Monday 31 August 2020

Work, Rest and Play

I have been asked many times what it is that you were least prepared for, what surprised and surprises me the most as I became & continue to become a minister? The answer, I have come to realise, is that I am never not a minister. Once folk realise what you are, you are always a minister to them. I suppose this is why a journey into ministry it is known as formation & in my experience continual reformation as I keep on turning, or do I mean returning to Love. To minister literally means to serve and to do so humbly and with love. It is hard to not be a minister, to find rest from this work.

Ministers are human beings and they need to rest, something I am still learning to do. I have been feeling tired, deep down in the marrow of my bones, these last few weeks, particularly since the weekend. Last Friday, took so much out of me emotionally, spiritually, physically and mentally. As some of you know I travelled to Yorkshire to conduct the funeral of my ex step dad, the father of many of my brothers and sisters. There were many complex emotions for us all as we said our farewells to this figure that had dominated so many of our lives. I was there to hold us through this deep challenge. I did my job, with Sue’s support. It was the most insane service I have ever been involved with, not helped by some pretty basic errors made by the funeral directors. Lots went wrong, including those who were waiting at the club for the wake afterwards being unable to see the service on the link provided. We came through it together and as friends and family left one another there were many tears and the hope to see one another once again, when we can return to normality. There was deep love, between siblings and family, deep deep love and it was noticeable that the tears came as we said goodbye to one another. There were very few tears shed during the service.

I have noticed that the hardest thing for me in ministry is witnessing the suffering in those I care deeply about. It is the same with congregants as it is with family. I felt deep emotion too at the wedding I conducted for Rosie Arnold and Tim Wigan. Rosie is the daughter of Fiona and granddaughter of Thelma, members at Dunham Road. A family I know well. It was lovely to conduct the service, particularly to be able to connect to family all over the world. The best man was in Australia, but with us via Zoom. As lovely as it was it still took its toll emotionally. As the Sunday service did too. Maybe it is the times we are living through, the things we can do, in spite of the restrictions of the virus, maybe it is just where I am at personally. I do know that I have slept a lot these last few days, as I have felt a deep tiredness within me.

By the way I know I am not alone. We are all feeling the weariness of the pandemic. Not surprising really is it. Where do we find rest from it? Where can we find a bit more playfulness in the seriousness of the situation? Last Friday’s funeral was full of laughter, far more than I had written. There was a lot of laughter and playfulness afterwards too. It helped us all through a difficult time. Maybe that’s something we all need to search for, a little more playfulness might just help. Afterall they do say that laughter is the greatest medicine; after all there is a time for everything under the sun.

 One of the things I love about the poetry night I am hosting weekly on Zoom “Consolation, Sorrow and Joy” is that through it we are sharing so many wonderful emotions, including a great deal of laughter. Yes it is serious at times and at others utterly hilarious. There is a great deal of fun about it all. It has been so needed.

I am sure that we are all familiar with the old saying, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” This old adage has stood the test of time and not just for Jack, but for us all. Yes, we all need work, activities that give purpose and meaning to our lives, but we also need play. If you are really lucky you get to play a little in your work. I get some opportunity there. I also get so much joy from the people I get to share my work with and deep, deep love.

Play can at times be the best way to rest from the troubles and tiredness of life, it is also vital to creativity. I know when I am tired, and little lost in myself, I find it hard to be creative, playfulness is an important aspect of creativity. The great film director Alfred Hitchcock would halt production of a film when something felt stuck. He’d tell a story, that had nothing to do with the film they were making, he would distract the crew and break into their minds that were so fixated on the work. He would be playful with them, he would break up their seriousness that would allow them to return to the production with fresh ideas.

I was thinking of this on Tuesday morning as I was concerned about my day ahead and all the things I needed to do that day, not least write this sermon. As I did I found myself distracted by the little dog as she played with all and sundry and found myself laughing and loving her playfulness.

The spiritual life should include a sense of playfulness. We are not dour Puritans. Why who would we want to crush the joyful spirit out our humanity and faith? Playfulness can be found in the spiritual traditions. Taoists understand being in the flow, of being in harmony with life. The yin/yang symbol is a perfect example of balance. Harmony requires a balance of work and play.

In the Hindu tradition, the deity Krishna is young at heart, forever playing games with humans, especially wiling away his time with attractive young women. Flirting, romancing, and sexuality can be quite playful. But manipulation, mean-spiritedness, or destructive, abusive behavior, sexual or otherwise, is not play. True play celebrates life and brings fun and joy to its participants.

