Sunday 26 January 2020

Births, Deaths & Marriages: Living the Dash

A week last Tuesday Sue and I had an appointment at Sale Registrars. We had gone to register our upcoming wedding. As we waited to be interviewed, first of all together and then individually, we noticed a young couple with a small child and new born baby. It was a blissful joy to be close to this family with this beautiful life, full of potential. in their hands. As we waited another couple came in with their own new born. I wondered what these two young lives would become. It was a beautiful feeling. I was first to be interviewed. I did not do a great job if I am honest, for some reason I couldn’t remember Sue’s house number, but I was passed. As I came out. and Sue went in for her interview, I noticed two older women sitting where one of the young couples had sat previously. The atmosphere had changed, they were there for a very different reason. They were there to register the death of one of the women’s husbands. The other woman was there to support her friend.

At one point the woman, who had lost her husband turned to me to ask if I was there to register our wedding, I made a slightly jokey comment about it and she smiled, although as she did I could see the tears in her eyes. The image has stayed with me ever since. Sue came out a little later with news of when we would be able to collect the Blue forms giving us permission to marry at Dunham Road. Sue said that it would be one year, exactly to the day, when I proposed to her by the Sea of Galilee.

As we left we talked about what we had just been a part of. We had seen the examples of three of the most significant experiences of human life, birth, marriage and death. Something we are both involved in creating services for. These are the three major occasions when loved ones gather together. There, in a seemingly ordinary building, in a small town in England, we witnessed most of life within us and around us. It certainly made me pause, in deep reverence for life itself. What a crazy ride this life is. The beauty, the joy, the anticipation, the mystery and the deep broken hearted grief all come together in a local government building. Yes plain old ordinary things and yet so deep and meaningful.

I’ve been thinking about the new babies I saw that day and the smiling woman with tears in her eyes. I have been thinking about the potential in the babies and the life the woman’s husband must have led. It got me thinking about the child blessing services I conduct. I call them blessings because in my understanding I am blessings these new lives in the hope that they themselves will become a blessing to life itself. All this brought to mind a wonderful poem that can be found by clicking on the following link The Dash by Linda Ellis

"The Dash" is a bit of a folksy poem, but its message is deep, powerful and meaning filled. The dash is the line between our date of birth and of death. The dash appears short and even thin and yet it can be deep and meaning filled. What matters the most is how we live "The Dash"

Sue and myself are going away for a couple of nights. One reason is a mini break from the hustle and bustle of our lives. The other though is to spend time together to create our wedding service. We are taking time together to reflect on the ritual we would like to create to share with the people we love. It means so much to both of us. In many ways the service is more important than anything else. It will speak of our lives before we reached this point, what our relationship means to both of us and what we are committing to as we move forward together. We are both in the second half of our lives. Even if we are blessed with good health we have past the half way point of our dashes. So we want the ritual to be deep and meaning filled and a threshold that leads to our new lives together.

As I have looked back at the day at the register office and forward to what is to come my mind has been dominated by thoughts about rituals, particularly rites of passage. The three major ones are marked legally at the Sale town hall, but the actual rituals take place elsewhere. These three primary rituals and rites are things that Sue and myself spend a lot of our adult lives involved in. They make up a large part of our professional lives, but they are not the only rituals that we engage in. All life is made up of ritual. Our dashes are held together by all kinds of rituals, although I am not sure we always notice this.

Everything we do in life can be done ritually and thus can become meaning filled. Even the most simple basic task can be enriched if we live reverently. If we live with reverence for life itself. If we see life as a deeply sacred thing. If we bless it with our true presence. It is not just marrying, burying or birthing that are enriched by ritual, even standing, sitting, walking, nay breathing can be done meaningfully, ritually. There is nothing more deeply ritualistic than deep listening. The real beauty of life lays in the ordinary, in observing and experiencing the meaning of life in the ordinary. By so doing the great moments are created.

Ronald L. Grimes captures this near perfectly in “Marrying and Burying: Rites of Passage in a Man’s Life”

"Ritual practice is the activity of cultivating extraordinary ordinariness. It is necessary, because human activity has a kind of entropy about it; life, like love, runs down. Things get tiresome and difficult. Body and soul cry out for something different, hence the impetus to ritualize. But if the ritually extraordinary becomes a goal or is severed from ordinariness, it loses its capacity to transform, which, after all, is what rites of passage are supposed to do."

