Sunday 28 July 2019

How Can the Ends Ever Justify the Means if it Means Selling Your Soul?

A friend recently turned 50. He invited a whole host of folk to join with him to share a Sunday afternoon at a venue in Cheshire. He asked people not to bring gifts but to instead either buy or preferably bake one and bring it along. Sue and myself chatted about this and decided we would bake a cake. We spoke to a friend who had recently brought a “Lemon Drizzle Cake”, his mum had baked, to a social gather, for recipes and he gave us two of Mary Berry’s finest. Now this was a challenge for both of us. Sue said she was no baker and I’ve not baked a cake since I was child in my grandma’s kitchen. We chose the recipe and bought the ingredients and followed the instructions to the letter. There was some temptation to freelance, but I insisted that we follow directions. I reminded Sue of the time in Nazareth when we decided not to follow the Sat Nav and decided to freestyle on instinct. Things did not go well.

Anyhow the cake was a great success. It was consumed very quickly as were all the many cakes that came along with the wonderful barbecue food. In fact the day was such a lovely success that Sue and myself have decided that we will do something similar for our wedding next year. We are not going to ask for presents, instead we will invite guests to bring food along for themselves and others to share and have a kind of “bring and share” meal.

If only life was as simple as cake baking. It isn’t though and actually I am glad of that. Life does not follow a simple pattern and making decisions about what is right and wrong and which way to turn is not always obvious. We are not given a recipe or set of directions at the beginning or at any stage really. That said the journey of life is not about beginning in one place and trying to get to another. The journey of life is a road to nowhere. The destination is the journey itself. And a successful journey is shown in how we travel with ourselves and one another. It is about learning to truly inhabit our lives and the ground at our feet. Its about the experiencing the kin-dom of love in this time and space and giving birth to that kin-dom of love from deep within.

We live in a destination fixated culture. That life is all about getting to some kind of promised land. So much so that we forget that the key is not so much the destination but how we journey, how we live. We miss out on life because we fail to recognize the sacredness of each experience. There are other dangers too. We can be so fixated on the goal that we can lose our integrity and end up justifying all kinds of acts in order to reach our perceived goal. We say “Well the ends justify the means.” I am not sure that this is ever the case. Such thinking has led to all kinds of barbarity as people have been sacrificed to achieve a perceived goal. In modern times that has become known as “collateral damage.” Goal orientated philosophies lead to the failure to recognize the sacredness of all people, all souls and all life. All is sacred, every action and interaction.

“The ends justify the means” is Machiavellian to the core. In fact this ideal can be traced back to the following from Chapter XVIII from “The Prince” by Niccola Machiavelli:

“There is nothing more necessary to appear to have than this last quality (appearing to be religious), inasmuch as men judge generally more by the eye than by the hand, because it belongs to everybody to see you, to few to come in touch with you.”

Here Machiavelli is instructing the Prince on how to appear to others for this is the key to achieve what he desires, his personal ends. He told the prince how important it was that he appeared merciful, faithful, humane, upright, and religious. The key was to keep up the appearance even if you are acting contrary to it. This was because, as Machiavelli saw it, most can see what you appear to be, and only a few will get close enough to intimately experience the real truth. The key was to appear as the Prince wished others to see them. It didn’t matter what the truth was only what it appeared to be. For Machiavelli to appear to be doing something is good enough even if “The Prince” has no intention of doing so. Or to put it another way the end result far outweighed how he got there; what road he took; who was sacrificed along the way; and whether our behavior was ethical or not.

If we look at world today and much of human history how often have people been sacrificed, manipulated and used for a perceived greater good? Because, apparently, the end justified the means.

I have found that rarely do the ends justify the means. This is because the means of doing anything are an end in themselves, for I believe that all life matters. Perhaps the means are actually more important than the ends for how we travel is a deeply sacred thing; for how we travel reveals who we are in the world and how we see life and the people we share this world with. How we travel the journey that is life reveals who and what we truly are. It reveals our soul and is an example to others. It matters how we travel because people are paying attention. Also in the end the truth is finally revealed. Rome always burns in the end. Finally, someone sees that the King is in in fact in the all together. That the emperor’s new clothes are not all that they seem to be.

