Monday 31 May 2021

The Yorkshire Coast: Connecting Past, Present & Future

Sue and myself had a wonderful week away on the Yorkshire coast. We needed time away together, It was oh so needed. A time to refresh and recuperate as well as enjoy the beautiful countryside history and heritage of the region. We have signed up to a years membership of English Heritage too, it will help us to get out and about more over the summer, when time allows. Our hearts, souls, minds and spirits will need it, our bodies too, we walked a lot last week. It was great to breath in that invigorating sea air. The weather could have been better, but we didn’t seem to mind too much.

It was a week away and yet I could not completely escape my present or my past. Thankfully, Sue has got used to the fact that I cannot go anywhere without bumping into someone I know. We often joke about who we are likely to bump into or meet up with wherever we go. Well, it seems that to some degree or other the whole of my life was tapping me on the shoulder last week. I had gone to soak up and experience the gift of the present moment, but the past was always with me, following like headlights on my tail. During the week I also relived many childhood memories, some of which were seemingly long lost and yet came to life during our time away. Many old ghosts seemingly came out to greet me, some unexpectedly. Some were beautiful, others painful, but all were meaningful.

"Headlights" by New Model Army (Live)

On the first day we wandered round Scarborough, witnessing everything beginning to open up again, as we retraced many of my childhood steps. I was somewhat surprised at how familiar it all was. The town is perhaps not as beautiful as it once was, but its spirit is still there and it did bring to life some powerful memories. While we were there I received a phone call from a fellowship friend who was going to be in Bridlington the next day with his mother. We decided to go there and meet up with them. We also visited Flamborough Head. The next day we met up with my auntie Catherine in Filey and talked and talked. She showed me some letters I had written to her many years ago, they were the first steps in healing family rifts, it was strangely beautiful reading them. We also talked of old family holidays as we walked around the town, including one in Filey. It was a beautiful but emotional day as so much of my past came alive in that moment. There was a deeper sense of healing going on, it felt like the whole of my life was alive in the moment, the past, the present and the future. The next day we took the steam train from Pickering to Whitby on the “North Yorkshire Moors Railway” as we were boarding I swore I saw a retired colleague Rev Dr Vernon Marshall walk down the platform. It was a beautiful journey through the countryside but the day in Whitby was spoilt by the weather. It was wild but we kept on we fulfilled several “Whitby Rites of Passage”. We walking on and out to the edge of the Jetty, as the rain came down and waves crashed over and we walked up to the Abbey and old church up the 199 steps. We couldn’t go to the Abby as it was closed due to filming. Now as we approached the 199 steps I saw the man again who had boarded the steam train we travelled on, it was indeed Vernon Marshall. I called out to him and we talked for a while, he was with his family on a break too. He didn’t recognize me at first, as it has been a few years since we last spoke. Over the next couple of days we took in many of the cultural sights of the area, just beautiful. We had joined English heritage for the year at Scarborough Castle, we reckon it will get us out and about this summer, when we have the time. On the final day we decided to drive up to Robin Hoods Bay and Staithes, we actually had time to go back to Whitby too and enjoy it in more pleasant weather. It was a beautiful day and one when I kept on meeting ghosts from my past. Whilst walking to the beach at Robin Hoods Bay I saw a face I recognised, they recognised me too and after taking a double perhaps triple take we approached each other and spoke. It was a guy called Andy Butterworth who I have not seen since 1988 and Batley Grammar school. His partner took a picture of us, I did not, but my mind and heart captured the memory. Later that day, in Whitby, we passed my nephew “Our Paul” who was out with his wife and friends on a drinking weekend. We talked for a while before moving on. It was quite a week, enjoying the present, while re-feeling the past and looking forward to an unknown future. So many snap shot moments, that have awakened so much deep in the soul of me.

Last week I experienced “Retrouvaille” (pronounced reh-troo-vahy-uh), which is the joy that comes from seeing someone again after a very long time. It was a kind of reunion and certainly a rediscovery and it reawakened so much deep in my soul.

One thing we noticed at the weekend was that there were many other people visiting these beautiful places for very different reasons to us. You could see all the characters from “Viz” descending on Whitby over the weekend and from what my friend Oliver has told me Scarborough was madness too. That said these places mean different things to each of us. For me is about my past, my present and future coming together, for others it was something completely different. I tried to take in as much of the experience as I possible could, to truly live in the present. I tried to keep my homiletic consciousness quiet too, to try not to think too much about what I was going to write afterwards. I allowed by senses to awaken, to drink it all up and enjoy our time together away from the stresses and strains of our lives, but you can never do so completely, and as you can see my past is always tapping me on the shoulder. As Sue says, “we cannot go anywhere”.