In the Sufi tradition of Islam, the holy fool Nasrudin shows us the value of play. Nasrudin’s foolishness teaches truth by coming at it indirectly. We need these examples of play now more than ever. We need them so as to guard against getting too wrapped up in the problems of our world that we forget to play, For play will help us to build the reserves we need to face those problems, to do the work we are here to do.

As Taoism teaches life needs to be balanced. Balance though is not something that is easy 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, trying to find that balanced state.

We also need to be in good humour. Are your “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”.

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 here 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. As Robert Fulghum advises “Be aware of wonder. Live a balanced life - learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.” The philosopher John Locke wrote “An excellent man, like precious metal, is in every way invariable; A villain, like the beams of a balance, is always varying, upwards and downwards.”

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 are relationship “Umeres” are inbalance. So how are your relationship “Umeres”? Are they imbalanced?

I need to think about the balance of these relationships as I live this life and my work. My work is vital to me, I know is some ways it never ends, you never stop being a minister. I am sure that the work we are all engaged in, whatever that might be is vital to all of us. That said our work should never be the measure of the value of who we are. Who we be in the world is what really matters. We are after all human beings and not merely human doings. It is not what we do but how we are, what we be, that speaks the most. We must never lose the sense of how vital we are to one another, as I was reminded last Friday as I spent time with people I love oh so dearly, as we helped one another in consolation sorrow, and joy. Isn’t this what love is all about?

So, let us never forget what we be, but let us do so with a lightness of spirit and lightness of being. For we need
the lightness of being that will help us face up to the realities of life. That will help us to play at times, to sing and to dance, to laugh and to cry.

We need this lightness of being so that we can fulfil our task to do the work that needs to be done in our homes, our families, our communities and our word. To bring to life the healing that is needed.

Lightness of being is required to do the work that needs to be done in this our shared world.

We need lightness of being and to play sometimes in order to maintain our emotional, spiritual, mental and physical well-being, to balance our umeres, to be in good humour so that we can do the work that needs to be done.

I invite us to whistle while we work. Come play with me.




Monday 24 August 2020

The Golden Thread: We Come Together in Love

 O come together in truth;

O come together in peace;
O come together in joy and sharing,
Come together in knowing and caring;
Come together,
O come together,
O come together in love.

Beautiful words by Dorothy Grover, from a much loved hymn.

They describe why I became a part of spiritual community. They are not the reason why I went from a secular singular person to one who sought out spiritual community, but they are why I stayed. I came to try and understand, to make sense of the sudden and profound changes that had occurred in my life many years ago now, changes that have continued on and on and on. I have not found the answers I was seeking by the way, in fact if anything there are many more questions today than there was then. What community has given me, amongst so many others is a space to explore those and many other questions with like hearted people. In such an environment I have learnt to not only ask and listen to the questions, but to truly live them. I came seeking answers, but it is not why I stayed. I stayed because I found something far more than I was consciously looking for. I stayed because I found community, I found true belonging. I found love. I found my heart's desire.

We come together, oh come together, we come together in love…

Now sadly of course we can’t come together as we would like, we can’t all be together to share in worship, well not physically at least. We are of course together in heart and mind, spirit and soul, some physically at Dunham and hopefully soon at Queens Road, some on Zoom from all sorts of places, and those who are reading the service at home too. We are being creative in ways of coming together, always in love. We are of course coming a little closer, step by step, with love always as our guide.

This not being able to be physically together can be particularly difficult at those times in life when we come together for rites of passage. Like the family funeral I conducted this Friday, or the Gott wedding this afternoon. Despite not being able to be together, physically, as we would like the love that runs through life can and does bind us together if we would but let it. It is the same with birthdays and other celebrations too or at times when those we care for are ill or suffering, as so many are in these challenging days, we find ways though. I saw a lovely example last Saturday as I saw Thelma and her daughter Lisa enjoying fish and chips and each others company sat in the sun in the gardens at the chapel, from a safe social distance of course.

We can still “come together in loving and caring

Oh come together, oh come together, oh come together in love.”

It brought to mind this wonderful bit of wisdom from “When all you’ve ever wanted isn’t enough” by Harold Kushner

“A life without people, without the same people day after day, people who belong to us, people who will be there for us, people who need us and whom we need in return, may be very rich in other things, but in human terms is no life at all.