The wedding is going to be a deeply special day, for a multitude of reasons; it is made special by the moments in our dashes and so many other people’s dashes; it is the "specialness" of the lives we have created that will make the day so exceptional. That ritual will be made meaningful by the rituals that we live by in the ordinariness of our days and the days that will follow, however long we are blessed with.

All this reminded me of beautiful piece of wisdom from Forrest Church’s masterpiece “Love and Death: My Journey Through the Valley of the Shadow”, written while he was dying of oesophageal cancer. He asked "knowing that we will die, what should we do?" To which he answered "we should live, we should laugh, and we should love." He then recalled a lesson he learnt from his children, about living. One day, when they were young, he was walking them to school, on a busy New York street. Suddenly a car swerved round a corner and almost killed them all. Forrest was incensed by this, but he remembers, "my kids just laughed, romping blithely down the sidewalk, jumping from tree to tree as they always did, trying to touch the leaves." The kids were celebrating, nay singing the joy of living, and they "had the right idea. Why didn't I think to jump and touch the leaves?"

Forrest believed that it was living, loving and laughing that took real courage, they required heart, while dying didn’t really take much courage at all, in his eyes that just came naturally. Something he was experiencing as he wrote these words.

Now to really live Forrest suggested a simple little mantra:" Want what you have. Do what you can. Be who you are." He didn’t suggest that this would be easy but it is the only way to live and in so doing we will live in such a way that our lives will prove worth dying for by the love we leave behind.

Perhaps somewhere in that little mantra is an answer as to how we bring deep meaning to the ordinariness of our lives. Perhaps this is what we need to ritualise. To want the things that make up our lives and not wish for something else and in so doing we might just begin to be who we truly are, instead of wishing we were someone else. In so doing we can do the things that we are able to do and thus bring deep meaning to the little bit of the dash that we are living right now.

This is the gift of life, the beautiful gift of being alive in this ordinary moment, a moment that can become deep and meaningful, not only for ourselves but for those we get to share our lives with. For we never know how long we’ve got left how close we are to the end of the line, the last part of dash. Nor do we know how close those we love are to the end of theirs.

I'm going to end with a wonderful poem by one of the greats of the last few decades, Mary Oliver. Her dash came to an end a year ago last week.

“The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean--
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down --
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

Sunday 19 January 2020

May Our Lives Be Inspired By Beautiful Encounters

Life is full of encounters, opportunities and interactions; there are many opportunities that could lead us in all kinds of directions; we never know when we set out each day what the opportunities we face may just lead too.

A week last Wednesday I heard and witnessed a rather beautiful encounter. Whenever I lead worship, or one of the several groups I host, I always promote them on social media, it is an attempt to open our free religious tradition to others. I promoted the service I was doing at Cross Street Chapel and David a friend told me that he had a day off work and was interested in the title of the service. I was pleased to hear this. He has in the past responded to some of my blog posts but never attended an event or service.

I got to the chapel early and he arrived as others did about 15 minutes before the service began. We said hello and he sat quietly in the chapel. A few minutes before he had a woman who is a member of the chapel had also arrived, she did not take her seat immediately. A few minutes later she did and appeared to sit near my friend. I noticed that they began to talk and thought well that’s a good sign someone is making him feel welcome. I had no idea what was going on. I walked into the chapel and soon discovered what was happening, they were both beaming at each other. No it wasn’t the beginning of a new romance, although it seems that they had both experienced a brief encounter.

They had never met before that day but had actually, without realising it, on their way to the chapel. They had both come by tram. David lived further out and told me he had missed the tram he had intended and was worried he might be late. A few stops later this smiling lady got and sat next to him. They did not speak to each other but felt comfortable in each others silent company. The woman got off a stop before David in Manchester and he told me later that just before she did that he had this feeling that they were both going to the same place. He had no idea where it came from and wished he had said something then.

David got off the tram the stop after the woman and then followed directions on google maps to the chapel, he walked in , sat down and waited and then the woman entered the chapel sat down near him. He said hello. Low and behold it was that very same lovely smiling woman who had sat next to him on the tram. It blew his mind and it made his day as it did mind. Afterwards we talked and he told me that he had connected with the service and the whole day, one of a great many surprises and seeming coincidences. Sometimes life is like that, don’t you find, especially when you are tuned into the right frequency and not lost in your own little ego-centric world.