The week brought to my mind the following:

“In the Present” by Robert Walsh taken from “Stone Blessings”

"On a sunny day, I walked alone in a broad valley in Nepal, through an old forest with vines and flowering trees and intermittent vistas of the snow-covered Himalayas. I came upon a clearing in the woods, and saw there a holy man – a monk in an orange robe, head shaved, back bent with age – chopping wood.

I had conflicting impulses. I wanted to ask him questions. What was his name? Where did he live? What was his life like? I wanted his blessing, and I wanted to give mine. And I wanted to pass by invisibly, noiselessly, doing nothing that would disturb him.

Instead, I took out my camera and took a picture of him. I tried to be discreet as possible about it; I waited until he was not looking in my direction. I don’t know whether he heard the sound. Then I put the camera away and moved on down the trail.

I took the picture because I wanted to tell you the story. Now I have a small, still, two-dimensional memento of that moment. We can look at it. It will last for a while. The actual moment completely surrounded me. It had sounds and smells and movement, and it was only real for a moment. Now it’s gone, and it will never happen again.

I moved through the experience with my attention alternating between the present moment and a future time, when I would be back home, telling the story. It’s what preachers call homiletic consciousness, which means going through life thinking, Can I use this in a sermon? But it’s not just preachers who do it. I imagine a painter would do the same. Or a poet. Or a novelist, teacher, composer, or a storyteller – anyone who uses the experiences of life in order to give something to someone else.

But the more we stay in the future, thinking about telling the story, the less we are open to the power of the experience itself. The more we put a frame around the picture, the more it becomes only a picture and not a real event. Instead of living life each day, we are busy getting ready for life.

Yet if were not for story tellers and photographers, I would never have gone to Nepal.

So I will try to find a balance between being fully in the moment and being present to the whole of life – past, present, and future, here and there. That I may live this day today, and also tell the story tomorrow."

I love how Robert Walsh describes trying to balance the power of the moment he was experiencing, observing a holy man in Nepal, whilst also struggling with ideas of wanting to know him and also tell him all about himself, to almost justify his presence. Instead, he took a snapshot, hoping perhaps that by taking a picture you would capture the essence of an experience that would help him tell the tale later. Of course, taking a picture does not capture the power and beauty of any moment or experience, but it does perhaps help one to remember. I spent my week surrendering to the experience of the Yorkshire, with past flowing through, whilst trying to share this with Sue. Yes, I knew I would talk about them later, but I tried to suppress the rationalising in the moment, and just allow my senses to take it all in. That wasn’t the difficult challenge, this came from the past as it kept on constantly creeping up on me and tapping me on the shoulder.

During our week on the Yorkshire coast we shared many magic moments, beautiful moments, that will live in my heart. Those moments also brought to life that fed into the wonder of it all.

There was another interesting tie that helped to link together the past, present and future. Sue and I stayed at a place named “Gallows Hill” in Brompton by Sawdon, which is half way between Scarborough and Pickering. It is run by a lovely couple who are originally from Birmingham but have lived in North Yorkshire for forty years. I highly recommend it, just beautiful. “Gallows Hill” was the family home of William Wordsworth’s wife Mary Hutchinson. Wordsworth came into my mind on and off all week as I enjoyed the experiences we were sharing, in the moment, whilst also being transported to so many moments from past, some beautiful and others heartbreakingly painful. The beautiful moments whether in the present or past brought to my heart and mind “Spots of Time” from The Prelude (Book XI, ls 258-278) by Wordsworth

 “There are in our existence spots of time,

That with distinct pre-eminence retain

A renovating virtue, whence–depressed

By false opinion and contentious thought,

Or aught of heavier or more deadly weight,

In trivial occupations, and the round

Of ordinary intercourse–our minds

Are nourished and invisibly repaired;

A virtue, by which pleasure is enhanced,

That penetrates, enables us to mount,

When high, more high, and lifts us up when fallen.”

 William Wordsworth, The Prelude (Book XI, ls 258-278)

Don’t we all experience such magic moments, these “spots of time” when life not only feeds but truly nourishes us on a deep, deep level, deeper than the marrow of our bones; moments when the common becomes uncommon,; moments when the veils we create ourselves seem to slip away; moments when we seemingly see beyond the ordinary, when we experience reality on a deeper level. Gosh there were so many last week.