I was sitting on the beach one summer day, watching two children, a boy and a girl, playing in the sand. They were hard at work building an elaborate sandcastle by the waters edge, with gates and towers and moats and internal passages. Just when they had nearly finished their project, a big wave came along and knocked it down, reducing it to a heap of wet sand. I expected the children to burst into tears, devastated by what had happened to all of their hard work. But they surprised me. Instead they ran up the shore away from the water, laughing and holding hands, and they sat down to build another castle. I realized that they had taught me a valuable lesson. All of the things in our lives, all of the complicated structures we spend so much time and energy creating, are built on sand. Only our relationships with other people endure. Sooner or later, the wave will come along and knock down what we have worked so hard to build up. When that happens, only the person who has somebody's hand to hold will be able to laugh."

It also brought to mind the following verse from Matthew’s Gospel Ch 18 v 20 “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” When we come together in love, that spirit comes to life.

“O come together, o come together, o come together in love.

This is why people come together in spiritual community, why the commune. As the writer Annie Dillard put it “We are here to abet creation and to witness it. To notice each other’s beautiful face and complex nature so that creation need not play to an empty house.”

In coming together in love we create community, it is the love that we create together that binds such community together. This love is the thread that binds us together. We are all responsible for weaving this thread and repairing it when it gets damaged. It is this that binds us to one another and it this that hold us together in love.

Now as Parker J Palmer put it while reflecting on the wonderful poem “A Thread to Guide Us” by William Stafford.

“Holding on doesn’t make life any easier, but it can keep us from getting lost in the dark woods that swallow us up every now and then. Knowing we can find our way home with that thread in hand, we’re more likely to explore the darkness and learn what it has to teach us.”

Here's the poem:

The Way It Is” by William Stafford

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

Now an old rarely heard word for this thread of love that binds us together in love is “yoke”. Now a yoke is a wooden bar that is fastened around the necks of two animals, connecting them together and to the vehicle or load they are pulling. In the context of community though yoke is a nurturing word. It is a humble and tender word, particularly for the most vulnerable in family, community and society, it is that loving thread that binds us together in love. In such connections we find rest, comfort, care, protection and light-heartedness. Yes light-heartedness for there is a sense of fun in this idea of yoke. Gosh how much do we miss this ability to come together in joy and laughter too. In Middle Eastern languages yoke has connotations of laying arms on the shoulders of another and dancing in cirlces and long lines. It is a familiar and comfortable feeling and fills one with delight as you get lost in the music and sing and dance and just let go without fear. To be yoked means to come together in love.

We come together in search
Of new beginnings for all,
Where understanding and trust surround us – 
Gone the hate and fear that bound us;
Come together,
O come together,
O come together in love.

The Sanskrit word for yoke is yuj. Like Yoke in the west it is a physical device used to join cattle. From this interestingly the word yoga came. Now Yoga means union, just think about this idea of something binding us together in love. Yoga though is not really a noun, a thing, it is more a verb, something that you do, like people coming together in love, to create loving community. Sue and myself have been practising yoga these last few months, since lockdown began. It is one of the many loving threads that has held us through these difficult days. It has been comical too as we have had to negotiate two dogs, particularly the disobedient little dog, not a lot of space and bodies that will not do the things that the woman on the video can do. There has been much laughter as we have yoked and joked our way through, being held in love these last weeks and months.

These principles of coming together in love will help us as we try to rebuild and rebind our communities, to create space for people to come together not only in love, but also search in the days ahead.

We come together in search
Of new beginnings for all,
Where understanding and trust surround us – 
Gone the hate and fear that bound us;
Come together,
O come together,
O come together in love.

Loving community is something that I believe everyone needs, in order to truly thrive and grow and become all that they can be.

Starhawk catches this need near perfectly when she writes:

“Community. Somewhere, there are people to whom we can speak with passion without having the words catch in our throats. Somewhere a circle of hands will open to receive us, eyes will light up as we enter, voices will celebrate with us whenever we come into our own power. Community means strength that joins our strength to do the work that needs to be done. Arms to hold us when we falter. A circle of healing. A circle of friends. Someplace where we can be free.”

So let us continue to build this community of love, where people can come together in love. As we slowly open and begin to be together again we will need a loving community even more, a place where love hold us and sustain us together. It is something that we will all be responsible for creating, but not just here, but also in our families, our communities, our world. Let us begin to repair and weave that thread of love. Let us come together, lets us go out together in love.