I wonder how often in life such seeming coincidences occur, how many opportunities or chance encounters come our way, how many doors open that could lead to something incredible and new. I wonder if these opportunities come just once or do that keep on coming again and again in one form or another. I’m not sure if I am honest, although I do know that when I’m truly tuned in they do seem to occur far more often than when I m not. I wonder how many times we have that feeling that David had on the tram and ignore it, rationalise it out and turn away from it, only to find the universe present it to me once again. Or perhaps it’s all just random chance, just chaos bumping into each other. Who knows for certain? Certainly not I.

We all wander through life, primarily living by the same daily, perhaps weekly patterns. The seasons change but we live by a similar pattern and rhythm and yet as we do so life changes, we change, others change and we have these interesting interactions from time to time. I wonder sometimes if such encounters, however brief, are constantly available to us. How many people do we pass in life and never speak or truly interact with and yet we never know what the interaction might lead to.

This brings to mind the the rather wonderful poem below by Wislawa Szyborska

"Love at First Sight" by Wislawa Szymborska's

They're both convinced
that a sudden passion joined them.
Such certainty is beautiful,
but uncertainty is more beautiful still.

Since they'd never met before, they're sure
that there'd been nothing between them.
But what's the word from the streets,
staircases, hallways —
perhaps they've passed by each other a
million times?

I want to ask them
if they don't remember —
a moment face to face
in some revolving door?
perhaps a "sorry" muttered in a crowd?
a curt "wrong number" caught in the receiver? —
but I know the answer.
No, they don't remember.
They'd be amazed to hear
that Chance has been toying with them
now for years.

Not quite ready yet
to become their Destiny,
it pushed them close, drove them apart,
it barred their path,
stifling a laugh,
and then leaped aside.

There were signs and signals,
even if they couldn't read them yet.
Perhaps, three years ago
or just last Tuesday
a certain leaf fluttered
from one shoulder to another?
Something was dropped and then picked up.
Who knows, maybe the ball that vanished
into childhood's thicket?

There were doorknobs and doorbells
where one touch had covered another
Suitcases, checked and standing side by side.
One night, perhaps, the same dream,
grown hazy by morning.

Every beginning
is only a sequel, after all,
and the book of events
is always open halfway through.

This beautiful poem “Love at first sight”, by Wislawa Szymborska, describes two lovers engaged in a display of public affection. I get the impression that the author is convinced that some guiding force is at work in their interaction. What begins as “Chance”, then becomes “Destiny” which “pushed them close, drove them apart”. The poems suggests that these lives were scripted long ago in a “book of events”, which cannot be altered, try as we might. The poem suggests that the lovers have passed by one another many times before, but were never aware or ready to make that first point of contact. That there were signs along the way and that one day this encounter would happen, but it was more than mere chance, something else was at work offering itself to both of them. It just took this moment for it to happen.

In many ways this is how I see life these days. So many possibilities are going on all around us. Some good, others not so good. So many joys, tragedies, triumphs, failures, frustrations, crises, endless possibilities good and bad. Life offers itself to us, but so often we close ourselves off from it. One thing I have noticed is that as I have allowed life itself to guide me I have become more open I am to life itself and the more connected I felt, the more aware I have become of experiencing meaning and making meaning filled decisions. As I have done so I experienced a greater sense of belonging to myself, those people I share my life with and this world in which we all live and breathe and share our being.

The more I have lived this way the more I have noticed the meaningful coincidences in life. Some say this is how it is meant to be, I am not wholly convinced of this, I prefer to see it as this how it could be if I allow myself to follow the rhythm of life. If I do I notice the so called coincidences, the synchronicities of life.

I accepted one of those opportunities two years almost to the day when after a “Singing Meditation” Sue asked me if I would like to go for food after something we were both attending, I said yes and look what followed. I wonder what would have happened if I had not. One of the “Sliding Doors” moments. In our two years together one thing that we have said we will do is say yes to life when it offers itself to us. We have mostly stuck to this and when we have done so it has always turned out right. The classic example being the trip magical trip to Israel that I was invited on.

I do believe that life speaks to us, if we are in tune enough to hear it, it speaks in so many ways too. I believe it spoke to David quite a lot that day. Some say it is the hand of God directing everything, others say it is just pure chance and others call it synchronicity. I am one of those who call it synchronicity. I also refer to it as the “Lure of Divine Love”.