These “spots of time” are sacred moments that are made holy by their mysterious ability to nourish us and perhaps even repair us in body, mind, heart and spirit. These moments are a kind of grace; they seemingly come to us, from a place somewhere beyond ourselves. They cannot be forced; I do not believe that we can just simply create them for ourselves, although we do of course play a vital role in their creation and in the way that they are experienced.

These moments can happen anywhere. For Wordsworth these “spots of time” occurred primarily in nature. We all experience them in different ways, in different states and in different settings. Those moments when time seemingly stands still; those moments that touch us at the core of our being; those moments that transform our lives; those magic moments. Time seemingly becomes compressed or concentrated in these moments when the senses become heightened, when life seemingly has a deeper meaning. These are not necessarily supernatural moments by the way; no, they are firmly grounded in reality.

In these moments time appears to be slowing down, although obviously it does not. Time does not so much stop as become compressed, the moment becomes concentrated. There just seems to be more of life in that moment, but it lasts just as long. Maybe the moment is deeper, not longer. Time is time after all. Some call this Kairos time, or God’s time.

I experienced some such moments last week and I was reminded of many others from my past too. I was reminded by the places we visited as well as the people I bumped into, that brought to mind so many other moments in my life. Wonder filled moments indeed, moments that have shaped me as a human being, but never painlessly, sometimes deeply painfully. Haven’t we all known such moments in our lives.

Last week was beautiful, it also taught me a valuable lesson about life. The lesson was about how important it is to balance time in our lives. It reminded me how vital it is that we practice not only living in the moment that we find ourselves, but to truly bring that moment to life. To allow your whole life to fully inhabit that space, to bring it with you into the moment, without allowing it to dominate, whilst at the same time allowing that moment to prepare you for an unknown future. A future that is truly unwritten. For none of us know what is coming.

May we all find the balance between being fully in the moment and being present to the whole of life, past, present, and future, here and there and everywhere, whereever we find ourselves. If you are anything like me you cannot get away from either your past or present, because it will just appear right there in front of you. That said do we ever need to? No, we just need to be awake, fully present and the moment will work its magic.

So let us all live this day, fully alive today and let us live well enough to tell the story tomorrow, because tomorrow always comes.

Please find below a video based on the material in this "blogspot"

Sunday 16 May 2021

Don Quixote: How We Can Build A More Beautiful World

Jan Taddeo "Three Things"

The storm outside echoes the

storm raging within my soul.

So many people in need...

so much pain, so much grief.

Too many causes and campaigns

fill my mailboxes, sap my energy,

beg for my money.

Three things I must do...only three things?

You’ve got to be kidding...which three do I choose?

Books and letters, magnets and movies

implore me to dance as if no one is watching

learn seven habits and make four agreements

give generously, vote often, express myself!

Yet hundreds, thousands, millions live with hunger

and thirst, in poverty, enduring violence, and disease.

Did Mother Teresa, Martin and Ghandi cry out

with despair from the darkness of overwhelm?

What three things did they choose?

Three things. Three things we must do.

Is it to act in kindness, serve justice, love God and your

neighbor even as you love yourself.

But where do I start?

So much thoughtlessness,

hatred and fear.

Too little justice, too much selfishness.

Where is God? Who is my neighbor?

Three principles, ten commandments, twelve steps…

all number of things speak to us; and yet,

we must choose.

We must choose to do something, so three things

may be the right number...not too few, not too many.

But which three things shall I do? Will you do?

Here’s an adage I’ve always liked:

Don’t just do something, stand there.

Stand in the surf, or sit on a rock, or lay your

body across the earthy loam...and be quiet.

Very quiet.

Do you hear it? That still small voice, the

echo of your soul, reverberating with the call

to your own true self to emerge.

Then the calm within becomes the calm without.

The storm blows over, the sun recovers its position of strength,

And that glorious symbol of hope and unity emerges across the sky.

At the end of this rainbow, a treasure…

the three things you must do:

Go outside yourself and know the needs of the world.

Go within and discover your Life-given gifts.

Then arch yourself like a rainbow bridge between the two and

create a more beautiful world.

I love Jan Taddeo’s poem “Three Things”, I identify with the struggle of living the spiritual life, living it in this life. It is a good question, how does one live spiritually alive, live ethically in this life? How do you grow spiritually in this world, without becoming too self indulgent? I like the balance of three simple things that Taddeo concludes with in her beautiful poem: “Go outside yourself and know the needs of the world. Go within and discover your Life-given gifts. Then arch yourself like a rainbow bridge between the two and create a more beautiful world.” This seems a wonderful way to live in such a way as to begin to build that kin-dom of love right here right now, by living your true authentic life.