So how should we travel? Well I believe that the key is integrity. To travel with integrity, in the beautiful way, it is the way of the soul, but is not easy. There are many crossroads that we will stumble upon as we walk round and round the circle of life. There will be many temptations to sell our souls so as to reach our perceived goals or to avoid the pain and suffering that accompany the joys of life. We are all tempted to make the “Faustian Bargain” and sell our sells. Faust made his bargain with the devil, promising him his soul in the after life just for the experience here on earth so fulfilling that he would be moved to say “Let this moment linger, it is so good.” This was Faust's Destiny, his fools gold, his emperors new clothes. None of which are real and all reject the true experience of life. The end justifying the means, or so it appeared. For if you lose your soul, you lose the one thing that really means something in life.

The problem with being focused on some outcome in life, in some end that would justify any means, even selling our human souls, our integrity or that of another, is that in so doing we miss the wonder of living fully alive. There is an aliveness in every step of the way, even the painful, if they are experienced with integrity.

You see to live from our unique souls, to live with integrity, is not a place that you can ever arrive at. Integrity is not a state of perfection, of completeness, that you stay in for the rest of your lives. Integrity is about bringing who we are into what we do, its about being who we truly are and sharing it with our world. Integrity is about integrating who we are with what we do. I’m not sure we ever fully achieve this, I certainly haven’t. The real journey of life is an attempt to bridge the gap between the two, between who we are and what we do. Absolute integrity is not a place we ever arrive at completely in life, rather it’s the attempt to live with integrity that brings one fully alive.

Life is a journey and a beautiful one at that. It’s a road to nowhere though. This is why the ends can never justify the means. Why? because the means, the way that we live, is the true end in and of itself. It’s about living with integrity, blessing one another with our presence and inspiring others to live the same way. Or at least to try to. It’s about raising one another up to be the best that we can. It’s about not being afraid to reveal who we are, thus encouraging others to do likewise.

The ends do not justify the means. The means (the way we live) is the real end in and of itself. The means are actually more important than the ends for how we travel is more important than where we are travelling too; for how we travel reveals who we are in the world and how we see life and the people we share this world with. How we travel the journey that is life reveals who and what we truly are. It reveals our soul and is an example to others.

Let people see who you truly are. Live with integrity with love. Integrate your soul and your body. Integrate who you really are, with what you do, how you live, or at least attempt and in so doing you will begin to bring that kin-dom of love alive right here right now.

Sunday 21 July 2019

One Small Step: Watching With Awe and Reverence

Fifty years ago today, the 21st of July 1969, it is estimated that some 530 million people, throughout the world were glued, to black and white tv’s waiting with “bated breath” as Neil Armstrong became “The First Man” to step foot on the moon. As he did he uttered the immortal words “That’s one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind,”

Those words are perhaps some of the best known in human history. The grammar pedants amongst us have questioned why he said “one small step for man” as apposed to the grammatically correct “one small step for a man”. There are many theories as to what he actually meant to say. I for one like the fact that it suggests that everyone was taking that step. It was not his step alone, although it was his foot that felt the dust beneath it. He was certainly humbled by the experience saying “It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.”

He was in that moment disconnected from the earth and the people there and yet knew he was taking that step for all the people that shared that beautifully blue planet that from the moon he could cover with his thumb. This deeply humbled him as he stood there is utter awe.

Awe does that to you. Whenever I have stood having been touched by life or witnessed a human being in their beautiful magnificence or horror filled destructiveness, awe has filled my being. Awe makes you aware of a reality far greater than yourself; awe is the true experience of our smallness our apparent insignificance in the presence of the immensity of it all. And yet, small as we are, we all play a vital role in life. We never know what our thoughts, words and deeds can bring about. Each step is a small step and yet it may just become a giant leap for humanity. Do we ever truly see our own human potential and that of our brothers and sisters? Do we revere our human capacity? Do we recognise, in each other, those words from the 8th Psalm v 8 quoted by Paul in his letter to the Hebrews Ch2 v 7 '. . . you have made him a little lower than the angels, and have crowned him with glory and honour!'