Personally I do not hold with the view of a God who controls all our interaction,that life is preordained if you like. Neither do I hold a deistic understanding that a Creator started the processes of life but then left life to get on with it. Nor am I an atheist or even agnostic, I sense that there is a Divine presence in life. I have come to believe in the Divine Lure of Love. That the Divine lures life on, that we are co-creators, with all of life in a universal process. I sense this divine presence within me and I experience it in life itself, particularly in creativity or in deeply felt interactions. I have discovered that when I am awake to such things in life I experience synchronicity constantly. Life seems to direct me, when I am awake to it

That said intuition alone is not enough, discernment is vital in order to make wise decisions about life.

The word discernment is formed from the Latin word “discernere”, which means to separate, to distinguish, to sort out. Just think of prospectors panning for gold or sifting through the rocks and dirt in search of gem stones. They are separating, they are sorting through the muck for the jewels, they are distinguishing, they are discerning.

Discernment is the key to making wise decisions about our lives, about what our senses are saying to us. We need to discover what is of value and what needs to be discarded as our minds interpret our senses. We need to discard the dirt and muck to uncover the gold, the gems, to have clarity of thought, so that we can truly follow that Divine spark within each of us. This is not easy, especially when we think of all that information that swims around in our lives and are consciousness; information like an enormous shoal of fish swimming round and round aimlessly in a small tank and not really going anywhere. Our lives, our heads are just so full of stuff, our senses are constantly overloaded. How do we discern what is the right response? Well we need silence; we need time away from all this information and all these things that pull us in so many directions. We need to still our senses from time to time and thus tune into the source of all life. We need time to be still, time to be silent, time to connect to our bodies and our breathing; time to hear that still small voice of calm. A voice less than a whisper, but somehow more than silence.

We need to awaken to our true consciousness in order to make those sane and sensible decisions about life. We need to learn to separate those things that are of value and those that are not. We need to do this in order to hear that voice, that is less than whisper but that is somehow more than silence; that voice that has spoken down the centuries, to those who had ears that could hear it.

That voice that spoke to David on the tram and then again a little later as he sat down in Cross street chapel and share worship with a room full of strangers or if you prefer friends he had not yes met.

The choices we make matter. It matters what we are and what we do. I do not think that God chooses this for us. Yes God offers guidance, “The Lure of Divine Love” but it is up to us to choose the path that we follow.

So pay attention my friends. Take time to tune into your deeper selves and the deeper pulse of life, pay attention, trust your own heart but please discern, make wise choices about what life offers to do, for what you do and do not do really matters…

May you have interesting and beautiful encounters and may you trust them enough that you allow them to lead you to ever more beautiful lives.

Sunday 12 January 2020

Friendships and Relationships: Conversations of a Kind

I was invited to lead worship back at Cross Street Chapel this week. The minister is on Sabbatical and I had agreed to cover the Wednesday lunchtime service there. It took me back to a cold January lunchtime back in 2005 when I first walked through the door of the chapel. I was greeted by Peter Sampson, at the door, it was lovely to see him there again.There were only a couple of people present who would also have been there back then. so much has changed since and yet this place has remained the same, a spiritual oasis in the heart of the busy city of Manchester, a beacon of free and inquiring religion. Back then John Midgley's service spoke to my heart and soul and I began a new relationship with a tradition I felt I could belong within. A conversation began that day as I listened. The conversation has a continued as the relationship has developed.

I had come to the Unitarians, as I had other traditions, seeking answers to many questions I had begun to experience a spiritual awakening in the proceeding months. The questions have not been answered but my relationship with the Great Mystery has continued and the conversation has developed. I found a home amongst these seekers.

I listened to much, I have shared quite a lot, I have sat in silence, I have sung songs, I have laughed and I have wept. I have grown spiritually.

I have come to understand that at its core the spiritual life is about relationships; relationships with life, with each other, with ourselves and with God, whatever we understand God to be. And how do relationships develop? Well through conversation, through sharing ourselves with each other, not by losing ourselves, but becoming ourselves through our conversations with the other, lower and upper case. We relate through conversation and thus we grow spiritually, through relationship.