That said although it sounds simple, it is far from easy. How do we do this? Also no doubt if you begin to do so you may well be considered a mad man or a mad woman. The great sages were, they were considered odd and or insane by many in their day, they were sometimes mocked and ridiculed, considered fools. Perhaps they were fools, but they were holy fools and they were fools just like us. 

Taddeo’s poem, “Three Things”, came up as a “Facebook” memory the other day. I find a lot of gems on social media, some of it deep and others less so. I recently found a group that has brought me a great deal of light relief. This is “The Absurd Sign Project”. It is basically a place where people share absurd signs from all around the world. Some are silly mistakes made and others are obviously deliberate jokes. One of them being this picture of a sign depicting a figure on a horse with what appears to be a long pole in his hand, there is a thick red line through the image, suggesting that such things are not allowed. Behind the sign is a windmill. I recognised the image immediately and thought it was genius, just brilliant. So, I posted it on facebook and lots of people responded. After about a day, a brave soul posted that he didn’t understand the image and asked what it meant. So, I explained that it was an image of “Don Quixote”. I then explained that the sign is saying “No tilting at windmills”, which means no joisting with windmills. you may well ask, what does that mean. Well it has come to mean, do not fight with imaginary enemies.

"Do not fight with imaginary enemies", seems like sensible advice. Of course, such enemies are just as likely to be within us as they are to be outside of us. In life sometimes our perceived enemies are real and sometimes they are enemies created by our own imaginings. I was talking with a couple of friends about this the other day. They didn't understand the "Don Quixote" post either and so I explained. This led to an interesting conversation and anxiety and the spiritual life, which planted the seed for the service that this "blogpost" is based on.

There is much excitement around at the moment as life continues to open. Next week is another step. Sue and myself are looking forward to a week on the Yorkshire coast. This is all positive news, but it is worth remembering that while it is exciting it does lead to anxiety for many folk. Our imaginations can lead to all kinds of fears and perceived enemies both internal and external. So please let us try not to tilt at those windmills. Let us instead follow Jan Taddeo’s suggestion of three simple things to Go outside yourself and know the needs of the world. Go within and discover your Life-given gifts. Then arch yourself like a rainbow bridge between the two and create a more beautiful world.” Let us do so with discernment. 

Don Quixote, who tilted at windmills seems to me be a classic example of a “Holy Fool”, yes joisting with windmills is utter folly, madness. He is the “hero” of Cervantes novel “The Ingenious Knight of La Mancha”, published in 1604. The novel recounts to story of a man who after spending his life reading about the heroic exploits of knights decides that he must return the chivalric values to the world. It is thought that he lost his mind as he didn’t eat or sleep properly for years as he became engrossed the stories of the knights. Then in his old age he decided to become a knight, fashioning his own armour and lance and mounting his donkey. He persuaded his neighbour, a local peasant farmer Sancho Panza to join him and they set out together to fight injustice through chivalry. Isn’t this an example creating a rainbow bridge, if a somewhat eccentric one.  Such chivalry has been called “quixotic”, meaning striving for visionary ideals.

Now in order to become “quixotic” we must first overcome our demons; in order to give ourselves to the world in a positive way we must first know ourselves. Well Don Quixote is very much a story about overcoming the enemy within as well as acting in the world. The great mythologist Joseph Campbell would have said that this is a perfect archetype of the heroes journey. 

Here an extract from Cervantes novel, to illustrate:

"Since we expect a Christian reward, we must suit our actions to the rules of Christianity. In giants we must kill pride and arrogance. But our greatest foes, and whom we must chiefly combat, are within. Envy we must overcome by generosity and nobleness of spirit; anger, by a reposed and quiet mind; riot and drowsiness, by vigilance and temperance; lasciviousness, by our inviolable fidelity to the mistresses of our thoughts; and sloth, by our indefatigable peregrinations through the universe"

If we do we can then see these same troubles in our world and perhaps build that rainbow bridge and bring some healing. The troubles of our world are no different than they were when Cervantes was writing some 400 years ago, or during the times of Jesus some 2,000 years ago. Intolerance and otherness still divide us against ourselves. Don Quixote is just another example of those holy fools who wanted to weave the golden cord that will tie and unite us as one people.

In this time of rebuilding, as we return to our lives, it seems sensible to find something that will unite us, perhaps something akin to “Quixotic” chivalry. Does that sound like an impossible dream, as they sang in the Broadway musical “Man of La Mancha”, based on this tale:

To dream the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe,
To bear with unbearable sorrow, to run where the brave dare not go.
To right the unrightable wrong, to love pure and chaste from afar,
To try when your arms are too weary, to reach the unreachable star.