Marilynne Robinson captured the meaning of awe, reverence and humility, those feelings that Armstrong felt walking on the moon, in the following quotation:

" '. . . our capacity for awe is the lens through which creation passes. . . . So reverence should be thought of as prior to belief. It is the human predisposition, perhaps as universal among us as any other, to sense the grandeur of the event we call being, to consider the heavens, to ponder the cunning of a hand.

. . . reverence is the great corrective to the tendency of belief to warp, contract, harden. This is true, I think, because reverence is a kind of awe, and awe is a kind of humility.'

Last Sunday, like probably half of the country and many millions around the world, I found myself caught up in the awe and wonder of sport. I could hardly breath, I watched with bated breath the World Cup Cricket Final, while checking my phone to see the score of the Wimbledon Tennis Mens Singles Final. Millions more were just as caught up in this as I was. I have never seen anything quite like that game between England and New Zealand, the tension, the skill, the fighting qualities, the luck and tiny margin between success and failure. Perhaps the greatest thing was the capacity of the players to remain focused on the task at hand as they were cheered on by the awe filled supporters. It was incredible. How many times in my life has sport caught me up like this, usually it has ultimately led to disappointment, dating right back the 1976 Montreal Olympics when I was just four years old. My mother woke me at midnight to watch Brendon Foster race, which I did with excitement and bated breath and wept inconsolably as he came in third.

There have been a lifetime of disappointments and the occasional success ever since. It’s the same for most of us. The New Zealand cricketers and their supporters must be feeling this deeply.

I had experienced an incredible sense of awe and reverence earlier that day. I missed the first innings of the cricket. I only finished work as England began their run chase. I had conducted the two Sunday services and then at 2pm I conducted a child blessing. I love such services, they truly connect me to the core of my spiritual beliefs. I chatted several times about this during the morning services and also with others over the days before the service about what I believe the “blessing” as I call it means. It is not a washing away of sin, nor is it proclamation of faith. Then again it is not merely a naming ceremony. Yes the child is named and I ask the parents, God parents and those in attendance to make promises to the child and all children, as well as to life itself. I touch the child on its forehead, lips and hands symbolising its thoughts, words and deeds. The service recognizes the sacredness and uniqueness of its life and water connects the child to all life. The service always fills me with awe and reverence.

Awe and reverence are intense feelings at times. I am going through a time of increased sensitivity this year. I felt a deeper sense of reverence and awe last week when in the company of another who was beginning to open himself up for the first times in his life. I felt it in the presence of others when I have connected deeply with them, beautifully transcendent moments. I felt it on several occasions during my recent trip to Israel, moments that will stay with me forever. Moments that have opened my heart, my mind and my soul and given me an increased sense of responsibility for life, the earth that sustains life and those I share this world with. I have awoken to a deeper love within me, these last few months. It has increased a deeper sense of reverence within me. This can be deeply painful at times. The longer I live, the more I realise that most of our troubles are related to this inability to recognize that true divinity in one another. What do you see when you look at the other? Does it instill in you a true sense of awe and reverence? Does it bring alive that love within you?

It matters how we see one another for it will impact on how we live and this really matters. We can inspire one another to fulfill our potential and truly serve life, to take those small steps that may well become giant leaps for humanity. Do we encourage one another, or do we discourage each other?

This raises a question for me. How do we encourage, inspire, each other to take those small steps? How do we bless each other with our presence? How do we fill our children’s hearts with the courage to be all that they were born to be and their spirits with faith in love and life? Well I believe it begins by allowing them to witness what it is that makes us come alive. Howard Thurman said “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and do it. For what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

That is so true. This is what the world needs more than anything, people who come alive, this is how we inspire and thus encourage, by our simple example. Last weekend in my simple interactions with ordinary people and through some of the things I saw on the tv I found myself being inspired by others in their joy and in their courage to face their very real struggles. Last weekend blew my heart open and I felt that spirit in me coming alive. I see and witness so many people in my life who dedicate themselves to helping others to find what is already within them, I find it beautifully inspiring.