Now there are of course many ways to relate, to converse. It is not just through the spoken word. There is a wonderful song in the latest New Model Army album “From Here” it is titled “Conversation” it is a song about a need to connect when lost in a desperate situation. The essence of the song is this desire to connect to make conversation of any kind. The last few lines of the song follow:

And though nothing much is said
It’s a conversation of a kind
You take any companion you can find

All those flickering lights across the town
Crackling connections and animals running
There are ghosts everywhere and the night watching

Call me any time, call me any time
And though nothing much will be said
It will be a conversation of a kind
Call me any time, call me any time

If you click on this link you can hear the song


By the way I saw New Model army in Manchester last night. They were immense. We have been sharing an amazing conversation for decades now. It was wonderful that Sue could come along with me and join in the conversation too. I bumped into an old friend too, I knew I would.

I am sure that all of us, at one time or another, have felt a desperate sense of disconnection when we would give anything to connect to a conversation of some kind, to begin to relate once again.

In “The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure” Catherine Blyth suggests that:

"When it works, conversation can come close to heaven. Be it sharing a laugh with a stranger, transforming a contact into a friend; that joyful moment when you click, share a joke, or spark a new idea; or just letting off steam with someone who knows how to listen — there are countless adventures between minds out there, waiting to happen, in each encounter, each day of our lives.

"Networking is part of conversation's value, although the word sounds chilly and strategic. Conversation is something bigger: It is the spontaneous business of making connections, whether for work, friendship, or pure, fleeting pleasure.

She suggests that conversation is more than words, it is music: "Its harmony, rhythm, and flow transcend communication, flexing mind and heart, tuning us for companionship."

Conversations whether spoken or not, build and deepen relationship.

Losing connection and thus feeling like you can’t converse any longer can be deeply disconcerting. Something we are not use to in this age, but it can and does happen. We were recently without internet connection due to problems in the area, it is amazing how quickly it affected us, it certainly interfered with my work and Sue’s too, as well as her daughter’s social life. We all felt a little cut off from our usual connections.

If you ever want to witness someone experiencing an existential crisis just observe them when their battery has gone on their Smart or I Phone, or if they can’t get wi-fi access. It is like watching someone who has crossed into the realm of non-existence. As they lose their connections they feel that they can no longer relate to life. It seems that we desperately need to be engaged in this seemingly artificial conversation all the time, or somehow we feel lost and alone.

It would appear that Wi-Fi connection is one of the most valuable commodities we can possess. I suspect that this desire symbolizes something deeper. We have confused connection, conversation, spiritual intimacy with technological connectedness. Today we have so many ways to keep in touch with each other, to communicate and yet I wonder if these conversations actually lead to the connections that we so deeply crave. So many of us describe feeling lonely, so deeply lonely. There is this craving for connection, for community, for spiritual intimacy.

Perhaps instead of better Wi-Fi what we ought to be seeking is deep conversation and true relationship with each other, with life, with our true selves and with our God. Communicating through a small screen is nothing in comparison to looking deeply into the eyes of another and communicating soul to soul. Sometimes nothing needs to be actually said for it to be a conversation of a deep kind. All it requires is presence, being with each other.

One of my favourite things in the world is to sit silently with others. There is something more in it than sitting silently alone. Yes it is silence, but it is a conversation of a kind; between our hearts and souls and the greater soul of life.

Relationships with each other are vital. Some of the most important ones come through friendships. Friendship allow a deeper spiritual intimacy and they develop a deeper conversation over time.

I get married this March and it has been a struggle whittling down who Sue, my fiancĂ©, and myself would be inviting. There are many people we would like to invite but the chapel just won’t hold them all. It has caused both of us some pain and guilt as we have been unable to invite many folk, I hope that it doesn’t spoil connection and further conversation. I trust that those who we cannot invite will be friends enough to forgive us, I certainly do not want to end the conversation or lose the connection.

This brings to mind some wisdom from David Whyte, on friendship.

“FRIENDSHIP is a mirror to presence and a testament to forgiveness. Friendship not only helps us see ourselves through another’s eyes, but can be sustained over the years only with someone who has repeatedly forgiven us for our trespasses as we must find it in ourselves to forgive them in turn. A friend knows our difficulties and shadows and remains in sight, a companion to our vulnerabilities more than our triumphs, when we are under the strange illusion we do not need them. An undercurrent of real friendship is a blessing exactly because its elemental form is rediscovered again and again through understanding and mercy. All friendships of any length are based on a continued, mutual forgiveness. Without tolerance and mercy all friendships die.”