Don Quixote, while certainly eccentric, some have said insane, seems like a wonderful example of the heroic archetype, of what we can be, a wonderful example of humanity, a flawed and imperfect example. Something that seems pertinent as we have just marked “Mental Health Awareness Week”. I don’t think that the way he lived was in any way mad, for did he not embody the sacred commandment that we must love one another; love one another by recognising the inherent worth and dignity of all persons.

Yes, he didn’t always see things as most folk do. He struggled and suffered with his own demons, he didn’t always get it right, he mistook windmills for giants, for monsters. Sancho Panza tried desperately to dissuade him.

That said sometimes his vision saw through the prejudices of others. When Sancho Panza sees the peasant woman, the despised Aldonza, Don Quixote sees the beautiful and pure Dulcinea. Aldonza sees herself as someone with no self worth, but Don Quixote (in the play at least) believes in her, he recognises her worth and dignity and in time she recognises this in herself and eventually takes on the name Dulcinea.

Don Quixote was determined to right what he saw was wrong in the world. He exemplifies nearly perfectly Jan Taddeo’s suggestion of three simple things, to Go outside yourself and know the needs of the world. Go within and discover your Life-given gifts. Then arch yourself like a rainbow bridge between the two and create a more beautiful world.” This is what he did:

‘To fight for the right, without question or pause, to be willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause…and the world will be better for this, that one man, scorned and covered with scars, still strove, with his last ounce of courage, to reach the unreachable star.’

He built his rainbow bridge and began to reach the unreachable star.

Is this an impossible dream? I don’t think so.

In the play, inspired by the novel, Don Quixote says on his deathbed: "I just wanted to add a measure of grace to the world." Did he achieve this. Well at the end there he is dying alone, despised and rejected, it doesn’t appear so. So maybe it was all folly, was he just a fool after all. Well as he is lying there to his deathbed comes a Spanish queen with a mantilla of lace. She quietly kneels at his bedside and prays. As she does so he opens his we eyes and asks, “Who are you?”

To which she replies “ 'My Lord, don't you remember? You gave me a new name; you called me Dulcinea. I am your Lady.'

Don Quixote refused to treat Aldonza as the others did, he recognised her worth and dignity and in time she became a person who recognised her own and became a person with worth, dignity and respect and lived this life and offered this to those she met in her life.

As Don Quixote did she recognised this gift within her and saw the need to offer this to the world, she built her rainbow bridge and began to create a more beautiful world.

We can do the same. We can recognise our own worth and dignity and recognise this in others. We can begin to build a more beautiful world, we can create the kin-dom of love right here, right now. We can not only dream the impossible dream, but truly live it.

Here is a video devotion based on the material in this "Blogspot"

Monday 10 May 2021

The Wind Telephone: Connecting in Love and Loss

The cherry blossom is falling around us. I saw a car covered in it the other day, my car was too I noticed as I left for home the other evening. There is beautiful pink snow all around the grounds at the chapel, it will soon be gone. The cherry blossom does not cling on, it knows it must let go for new life to follow. For we human is it not so simple. We hold on to life, we hold on to our lives and we hold on to one another. We hold on to love that we have shared with those we have loved and lost. This is grief, the price we pay for love.

The beauty of the cherry blossom causes me some sadness, it makes me grieve, and yet I love the cherry blossom. That said part of its beauty comes in the fact that it only lasts for about a month and then it falls and it is gone. Even though I know it will come again, when it goes, my heart aches for the loss. This is grief.

Grief is about love and it is about the loss of someone or something that we love or have loved. This is why grief comes in so many forms, we lose so much in life. The most aching grief, of course, is caused by the death of those we love so dearly. The more we love them, the greater the grief. Grief of course is not something that you can just let go of, I am not so sure you ever should. We should hold that love close to our hearts. Yes, when someone we love dies, an aspect of them always remains in our hearts, that said when we lose someone we love we also lose a piece of our hearts.

I host a fortnightly grief group on zoom. We used to meet in person, but ever since the pandemic hit we have been unable to do so. The group is needed by those who join us. It helps us feel less alone and isolated in our grief. There is so much grief around at this time. I am sure we have all lost someone we love over the last year and none of us have been able to mark the loss and grieve as we would normally do. We have also been unable to live our lives as we would normally do, there is so much grief in this too. Grief is everywhere. That said if we had not done so how much more death and loss would there have been. We only need to look at India now to see the horror that could have happened had our health service become overwhelmed. I grieve so much for the suffering all around, it breaks my heart.