It brought to mind a rather beautiful mantra I once heard. It goes by the title “It’s time somebody told you”:

“It’s time somebody told you that you are lovely, good and real; that your beauty can make hearts stand still. It’s time somebody told you how much they love and need you, how much your spirit helped set them free, how your eyes shine full of light. It’s time somebody told you.”

Who are the people who have inspired you? Who planted the seeds of love or who nurtured those seeds and enabled them to grow and flower? Who have been your inspirations in your lives? Who are the people who have encouraged you to come alive? To take that small step that might just change the world.

Every journey begins with one small step. Now whether that step is literal or figurative does not seem to matter. Any journey whether it be of mind, body or the spirit begins with one small step. None of us remember our first small steps in life, but I guarantee you that they were etched permanently on the hearts and minds of those who witnessed them, who our lives were dependent upon, our first supporters and cheerleaders.

Our journeys will not lead to us stepping on the moon and even if they do, they will not be the first steps there. That does not make our steps any the less significant, for each step matters; every step matters, for it impacts in some way or another. Everything matters. What we believe about ourselves and each other matters. How we live in the world matters. How we act towards each other matters. Whether we encourage or discourage matters. It matters profoundly.

I believe that living with awe and deep reverence for life is the key for making our lives truly matter. For without it we will not see one another with reverence, they just won’t matter to us. It matters how we see one another and what we pass on to the children, as they take those first steps into life. For our example will help develop in them love and compassion for each other and the courage to greet each new day with awe and reverence for life itself. And thus they will begin to make a difference in the world. Awe and reverence will ground them in something greater themselves, even if that is just the ground at their feet. So that even when times are difficult, they can continue to put one foot in front of the other, and thus keep on taking those small steps that one day may well become a giant leap forward for the whole of humankind.

So let’s continue taking those small steps together, lets bless the world with our thoughts, words and deeds in awe and reverence for life.

I’m going to end this "blogspot" with some words of blessing by John O'Donohue...


May you awaken to the mystery of being here and enter the quiet immensity of your own presence.
May you have joy and peace in the temple of your senses.
May you receive great encouragement when new frontiers beckon.
May you respond to the call of your gift and find the courage to follow its path.
May the flame of anger free you from falsity.
May warmth of heart keep your presence aflame and may anxiety never linger about you.
May your outer dignity mirror an inner dignity of soul.
May you take time to celebrate the quiet miracles that seek no attention.
May you be consoled in the secret symmetry of your soul.
May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder.
John O’Donohue

Sunday 14 July 2019

Come and take a seat. We can talk, maybe even walk side by side

Last week I came across a fascinating article that described several towns up down this fair land that had designated some public seating as “chat benches”. I thought to myself what a wonderful idea. I remember thinking that this would be a great idea for Trafford and thought I will contact the council about it. I posted about it on social media and lots of other people, from all over the world agreed that it was a great idea. I’ve been talking about it ever since. Last Thursday during the “Living Questions” engagement group we spoke quite extensively about it. This was during a conversation which centered around finding ways to connect to people; how difficult it can be to meet new people when you come into a new community alone, a stranger. On Tuesday morning while enjoying company and coffee after being in meditation with friends I spoke of it once again. I had over the last few days noticed just how blessed I am to have the friends I share my life with. I realised just how truly wealthy I am, as I have so many people who I share my life with, people I can walk and talk with or sit and chat with.

The clock turned 9am and we all left to get on with our daily business. I set off to the gym. As I left Café Nero I looked at the bench outside and noticed a sign on it, which read “Happy to Chat Bench.” Well I could not believe my eyes. There it was right in front of me. I wonder how long it had been there. Perhaps some in the town had already responded the same article I had read. Perhaps it had been there for years and I’d only just noticed it. I took a picture and went off tto he gym with a broad beamer on my face. As I walked in someone asked “Why do you looking so happy?” So I explained. Again I’ve been going on about it ever since.