O come together in truth;
O come together in peace;
O come together in joy and sharing,
Come together in knowing and caring;
Come together,
O come together,
O come together in love


Sunday 16 August 2020

Hygge: To touch the heart, mind and soul in a time of physical separation

We have been nesting, during my week off duty. We spent much of last week decorating the house, making it our own. This is new to me, not something that has had much meaning in my life before. I know it probably sounds strange to most folk, but then again I never claimed not to be strange fruit. That said I do appreciate the comfort of home, more and more in these challenging times. Home comforts are becoming increasingly important, something that most folks have paid greater attention too since we were forced to spend increasing time at home due to the impact of the Corona virus on our lives. Our worlds and our intimate connections have shrunk to some degree these last few months. We have had to get creative, to find new ways to be intimate, to connect, to touch life in different ways. So surprisingly enough even a man like me is begin to understand the importance of nesting.

Now something that won’t come as a surprise to most folk is my love of language and words, especially words that have either changed in meaning, or somehow got lost or disappeared. New words, or at least new words to our culture are also of interest to me. One word has come into prominence in recent years, the word is Hygge (pronounced hew-geh). It is a word of Scandinavian origin, primarily Danish but also Norwegian. According to Louisa Thomson Brits in “The Book of Hygge” Hygge is defined as “a quality of presence and an experience of belonging and togetherness. It is a feeling of being warm, safe, comforted and sheltered. Hygge is an experience of selfhood and communion with people and places that anchors and affirms us, gives us courage and consolation”. Now aren’t these qualities that we are all seeking after in our current time and global situation? Perhaps there is something in Hygge that can help us as individuals, communities and society as a whole.

Hygge (hew-geh) helps Danes imagine who they are and how they should be together, there is something of the collective and not merely individual about it. Hygge began to come to prominence globally due to an increase in fascination with the Scandinavian countries ever since the launch of the UN World Happiness Report in 2012, in which both Denmark and Norway have never been out of the top three with regards to levels of happiness amongst their population. Could it be down to this concept of Hygge?

So where did this come from? There are various theories as the origin of Hygge. It appears to be rooted in the nineteenth century. Some trace it back to the Biedermeier movement, which developed as a reaction the early nineteenth century revolution passion, throughout Europe. During this period artists and designers returned to the home and developed their private lives as a reaction against the public pretentions of the upper class. Another theory suggests that it was influenced by what was considered to be a more liberal guilt free Protestantism that developed in Denmark in comparison to their Scandinavian neighbours, which was established by the theologian N.F.S Grudtvig. It also developed under the social democratic and egalitarian values of the Danish people.

The central concept of the “Hygge Life”, according to Louisa Thomsen Brits, is “a quality of presence and a feeling of belongness and togetherness. It is a feeling of being warm, safe, comforted and sheltered.” It is a state of being, a way of being and living in the world and not something that you can possess. It is a quality of hominess, of being, of welcome and hospitable, of being warm, safe and sheltered and enables the other to feel that way in your company. It is not a uniquely Danish quality and the Danes themselves do not consider it to be so, it is a quality that you will find at the core of the great religious and spiritual traditions, but perhaps one that has become lost in our individualistic and fast paced lives. Hygge though is central to Danish civil and public life, I am not sure that this can be said of other states outside of Scandinavia.

Hygge has been described as the art of creating intimacy, cosy togetherness and taking pleasure in the presence of soothing things. Although it is often developed through material products it is more about creating a particular atmosphere or to shape an experience. Hyyge is about creating a communal atmosphere of simplicity and presence; it is about living by soulful presence. It is about how to be with each other and nurturing those relationship so as to build respect, goodwill to all and hope, with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your soul. It is about being good neighbours to all; it is about creating a quiet space, in the rush and push of life to enable our soulfulness to come out of hiding and express itself fully in life, thus inviting the other to do so. Hygge enables the individual to love their neighbours as themselves. We need such places as we live in and through the storms of life. There are many storms in life, both literally and figuratively.

I must be feeling pretty much in that soulful place in my own home as I did not stir in the storms this week, that seem to come through the night. Apparently, it was pandemonium in our house on Monday night, not that I noticed. The old dog Poppy was very upset by the storm and the young dog was going crazy with excitement, Sue and Lucy were awoken and dealt with the dogs, I did not stir once. My soul, my mind and my body were at one, maybe I have found this quality of Hygge.