I have noticed that something that grieving people share in common is this need to still communicate in some way with those that they have lost. People go to places that are special to them and talk, it is common, but not something folk will share publicly. These one way conversations continue on and on. It is a way to keep the love shared alive, even after a loved one has gone.

I recently learnt of a powerful and beautiful example of this in Japan. When the garden designer Sasaki lost his beloved cousin in 2010, he found a unique way to come to terms with his grief, to call his loved one by telephone. He built a white telephone booth, in the style of the old red ones that were all over this county - I don’t know if you have noticed but in the countryside those old boxes often host defibrillators, bringing life to those who might lose theirs - Sasaki placed the phonebox on his hilltop garden. In it was an old Bakelite dial phone, unconnected to any earthly telecom system, his words were spoken to the wind, carried off like prayer flags, blowing in the wind. He did this to keep the memory of his cousin alive, by calling him and speaking to him regularly. As he told the Japanese public broadcasting network NHK, “Because my thoughts couldn’t be relayed over a regular phone line, I wanted them to be carried on the wind.” He called it “The Wind Telephone”

“The Wind Telephone” was build on the outskirts of Otsuchi a small coastal town in northern Japan. As Sasaki was finishing his project the region was hit by a magnitude 9.1 earthquake on 11th March 2011. Even though the quake was off the coast and didn't inflict direct damage, it did lead to gigantic tsunamis and Otsuchi was hit by 30 foot high waves, destroying the town and killing one in ten of the 16.000 inhabitants.

Soon “The Wind Telephone” became a place of solace for thousands, it is thought that over 10,000 people visited the site in the next three years, to speak to their loved ones, that were now lost. Some of the dead were never found. It was not only the lost to the Tsunami whose loved ones came, others joined the pilgrimage too, including those who had lost folk to suicide, accidents and in other tragic ways. Many media outlets have told the story and some of the conversations on “The Wind Telephone” have been recorded. If you listen to them you will hear tears and laughter and deep conversations, a kind of unanswered confessional where loved ones speak their hearts into the wind, where their loved one can perhaps hear without judgement. There are voices crying out regret, the pain of loss, despair, guilt, frustration, the search for strength, hope, and the will to carry on without the loved one. Beautiful cries of the human heart.

It seems that there are versions of the “Wind Phone” in other parts of the world. In Oakland California one was constructed by Jordan Stern who in February 2017 constructed one to
commemorate the 36 people who died in the Ghost Ship warehouse fire, one of which was his friend. This “Wind Phone” was created, according to the artist to comfort "a field of people grieving in Oakland".

In August 2017 an anonymous art collective in Dublin, Ireland named Altruchas build a “Wind Phone” on “Two Rock Mountain”. It was built without permission and from salvaged materials. Sadly it was destroyed only two weeks after its construction, there were many people who did not like the project.

Another replica red phone box was created by Tomohiko and Kazuko Katsuna. They named it “Phone of the Sea Breeze”. It was built in memory of one of Kazuko's students, an 18-year-old woman who took her own life in 2009.

In January 2020 another temporary “Wind Phone” was created in Provincetown Massachusetts, by an artistic collective. Whilst another was created in October 2020 in California by Susan Vetrone and sculptor Steve Reed. it was constructed in memory of Vetrones mother who had recently died.

Another “Wind Phone was created in response to the loss of life due to the Covid 19 pandemic. In March this year an artist who has remained anonymous built one on the Aspen mountains of Colorado. The artist has remained anonymous because it is forbidden to build shrines in US national forests. That said t has remained as an outlet for people mourning deaths caused by the pandemic.

I wonder how many more of these will be built in the coming months and years. I think we will need them. I am considering writing to the Prime Minister again or perhaps Andy Burnam the Mayor of Manchester, or even the local authority. I think we will need them, or something like them. We decided during our last grief group that Wythenshawe park would be an ideal venue, as one of our number goes there often to talk to lost son. Maybe I will contact the great British sculptor Anthony Gormley, perhaps he could construct them up and down the land. A place where can go individually and or collectively to grieve, to cry out in anguish to connect to live through our grief, to hold on to the love lost and to live our lives. We need to find ways to express our collective grief if we are to rebuild again, I don’t just mean our material lives, but our emotional, mental and spiritual lives too. Our souls are crying out. Yes, we may well be coming back to normality, but there is so much grief in this land and every land and people are still caught up in the horror of all this, just look at India right now.