The benches, that can be found up and down the land have a sign which reads “The ‘Happy to Chat’ Bench: Sit Here If You Don’t Mind Someone Stopping To Say Hello.”

The purpose of the benches is to offer an opportunity to people who feel isolated to make a connection with someone new. There are many people who feel isolated in communities up and down the land. The initiative was initially launched to coincide with United Nations World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

It seems that Sainsbury’s has started something similar. Sue has often spoken of how the café in Sainbury’s in Sale is a kind of community centre for people who are isolated and struggle with life. As she says “They get looked after in Sainsbury’s”. Well it seems this is not an isolated example. for many Sainsbury’s café’s have begun to include “Talking Tables”. The initiative is similar to the “chat benches”. It is space set aside for people to come and chat with others.

“The Campaign to End Loneliness” estimates that there are 1.1 million people over the age of 65 who are chronically lonely in Britain. The campaigns executive director Laura Alcock-Ferguson claims that “Long working hours and a culture of constant ‘busyness’ means people do not prioritize reaching out to lonely older people,” Last year they launched a major campaign calling for people to commit to acts of kindness for this “Missing Million.” The problem has been recognised on a governmental level, early in 2018 Tracey Crouch M.P. was appointed the “minister for loneliness”. Loneliness is not just a problem for the isolated elderly, but also the young. In fact, “The Office for National Statistics has reported that “young adults are more likely to feel lonely than older age groups.” It is claimed by some to be a chronic health crisis amongst millenials. One study found that 83% od 13-34 year olds say that they feel lonely as do a third of new mums. This is something that the Sainsbury’s café are recognising.

We have never lived in a more connected time. We can talk face to face, with virtually anyone on earth and yet people are increasingly experiencing a sense of disconnection and isolation. We are living in what has been described as “the age of loneliness”. Perhaps the problem is not so much that people do not talk, its more that we don’t talk enough about the things that really matter. This is certainly something that has been discussed over and over again in the engagement groups I lead in both communities that I serve. It seems to be the thing that those who attend are most grateful for. A place to talk about the things that really matter and to do so while sitting side by side in circle with others.

There are many theories as to why people feel lonelier than ever in this age of incredible communication. Why do we feel so lonely? I believe that part of the problem is that we do not see ourselves in each other. There seems to be less of a sense of our common humanity. We do not see the sacredness of one another’s lives. People seem ever more divided from one another and thus do not listen and or share one another’s joy and suffering. We all know joy and we all know suffering.

So what can be done? Well perhaps it’s the job of the new churches and cathedrals, the shopping centers and the supermarkets. These are the places that people frequent. Places of worship are no longer the hub of the community. That said the church was never the building, it was always the people. The “Kin-dom” of love is within each of us and it is all around us if we would create it. It is not some place beyond life, but in this life right here and now and I believe it is our task to create it, in and through our lives and how do we do it? Well by inviting the folk in our communities to come and sit with us, to walk and talk with others, shoulder to shoulder and side by side.

To be open with another is to invite them into your space as they are, exactly as they are in this moment. The challenge is how to offer the invitation? I suspect it can't be by being direct. Maybe it begins by walking and sitting with them. Maybe by sitting on one of those benches or perhaps creating our own and begin to talk and to invite the other to begin to speak too.

It will have to be done side by side. I have noticed that the most open conversations I have with people occur when walking or sitting with them side by side. People just seem to open up more that way. Maybe its because it equalisers the relationship or perhaps it allows for a deeper honesty than the directness of face to face conversation, which can be combative at times.

Perhaps by sharing and listening, side by side, deeper connections can be built, as that spirit of love and life awakens in hearts and souls. This is the language of the heart that needs to be listened to "with the ears of our hearts". We need to learn to listen to ourselves and to one another. This allows us to draw closer to one another and thus dispel the aching loneliness. In so doing we begin to create a sacred space where a person can speak openly with another human being about whatever it is they find so hard to speak of.