Hygge is about a love and appreciation of the simple, close to hand things in life. It encourages gratitude for the everyday moments in life. It is about equality and egality, about working together. It has deeply spiritual qualities, but earthy real ones. It recognises the worth of each person, it desires peace and harmony, equality for all, a heartfelt appreciation of the natural world. It builds trust and connection between people, it is about harmonious living. It celebrates the simple pleasure of being alive where ever you find yourself, encouraging soulful presence. To me this is the essence of spiritual living. By living this way you encourage others to come and join with you, to come as they are, exactly as they are. Hygge is about creating intentional intimacy, intimacy with ourselves, with God, with each other and with all life. It is about living by the Divine commandment, to love God and to love our neighbours as ourselves.

Now under our current situation where we cannot offer love and intimacy in our usual manner maybe we need to find new ways to offer intimacy to invite the other into our lives, to connect in a none physical sense. We can still hold and hug and touch it is just with our eyes and voices. I had this experience in chapel and in another setting recently where we were all in masks and socially distant and yet enjoyed deeply spiritual intimacy. The eyes seem to say so much more, possibly because they are the only way to express with our faces and the human voice has seemingly taken on deeper intimacy too. For many folk the telephone has taken on deeper meaning along with all kinds of modern technology which has helped us to connect in new and beautiful ways.

Despite the physical limits the values of Hygge can still shine through, even if we are not fully aware of it. We can still hug, even though we cannot do so with our hands and bodies. By the way Hygge and hug share the same linguistic root, both come from the old Norse word hugr, which meant soul, mind, consciousness. If we live by these principles we can touch those deeper places we can hug and sooth, our souls, our minds, our consciousness. To truly hug someone is far more than a physical act, thus all is not lost when we lose that sense of physical touch. We can touch those deeper places with our intentions, with our eyes and our voices. An attitude of Hygge can help enable this. For it is vital that we do, until the day comes where we can invite others fully into our human presence, who knows when we do we might enable them to do so in more deeper and intimate ways, with our hearts, our minds and souls. Maybe we will be touched by life in more deeper ways.

I want to share with something David Whyte posted this week in response to a reflection he wrote a few years on the importance of touch, something that has become a physical danger due to the virus. He wrote:

“One of the many traumas around the fear of contagion with the Coronavirus is the sudden fear of touch: something absolutely necessary for human beings becomes something that brings not promise or solace or condolence but a possible closeness to illness and death. Touch is a hallmark of our humanity and a necessity for us all, it is a sign of our own gifted vulnerability, and a sign of loyalty when touch is required with a close loved one - irrespective of danger – few parents will leave their child untouched in their misery, no matter the possible dangers. All the more important then, to remember through this temporary and necessary distancing that this societal contagion requires, what a privilege we have in touch; how important it is for each of us, how much need there will be, and how nourishing it will feel, to restore our daily, sometimes tiny but necessary forms of reaching out as soon as we possibly can.”

Well maybe the qualities of Hygge will help not only in this time when we cannot physically hug but in the future when we begin to rebuild our damaged world, our wounded communities and our hurting hearts. Remember that hygge draws meaning from the fabric of ordinary living. It's a way of acknowledging the sacred in the secular, of giving something ordinary a special context, spirit, and warmth, and taking time to make it extraordinary. Well these are extraordinary times and we can be extraordinary people if we let our spirits come alive. We can hug one another far more deeply than with our human bodies. Remember that to truly hug someone is far more than a physical act, We can touch those deeper places with our intentions, with our eyes and our voices.

So, I invite us to adopt an attitude of Hygge, now and in the days yet to come. For it enable us to touch those deeper aspects of our own humanity and help hold one another in a communal spiritual hug. For it is vital that we do to carry us through this storm until the day comes where we can invite others fully into our human presence,  and thus enable ourselves and others to touch in deeper and intimate ways, with our hearts, our minds and souls.

Let us live in and by the spirit of Hygge.