We need to find ways to connect, to heal, to express our lost love, something that we have been unable to do for too long and there will be a price to pay if we do not. I don’t just mean for this generation but for the generations to come as well.

All of us belong to the largest community on God’s sweet earth, the community of grievers. Grief is the price we pay for love, it is a price worth paying, for what is life without love? It is nothing, it is meaningless, just an empty vessel. The only way to escape grief is to totally armour your heart and deny love. Now who would want to do that, to live without love, to live the life of a zombie?

When we lose someone that we love, it changes us forever. Life will never be quite the same again. We do not rise above the pain of grief, we cannot pretend that it is not there, we don’t simply get over it. What happens is that we are changed by it and as a result our hearts are enlarged by it and we grow as human beings, if the love has truly been realised. You see grief is really about transformation, rather than transcendence, by the way this is the true nature purpose of religion. Grief is not an attempt to explain the loss or even understand some meaning locked into what happened. Instead, it seems to me that grief is more about finding meaning in the absence of an explanation.

How do we create meaning from the loss of the last year or more? That is not an easy question to answer. Well perhaps it begins by creating space for us all to grieve. Perhaps something like these “Wind Telephones” is one way, I am sure there are many others. Perhaps communities like ours can become that kind of space. Perhaps this something for us all to think about, perhaps this is something we can focus on in the months and years ahead, perhaps we could become a space where folk can come and find solace in their loss and grief a place where they can share and express their love.

I would be interested to hear your thoughts and feelings.

It is up to us, it is up to all of us.

The answer my friend is blowing in the wind, the answer is blowing in the wind.

 A video devotion based on the material shared in this "blogspot"

Monday 3 May 2021

The Ritual of Life

I have recently been watching tutorials and attended a Q & A session on the new procedures for weddings. Come May it seems that folk like myself, who act as “Authorised Persons”, that our lives will be different, easier. Everything is finally going digital and onto a single schedule which will become a certificate to be collected from the registry office after the wedding. There will be several changes to the certificate, the main one being that they can now include up to four parents. In the past you only stated who your father was. So finally we are acknowledging the changing nature of families and family relationships. It is about time that this change came about. I am still frustrated that I can only conduct weddings in the two buildings I serve as minister, maybe one day this will change. We are making progress, but it is slow.

Within our Unitarian tradition we are free to create the marriage ceremony that fits the needs of the individuals. There are of course certain words that must be said within the service, for it to be a legal wedding, but beyond that the ritual is open. I recall there were one or two issues over the first wedding I had the pleasure to conduct for two women. They had to make their vows to wife and wife and one was a little uncomfortable with this, but there was no bending there legally. That said the rest of the ceremony allowed us to shape the service that they wanted.

I recently met a couple one of whom engages in Viking reenactments. With this in mind we are going to ensure that we include some of this tradition in the ceremony. This will include a particular ritual, namely a Viking guard of honour as the newly married couple leave the chapel, Covid restrictions permitting of course.

Obviously due to the circumstances of the last year or so our rituals around rites of passage and worship have had to adapt to a certain degree. I was thinking of this as I invited people forward to share readings, last Sunday. People are asked to sanitise their hands and remove their masks to speak. Other rituals have had to adapt too, such as how we greet one another. We do not hug and or shake hands as we would have done in the past. We have found other ways to greet and show affection. I have adopted the Eastern tradition of bowing, I like it and wonder if I will continue it once we finally get through all this.

This all got me thinking about rituals in general. We all engage in them, even if we are not aware of it. Life in so many ways is made up of rituals. Just think about your daily and weekly activities, they involve oh so many rituals. Just think about how you have had to adapt them over the last year or so.

There are of course formal rituals that take place in a time and place, such as wedding ceremony or an act of worship. Think of an act of remembrance or a funeral. There also less formal rituals that we engage in too. Are these rituals any less sacred or important? I don’t think so. The social anthropologist Edmund Leach has argued that ritual ought to be understood as existing on a spectrum, stating:

“Actions fall into place on a continuous scale. At one extreme we have actions, which are entirely profane, entirely functional, technique pure and simple; at the other we have actions, which are entirely sacred, strictly aesthetic, technically non-functional. Between these two extremes we have the great majority of social actions, which partake partly of the one sphere and partly of the other. From this point of view technique and ritual, profane and sacred, do not denote types of action but aspects of almost any kind of action.”

The suggestion is that every activity, even the seemingly mundane is a kind of ritual, if treated in that way. What makes it ritualistic, it would seem, is the pace and intention of the activity; it is about the attention and symbolism adopted; it is about the meaning we make in conducting the activity; it is about the meaning that we put into the activity and object, it is about intentionality; it is about recognising the sacredness of what we are doing.