We all need a place where we can go, where someone will draw close to us and listen as we come close to who we are in all our hope and despair. Where we can truly reveal all that we are “warts and all and beauty spots too.” It does not have to be a special place. It could be a bench, or bus, or a café chair.

Now a bench is simply an object for sitting on, who would of thought it could be a place of transformation and healing, a sacred holy site. It can if used in the right way. It can become a place where people can begin to find themselves, to find someone who will listen and begin to share their heart. A place where the spirit of love can come to life and incarnate in this our world and a place where the kin-dom of love can begin again. It begins by a someone finding someone else to draw close to and begin to heal this our fractured and hurting world.

It begins with you and it begins with me, you never know your next conversation may just save the world.

Sunday 7 July 2019

What Condition is Your Spiritual Condition In?: Four Questions to Ponder

I recently enjoyed a week off duty. It was lovely and oh so needed. A time to truly let my soul catch up with my body. A time to see what condition my spiritual condition was in. It is oh so easy to get caught up in the doing of life that you forget to experience the being. It is vital to take time away and recharge in order to return to fully engage with life. I came back refreshed and straight into leading worship.

I slept well on Sunday night and awoke raring to go. The only problem was that my head was so empty that I had no idea where to go on this week’s little adventure. So off I went to the gym and thought if I get into my body surely something will come. Well thoughts came and went, but nothing stuck. I came home and showered and ate, but still nothing stuck. So, I thought I’d have a look at Facebook and see what my friends, all over the world, were talking about. Still nothing came. I then thought I will have a look at Facebook memories and see if there was anything from the past that might offer inspiration. There is was a wonderful reflection "The Four Questions" from Rev Bill Darlison, the retired minister from the Dublin congregation, who now lives in retirement with the lovely Morag back home in Pontefract. It just seemed perfect for where I was at. So for the rest of this "blogspot" I will explore the four questions that Bill proposes we ask ourselves from William J Bausch book “The Yellow Brick Road”. The Four questions being “When did I stop singing?”, “When did I stop dancing?”, “When did I stop being enchanted by stories?”, “When did I become uncomfortable with silence?”

Bill introduces the four questions with the following reflection:

"We all have periods of spiritual malaise, world-weariness, soul-sickness, times when we feel oppressed by life, or disengaged from things, and we can't quite fathom the reason why. At such times writes William J Bausch (in his book The Yellow Brick Road), we should ask ourselves four questions."

So the first question: “When did I stop singing?” Bill reflects:

“He doesn't mean by this: when did you stop picking up the hairbrush and pretending to be Mariah Carey? Or: when did you stop singing a selection of Elvis's greatest hits in the bath? The question goes much deeper and really means: When did you stop singing your own song? When did you surrender your own uniqueness and decide to live an imitative or conformist life? When the voice is stifled the spirit suffers.”

As soon as I read this I was reminded of a question, humorously asked by a friend, on Facebook, the other day. She wrote “Does singing ‘Spirit of Life’ in the shower in the morning constitute a spiritual practice? I’m asking for a friend.” There were some lovely responses to this. I remember thinking well it’s as good a prayer as any song ever sung and I am sure that it said something of the persons spirit.

It also brought immediately to mind the following piece of wisdom “Listening for Our Song” by David S has always touched a place deep in the soul of me...

"On sabbatical in East Africa, I heard a story of a people who believe that we are each created with our own song. Their tradition as a community is to honor that song by singing it as welcome when a child is born, as comfort when the child is ill, in celebration when the child marries, and in affirmation and love when death comes. Most of us were not welcomed into the world in that way. Few of us seem to know our song.

It takes a while for many of us to figure out which is our song, and which is the song that others would like us to sing. Some of us are slow learners. I heard my song not necessarily from doing extraordinary things in exotic places, but also from doing some pretty ordinary things in some routine places. For every phrase I heard climbing Kilimanjaro, I learned another in a chair in a therapist’s office. For every measure I heard in the silence of a retreat, I heard another laughing with my girls. For every note I heard in the wind on the beach at Lamu, I gleaned more from spending time with a dying friend as her children sang her song back to her. What came to astound me was not that the song appeared, but that it was always there.