Saturday 1 August 2020

Odyssey: Returning Home and Journeying On

“Odysseus” by Tom Leonard

it took me so long to get back to who I am 
why was I away so long why was the journey so tortuous 
all those false masks against a backdrop narrative to do with authenticity 

but now arriving back there is still much debris to clear 
the clearer to see the point from which I started 

that from which I set out confused in sundry identities at war with themselves 
now to find calm on that setting-out point as the final destination 

How do we all feel? No doubt a mixture of emotions. No doubt so many of us have missed that feeling of congregating together in time and space. It has been a tough time. Let’s not think it is over, if is not, we are just starting to come out of our shelters and attempting to be together once again, in a variety of ways. This week has proven this to us. The virus is very much with us and we need to take real care about howw e are around each other. This is hard for everyone but it is the loving and considerate thing to do, for the good of everyone. Things are not the same, things will never be exactly the same, but then remember as Heraclitus so famously said “No one steps in the same river twice, because the river is not the same and neither is the person stepping into it.” Or at least he said something like it. I suspect in these last few months, to some extent, we have all changed and even as we return to some of the old familiar, we will find that they are not quite the same either. We need not fear this, although change can feel uncomfortable at times. My life has certainly changed in so many ways these last few months as I have adjusted to a variety of changes in my life, personally and professionally. So, I know that I am not returning to the same places in my life in exactly the same way.
I returned to the gym on Monday. It was strange and really tough, but I soon got used to the changes. It will take time to build my fitness up, but I am getting there. I have adjusted to the changes there, due to the virus, they are doing a good job. It was wonderful too to see many of the same faces. It certainly lifted my spirits, to be there. That said I have not been back since Thursday nights announcement and I do wonder if I should continue to do.
Now please do not die of shock, but I have something I need to tell you. I have served as minister to the good folk in Urmston and Altrincham for ten years. Hard to believe I know, but nevertheless it is true. My ministry began on 1st of August 2010, Yorkshire Day of course. So much has changed in this time, Although nothing in comparison to the last few months, we are living through unprecedented times.

Living of course is what we must do, perhaps differently, but living still the same. We journey on together if in different ways. I am certain that as we pass through these challenging times that change will come; a change that will not be merely transitional or even developmental, more transformational, if we allow ourselves to flow with the river and not anchor ourselves too much in fear.
Any journey of transformation begins with an event in one’s life sometimes referred to as “The Call.” An event that grabs at our souls and catches our attention. Sometimes it is subtle in nature, it taps at our soul and other times it is more a drastic event that is unpredicted and unwanted, like this pandemic. The Call offers us an opportunity to lean into the unknown and to explore the unforeseen. It is a portal to adventure that lies ahead filled with opportunities for shedding some old skin, discovering aspects of our lives and of ourselves, and the potential for a more fulfilling life yet to be lived.
No one wants the call to change that this virus has brought, but we cannot escape it. The task is to make something meaningful from it and not only for ourselves, but for world and the future generations that will follow us. Our task is to journey on and to invite others to come and join with us. We must journey on and not be held down too tightly by the anchors of life. Things are never going to be quite the same again. Well maybe this is an opportunity to create something better.
As we return as we come back, things will seem unfamiliar. We may not recognise them as they were. More shockingly if there has been change in ourselves and or others we may not recognise one another. This may be a little frightening at first, but we need not fear it. We certainly cannot wish or will it away.
Returning to something unfamiliar can lead to us wishing for a time past, to become anchored in some form of nostalgia. Nostalgia tcan be a dangerous thing, it can lead to a denial of reality and keep one anchored in a time and place that does not exist.
I do like the word Nostalgia though. It is one of those interesting ones, as words often are. Nostalgia is one of those words that has changed in meaning over time. Originally it meant “severe homesickness considered as a disease” from the German heimweh (home+woe) homesickness. It is rooted in the ancient Greek words “algos” meaning pain, Grief, distress and “nostos” meaning homecoming. Nostalgia is a painful homecoming. 

As we return to our lives it will at times be painful, it may well cause us to yearn for a time long gone. Sometimes as we return, especially if something has changed within us, we may feel rejected by those we meet. The river may well be the same, but we stepping into it are not. This can lead to a deep homesickness, even though you have physically come home. A classic example of this can be found in Mark's Gospel Ch 6. It depiscts an account of Jesus returning home. When he speaks to his own people he is mocked. He said to his disciples ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’

Sometimes we might not be recognised when we return home, how painful can that be. We can feel like a stranger in our own land. Think of Odysseus, in homer’s Odyssey, who is recognised by no one on his return. It is only as he begins to speak that his old, now blind, dog recognises his voice and his tail begins to thud with joy and love and recognition. To not be recognised must feel like the most painful kind of rejection.
I am going to share with you a wonderful poem by Luis Borges "The Art of Poetry"

"The Art of Poetry" By Jorge Luís Borges

To look at the river made of time and water
and remember that time is another river,
to know that we lose ourselves like the river
and that faces go by like the water.