Friendship’s allow a deeper intimacy in life, they are vital to it. Such deep intimacy and true face to face friendships are as important to young people today as they have always been. They may appear that they are lost in the artificial, but they are not. People are the same as they have always been. I suspect that such friends are the first deep intimacies that any of us experience as we get to know ourselves through relationship with others. They allow us to find ourselves in life and thus connect to that which as the core of life. Perhaps the ultimate of all friendships and intimacies is the relationship we enjoy with our God.

A friend is someone you can trust, you can rely upon, someone who will be there for you, and certainly my friends have always been there for me. We have laughed and we have cried together. We have enjoyed some wild and crazy times together and we have grieved as we have lost one of our number. I have lost a lot of friends over the years, far too many. I will be thinking of those friends and family on our wedding day.

If life has taught me anything it is that it is all about relationships, everything that really matters is about relationships. The key to all relationships is conversation, of some kind, its about being with each other in spiritually intimate ways and forming friendships of some kind.

Life is all about relationships; the spiritual life is all about relationships. Relationships with life, with each other, with ourselves and with God, whatever we understand God to be. And how do relationships develop? Well through conversation, through sharing ourselves with each other, not by losing ourselves, but becoming ourselves through our conversations with the other, lower and upper case. We relate through conversation and thus we grow spiritually, through relationship.

Nothing much needs to be said, to form a conversation of some kind. A relationship can be formed in any situation and circumstance all you have to do is be open to it.

Call me any time…

Sunday 5 January 2020

Well Actually It Does Matter: Living By Hope

I’m going to begin and I will end with some wisdom from Emily Dickinson. Here’s the opener “If I can stop one heart from breaking|”

"If I can stop one heart from breaking" by Emily Dickinson

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

Seems like a good starting point for a new year, refusing to live in vain.

So how are you feeling as we enter 2020, do you live with and in hope or perhaps carrying some cynicism into the year ahead. Do you feel fear eating at your belly? How was the last year? No doubt you are experiencing a mixture of emotions, I know I am. I lived through and witnessed some wonderful things last year. If truth be told I experienced some of the most wonderful moments of my life. That said there was also much that distressed me, that broke my heart to some degree; there was much that distressed me both close at hand and in the world in which I live and breath. Life broke my heart many times last year. Did this leave me in a state of despair? No not at all.

Last year I lived in and by hope, I planted many seeds of hope, I did not get caught up in the despair, I did not give in. I even saw some fruits grow from seeds of love planted a long time ago.

I witnessed some further healing in my immediate family, as well as much suffering too. A lovely example of the healing came a week last Saturday when myself, my brother Otis and sister Liz, were together at the old family farm for the first time since 1982. Our auntie Catherine thanked me for making it possible. I thanked her for the acknowledgement and then offered an internal prayer of thanks for continuing to find the courage to do what my conscience and my God told me was right these last 16 years. There was also a lovely moment at my mums later that day when she gave each one of her four children a mug with a picture of us together taken from our Liz’s wedding last September. I know that this wedding and mine and Sue’s wedding, that is coming in the spring time, have been moments of healing and celebration for so many of us. Our Mandy said later that day how she was so looking forward to the wedding, a time of joy and celebration for the family, something we all need, after a few difficult years.

There is much suffering in life, but there is also joy. The seeds we plant today will not all bare fruit, they may not be harvested in our lifetime, but it will matter what we plant and how we care for them heading into this new year.

For it matters, it really does…Everything matters..every feeling, every thought, every word and every action…What we do and what we refuse to do matters, it impacts on life…there is no neutrality in life…

As I look forward to a new year, I also look back. I do have regrets for things I did and perhaps more importantly what I failed to do, when fear got the better of me. Some tell me that I need to let go of this, it’s in the past it is of no use to you. I have never been entirely convinced of this. You see I have learnt that the past isn’t as fixed as we sometimes think it is, it is not completely frozen in time, it’s meaning can and does change as time unfolds, all we have to do is pay attention to it. My life is testimony to this. I have gained and learnt far more from my seeming failures in life than my successes. I have also learnt that when I have found the courage to life faithfully and with integrity, through extremely painful experiences that in the end a far greater good has come. I now have a very different view of these past painful events today, than I did at the time.

This brings to mind the following rather wonderful poem by David Ray, inspired by Robert Frost.