I figure that the only way I could have known it for my own was if I had heard it before, before memory went to work making sense and order of the mystery of our beginning. Our songs sing back to us something of our essence, something of our truth, something of our uniqueness. When our songs are sung back to us, it is not about approval, but about recognizing our being and our belonging in the human family.

It is good to know our songs by heart for those lonely times when the world is not singing them back to us. That’s usually a good time to start humming to yourself, that song that is most your own.

They can be heard as songs of love or of longing, songs of encouragement or of comfort, songs of struggle or of security. But most of all, they are the songs of life, giving testimony to what has been, giving praise for all we’re given, giving hope for all we strive for, giving voice to the great mystery that carries each of us in and out of this world."

...What is your song? When was the last time you sang it? You have been given a voice, the world so desperately needs to hear your unique voice, it is a gift that life needs to hear.

Question 2: “When did I stop dancing?” Bill reflects

“This refers to the relationship you have with your body. James Joyce tells us that a certain Mr Duffy "lived a short distance from his body", and a young man interviewed on television recently announced, "I thought my body was a useful vehicle for carrying my head around." We are taught to feel disgust at our body's odours and secretions, shame at our sexuality, dissatisfaction with our appearance. We are taught to suppress our laughter and to hide our tears. Is it any wonder that we are confused and that we retreat from the body, ignore it, punish it, abuse it, and stop dancing with delight? And yet, according to Walt Whitman, "The scent of these arm-pits (is) aroma finer than prayer." How far away from your body do you live?”

Again this immediately remined me of four lines by Eduardo Galeano from “Walking Words". He wrote:

“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”

The body and our relationship with it are many and varied. So many people live with deep shame about their physical being, their bodies. We don’t really like to talk about our bodies. People are often comfortable talking about the mind, their thoughts, and their opinions about things. We are even able to talk about emotions, our feelings, these days. That said so many of us are still uncomfortable talking about the body, the home of our thoughts and feelings. Without the body we have nothing, we have no life.

This brings to mind an interesting phrase “embodied spirituality”. Which Jorge N. Ferrer, professor of religious psychology has written of:

“Embodied spirituality regards the body as subject, as the home of the complete human being, as a source of spiritual insight, as a microcosm of the universe and the Mystery, and as pivotal for enduring spiritual transformation.

The body is not an “It” to be objectified and used for the goals or even spiritual ecstasies of the conscious mind, but a “Thou,” an intimate partner with whom the other human dimensions can collaborate in the pursuit of ever-increasing forms of liberating wisdom.”

Embodied spirituality is about fully inhabiting our lives, our thoughts, our feelings our relationships with ourselves, our lives, each other and the mystery that connects all life. It’s about being fully present in our bodies and lives and therefore fully experiencing our potential and being fully alive. Through the body we experience what it is to be fully alive. They say “listen to your body”, sage wisdom indeed. “Sacred the body” is a hymn I love to sing and sacred the body is indeed.

...So how far do you live from your body? Do you live a disembodied life? We need live within our being and the world needs us to truly dance the rhythm of life....The key is to live your life as if it were a dance...

"All of My Life is a Dance" by Nancy Wood

All of my life is a dance.
When I was young and feeling the earth
My steps were quick and easy.
The beat of the earth was so loud
That my drum was silent beside it.
All of my life rolled out from my feet
Like my land which had no end as far as I could see.
The rhythm of my life was pure and free.
As I grew older my feet kept dancing so hard
That I wore a spot in the earth
At the same time I made a hole in the sky.
I danced to the sun and the rain
And the moon lifted me up
So that I could dance to the stars.
My head touched the clouds sometimes
And my feet danced deep in the earth
So that I became the music I danced to everywhere.
It was the music of life.
Now my steps are slow and hard
And my body fails my spirit.
Yet my dance is still within me and
My song is the air I breathe.
My song insists that I keep dancing forever.
My song insists that I keep rhythm
With all of the earth and the sky.
My song insists that I will never die.