If you think about some of the rituals we have adapted and adopted this last year or so, surely they have been done in recognition of the sacredness of life. In engaging in  them we are paying respect to each other, in love and consideration. They are deeply religious activities, they have a deep love and spirit flowing through them. The cleansing we have engaged in has become deeply ritualistic. They are not merely habit though, they are done in love and consideration of others.

I suspect that some of the cleansing rituals that are part of many religious traditions began for similar practical reasons. Yes, they are about respect for the Divine, but also one another. When I bow to others I am recognising their sacred uniqueness, I am doing the same when I cleanse my hands when using the equipment in the gym or wearing a mask when going food shopping at the supermarket.

I observed some fascinating rituals when sat in the barbers chair a couple of weeks ago. I visit this barber regularly and I almost know exactly what he will do next and how he will do so as he cuts my hair and shaves certain elements, including ears and even a trimming of the eyebrows. Some elements are more difficult at the moment due to the wearing of masks, especially around the ears. As he comes close to finishing I observe him putting a new blade on the razor as he shaves around the loose hairs and around my ears and hair line. It is a marvel to watch the attention to detail, a craftsman at his work, all completed in silence. I like him because he doesn’t speak as he works. There is care and attention, there is deep intention, it feels like a sacred ritual is taking place. Ok he is paid for the work, but there is more going on in this ritual. It is a deeply religious activity in my eyes. To this man the work really matters.

How we are in the world matters and the way we act toward others really matters. We can do so recognising the sacredness of each other and all life or we can do so without any care or attention at all. I suspect our little moment by moment rituals of living help us to do so with love and attention and with deep intention, a bit like the barber I go and visit every few weeks.

Ritual is about repetition, but it also about the care attention that we put into the repeated action. When such repetition is done through the spirit of love, those seemingly mundane activities become sacred action and in so doing we begin to sanctify life.

Sport is one area where you witness all kinds of ritual. Whether it is a golfer perfecting their swing, or a batsman his forward defensive stroke or in more modern times the reverse sweep. Or the different warm up rituals that teams go through before a game and again at half time. There also the other rituals that take place before the game begins as the team meet and honour one another. One that has stood out over the last year has been the taking of the knee, in acknowledgement of racial intolerance, again an act of love recognising the sacredness of life. It is response to the fact that some life is not treated equally due purely to the colour of someone’s skin. Something else that we humans ought to have evolved out of by now, sadly we have not yet done so.

Everything we do in life can be done ritually and thus can become meaning filled. Even the most simple basic task  can be done reverentially and thus can become meaning filled. We sanctify life, if we live reverently. If we see life as a deeply sacred thing. If we bless it with our true presence. The real beauty of life lays in the ordinary, in observing and experiencing the meaning of life in the seemingly mundane. 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."

To live spiritually alive, is to recognise the sacredness of the ordinary, the seemingly mundane. To do this all we need to do is pay attention to the world and the people around and truly inhabit the space in which we live and breathe and share our being. All we have to do is to pay attention, to live in such a way as to recognise the sacred in everything.

There is something very powerful about coming together in love; there is something very powerful in opening ourselves up to one another and recognising what connects us what makes us wholly human, by living ritually we can begin to do so. Worshipping together is one way to do so, but it can happen in all aspects of life. It can occur in deep encounters with others, when love and attention is paid.

The congregations I serve gather together seeking something, as we engage in the ritual of worship and other activities spiritual and secular, something that has been challenged over the last year or so. People come for a variety of reasons, some are not sure why they come, but if they don't they feelt hat soemthing is misssing. When we congregate for worship we attempt to create through words, music, silence, imagery and more a sacred time and space that will enable us to open our hearts and connect to the Greater mysteries of life, to the web of being, to know the spirit of life and love, to experience the Divine and for this to impact on how we live our day to day lives.

In this sacred space at the sacred time where generations have worshipped we opened their hearts to the greater mysteries of life. In so doing we begin to connect to the greater realities and mysteries of existence. It is this time that can help us to open up the lives we find ourselves in and to pay attention to the life around us and to touch the people we meet in our daily living. In so doing we make all life sacred, by blessing it with our presence.

The hope is that when folk leave this time and space that they are touched in those deeper aspects of their humanity and that they bless the world with their sacred humanity by recognising the sacredness of each person they we meet and bless life with their loving presence.

Here is a video devotion based on this "blogspot"