“Thanks, Robert Frost” by David Ray

Do you have hope for the future?
someone asked Robert Frost, toward the end.
Yes, and even for the past, he replied,
that it will turn out to have been all right
for what it was, something we can accept,
mistakes made by the selves we had to be,
not able to be, perhaps, what we wished,
or what looking back half the time it seems
we could so easily have been, or ought…
The future, yes, and even for the past,
that it will become something we can bear.
And I too, and my children, so I hope,
will recall as not too heavy the tug
of those albatrosses I sadly placed
upon their tender necks. Hope for the past,
yes, old Frost, your words provide that courage,
and it brings strange peace that itself passes
into past, easier to bear because
you said it, rather casually, as snow
went on falling in Vermont years ago
I’m with Robert Frost and the wisdom shared in this poem, when he was asked, “Do you have hope for the future? someone asked Robert Frost, toward the end. Yes, and even for the past,”

And I too not only have hope for the future, but I live by it and I even have hope for the past.

I know how much I need to look at my past, at the seeming failures and successes, in order to know in which direction to head in the future and thus truly live alive, in hope. in this present moment, as I stare into the open and blank expanse that is this new year; an open and blank expanse that is waiting for us to live in. I have chosen these last few years to live in Hope and I continue to do so. Not blind optimism but open Hope. I will be exercising my hope muscles these next 12 months, will you come and join with me? It will not be easy, but it will be real.

For as Krista Tippett has said

“Hope, like every virtue, is a choice that becomes a practice that becomes spiritual muscle memory. It’s a renewable resource for moving through life as it is, not as we wish it to be.”

I need others to join with me, for I cannot take this journey alone. For as Edward Everett Hale said

“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.” – Edward Everett Hale

I love this often quoted statement, that is frequently mis-attributed, it dates back to 1902, a far more optimistic time perhaps, before the industrial scale horrors of the twentieth century took hold. I still believe it is relevant though. Sometimes we may feel that we should give up and not do anything, just protect what we’ve got and sink into despair for the world, that no one else cares, but it is important to remember that even the smallest stone can cause a ripple effect, reaching further than we ever anticipated. I have learnt that all big things are made up of lots of little tiny things joined together. I have also learnt that the little thing that we all can do will make a difference to all the other little things that we interact with. A bit like those star fish on the sea that were thrown back, it mattered to them. I am a great believer in the chaos theory of compassion. You never know what your next small act way lead to. Do not be afraid.

Here is the rather beautiful story

“Star Fish Story”

One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?” The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.” “Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!”

After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said…” I made a difference for that one.”
I am still by inclination a universalist, my universalism is fuelled by hope. I both believe in and experience a God of love who accepts all and rejects none; is present in all life and yet is greater than the entirety of it all. I also believe that there are many ways to understand and experience this universal love; it makes no sense to me to think that there can be only one way. This has given me a code of hopefulness that I can live by. It sustains me through the vicissitudes of life. As I observe this world in which we all live and breath and share our being I bear witness to the many horrors that we seem to inflict on one another, I don’t turn away and I do not sink into cynical despair and believe that it is the best that we can do. My universalism has also helped me come to terms with my past and the people I have shared my life with and to act and live in ways that impact in the best ways, I believe are possible. I live by what is possible, I live in and by hope.

Universalism is a hope filled faith, but that does not make it an easy path. It is not about sitting back and waiting to be rescued by the God of love it promotes. Instead it declares that salvation, in this life, can only be achieved by facing up to the suffering present in all our lives and dealing directly with the despair that accompanies it.

Like everyone I feel deep sadness at times when I look at the horrors that we seem to inflict on one another. That said I also live with deep hope that I know can fill the void that we all feel at one time or another.

I am very aware how truly blessed I am.

So I am setting forward in hope once again this year. I’m going to be exercising my hope muscle, really working on it day by day. I may not see the fruits of my labours, the rewards may not be mine to enjoy, at least not alone. I will not count any day or anything lost. I will count all the acts done not only by myself by the countless others that I share this life with.

Nothing is lost, certainly not hope.

Now I’m going to end as promised with a little more Emily Dickinson, this is her classic poem “Hope”

“Hope,” as Emily Dickinson once wrote with characteristic truth,

is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.

...Be that thing with feathers, and never stop singing that song of the soul whether you have the words or not.

This "blogspot" was partially inspired by a recent post by Parker J Palmer. It was he who brought the David ray poem to my attention as well as this wonderful sing by Carrie Newcomer. Have listen by clicking on it.

"Writing a Better Story" by Carrie Newcomer