From "Many Winters", by Nancy Wood

The third question ask "When did I stop being enchanted by stories?" Bill reflects:

“When did fiction and fantasy lose their appeal? When did you become obsessed by facts and start restricting your reading to biography, history, and natural science? All of these are vitally important, but they don't nurture the soul like stories do. Ask yourself why is it that all the great religious teachers used stories, and why JK Rowling is set to become the first billionaire author in history. What chord has she struck in children (and adults, too) in her re-working of the old myths? We need history and biography and science, but we need magic and enchantment, too, or the soul withers and dies.”

Stories and story-telling have been distilling wisdom throughout the generations and I have no doubt that this will continue on into eternity. They have revealed universal truths, they have spoken deep into the soul of those who have cared to listen, introducing them to magic, mystery and the possibility of otherness. These stories have expanded the imagination and have been windows onto something beyond the confines of pure reason. Life is far more than the sum of it's parts.

The great sages such as Jesus and the Buddha excelled in storytelling. They knew that through a story they could reach every aspect of the person receiving their truth; they knew that the listener could relate to a story and it could open them up to new and deeper truths. A story really does put flesh on the word. Shaman and elders of every tradition also shared their wisdom through telling the tale around camp fires and other gatherings. They drew their listeners to deeper visions of life with imagery and symbolism.

When we listen to the great stories and when we listen one another’s stories we connect not only to each other but to all people at all times, past, present and future and of course to that greater reality present in all life. These stories bring a zest to life; these stories help us to see ourselves reflected in a different light. Through identifying we also see our own absurdities and we can laugh at our own holy foolishness. This helps us see a new, a different, perspective. A great story builds a bridge from our particular life to the timeless, the universal, they connect us to the whole. They are windows that give us a glimpse of something way beyond ourselves.

So when did you lose that sense of enchantment and imagination and get lost in the realm of prosaic fact? We need imagination in order to extend ourselves and one another beyond the limits of what we believe life is. Others need us to express our imagination so that they too can glimpse beyond the confines of their perceived limits too.

The fourth and final question asks: “When did I become uncomfortable with silence?” Again, Bill reflects

“When did it become necessary for you to turn on the radio first thing in the morning, play your personal stereo or car radio on the way to work, and sit in front of the television all night? When, as a culture, did we begin to accept piped music in lifts, loud music in pubs? When did we become comfortable with mobile phone noise, road traffic noise, aeroplanes and, police sirens? "I think the intelligence of a person is in inverse proportion to the amount of noise they can bear," writes Schopenhaur. The body craves noise and distraction, but the soul needs silence.”

Silence is vital and we need not fear it, instead we should befriend it, we need not fill the space between our bodies or our words. In the silence inspiration and clarity comes, it helps us to make sane decisions about our lives. It is often in the silence that I find a deeper connection to God, to the ground of all being, to that which runs through and connects all life, the still small voice of conscience deep within. What the Quakers describe as “That of God in everyone”

“Silence is Golden” it is so vital to the active life. We all need time alone, in silence, in solitude; a time to commune with that greater reality, a time alone with God; a time alone with our deeper selves. Prayer and meditation is as vital to me today as air, food and water. My body and mind cannot function without these elements; my body and mind cannot maintain good health without my soul being fed by prayer and meditation, by humbly entering into silence.

The spiritual and religious life has to be both active and open. To give ourselves fully to the lives we live, we need to ensure that we ourselves are in fit spiritual condition. Therefore like the great sages sometimes we all need to wander off into the wilderness, commune with our God and feed our souls as we enter into silence.

So what do you think of these four questions: “When did I stop singing?”, “When did I stop dancing?”, “When did I stop being enchanted by stories?”, “When did I become uncomfortable with silence?”

Maybe something to reflect on in the coming weeks. If you find yourself lacking in any area perhaps ask yourselves what you can do to resolve them?