is central to my simple faith, particularly verses 14, 15 and 16 (Matthew chapter 5).

“14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Life is full of opposites. There is joy and there is suffering, there is love and hate, there is hope and despair and there is light and dark. To live fully alive is accept all and to respond appropriately and to them and not be afraid to weep for all.

To live fully alive, spiritually alive, is to live with your heart burst open, it is to live with a vulnerable heart. A vulnerable heart can be easily hurt and easily wounded, it will carry many scars.

Do not be afraid to shine your light, or to show your scars for those around you need to see them.

This brings to mind a story I heard a few years ago. Like all great stories it is one of mythos, it may be apocryphal, it may not be 100% true, but there is a deep truth within it.

It is the story about the soldiers who survived the battle of Agincourt. How each year, on the anniversary of the battle, they would stand up on their tip toes and proudly bare their scars for all to see. Scars of battle, scars of a life fully lived that they brought into that moment and in so doing became fully alive. Scars they were not afraid of, that they were not haunted by.

As they stood there they stood proud, fully alive, shining their light for the whole world to see.

They chose life in all its joys and sufferings.