To feel that wakefulness is another sleep
that dreams it is not dreaming and that the death
that our flesh fears is that death
every night that is called sleep.

To see in the day or in the year a symbol
of the days of mankind and of his years,
to change the outrage of the years
into a music, a rumor, and a symbol,

to see in death sleep, in sunset
a sad gold, such is the poetry 
that is immortal and poor. Poetry
returns like dawn and sunset.

Sometimes in the evening a face
looks at us from the bottom of a mirror;
art should be like that mirror
that reveals our own face to us.

They tell that Ulysses, tired of wonders, 
wept with love at the sight of his Ithaca,
green and humble. Art is that Ithaca 
of green eternity, not of wonders.

It is also like the endless river
that passes and remains and is the mirror of one same
inconstant Heraclitus, who is the same 
and is another, like the endless river.

This poem by Borges explores some of the great ancient Greek stories. One being Ulysses (which is the Latin translation of Odysseus) and his painful return to Ithaca. He also speaks of Heraclitus who, as I have already said suggested that we can never return to the same river. This is because water continual flows on and on and the water we step into is never quite the same, but also because we who stand in the river are not the same person either, life will have changed us too, so much so that we are not recognised on our return home. Like the river our lives, go on and on, ever changing. It will serve no good purpose to continue yearning to return to some mythical ideal, for it will stop us living the life, we are passing through and that is passing through us, the life in front of us. We need to fully experience the adventure, the beautiful journey as the poem by Constantine Cavafy, “Ithaca” suggests. This is the lesson of Homer’s Odyssey and perhaps all the great stories. The treasure is the journey itself. We do not get to choose the journey, but we can choose how we journey and of course who we journey with. Remebering always that to journey literally means what you do or where you go in a day. To journey means to travel one day at a time. 

We need to remember as we begin to return to our lives, that we need to be careful not to yearn too much for times gone by, as these will become anchors that will hold us down and perhaps lead us to reject the life we have now in front of us. If we do not welcome this life and perhaps find a way for us to turn away from it, we might just make ourselves feel unwelcome in our own homes.
Anchors are there to keep us secure for a short while as we take refuge in port, they are not to hold us forever though and become chains. As Margaret Silf so wonderfully put it in “
"The only trouble with anchors is that they can grow roots! We need the still point of rest and restoration that our anchor offers, but we also need to be able to let go of the mooring and set sail again. We must let go of every signpost and journey on. We cannot be 'established.'
Life is a journey and a beautiful one at that. One in which we are coconstantly turning and returning again and again and again. It is not always an easy, there are always troubles and difficulties. There will even be times when we will not be recognised and may not even recognise ourselves; there will even be times when we will feel completely lost and won’t know where to turn for sanctuary; there will even be times of darkness too, but we all must journey on, not knowing which direction we are heading, but we have to trust the journey. In the end of course we return from where we came. We return, return, return, from the beautiful Odyssey.

So let’s keep on journeying on together, in our fellowship of love.
I am going to end this little "blogspot" with a rather wonderful poem by Barbara Crooker, which goes by the rather wonderful title “Poem on a Line by Anne Sexton, ‘We are All Writing God’s Poem’”

Poem on a Line by Anne Sexton, 'We are All Writing God's Poem'

By Barbara Crooker

Today, the sky's the soft blue of a work shirt washed
a thousand times. The journey of a thousand miles
begins with a single step. On the interstate listening
to NPR, I heard a Hubble scientist
say, "The universe is not only stranger than we
think, it's stranger than we can think." I think
I've driven into spring, as the woods revive
with a loud shout, redbud trees, their gaudy
scarves flung over bark's bare limbs. Barely doing
sixty, I pass a tractor trailer called Glory Bound,
and aren't we just? Just yesterday,
I read Li Po: "There is no end of things
in the heart," but it seems like things
are always ending—vacation or childhood,
relationships, stores going out of business,
like the one that sold jeans that really fit—
And where do we fit in? How can we get up
in the morning, knowing what we do? But we do,
put one foot after the other, open the window,
make coffee, watch the steam curl up
and disappear. At night, the scent of phlox curls
in the open window, while the sky turns red violet,
lavender, thistle, a box of spilled crayons.
The moon spills its milk on the black tabletop
for the thousandth time.