Sunday 31 October 2021

Hallowed be all our names, the living and the dead

Today the 31st of October is All Hallows Eve or Hallo’ween, Halloween. Tomorrow is All Saints Day or All Hallows Day which is followed on the 2nd November by All Souls Day, a time in the Christian Calendar to remember all souls who have departed this life.

Like other Christian festivals, including Christmas, Easter and Whitsuntide, these three autumn days are a fascinating mixture of pre-Christian, Christian and even post-Christian tradition and mythos. I am fairly certain that the children going door at Halloween are probably not aware that they have created a modern day variant on the pre-Christian festival of Samhain; a festival that not only celebrated harvest, but was also a time to commune with the spirits of ancestors. There are similar traditions throughout most culture's, autumnal and winter festivals. Autumn is a time of reflection, a time to take stock before the harsh realities of winter come.

Halloween in the north of England is something that is marked, at least in a secular way, far more these days than I remember in my earlier childhood. When I was a child it was Guy Fawkes or Bonfire Night that took on greater significance. I don’t really remember going “Trick or Treating”, until a significant film came out in 1982 and then everything seemed to change. The film was E.T. the Extra Terrestrial. One of the most commercially successful films of all time and one that changed something significantly, certainly in my life and perhaps the culture of the North of England. I recall, as many others did, that after this going door to door, trick or treating replaced the tradition of going “Door to Door” asking for “a penny for the guy” and of course “Mischievous Night”. It seems that these traditions all got swallowed up with “Trick or Treating”. “Mischievous Night”, at least in Yorkshire came on the 4th November and was linked to the “Gunpowder Plot” and “Fireworks Night” that is marked on the 5th of November. Things could get pretty wild on “Mischievous Night” and some, I’m sure, are glad to see that it has pretty much been lost to history. You do hear of little pockets of it in Liverpool and Leeds, but mainly it has gone the way of the Dodo and been replaced by “Trick or Treating”. There’s a part of me that wishes this wasn’t true. I remember the thrill of getting up to no good with friends and of hearing similar tales of other friends who were far more daring than I. I also remember my granddad telling me of things he and his mate Percy used to get up to. I remember the delight in this night of freedom that the children used to be granted. A freedom that I fear children of today do not enjoy.

November is Remembrance Season and really it begins today. Remember Samhain was about connecting with the ancestors, the lost souls. Our age and culture has in recent times become a little death defying and death denying, I feel. The last eighteen months or more have brought this more sharply into focus. We have had to face the fragility of life, our mortality and the realisation that everything that we seemingly depend on is finite, that it can be broken. That we are mortal and life is fragile, that impermanence truly is the nature of the game. Halloween, like the Mexican Day of the Dead is about fun and joy, but there is something serious beneath these ancient traditions that are played out in our modern sanitised culture.

By contrast as Mary Anne Brussat has highlighted “many of the great teachers from the religious traditions recommend that we face death and even befriend it. Saint Benedict tells us to keep death daily before our eyes. Medieval philosophers kept a skull on their desks to remind them of the impermanence of life. Rabbi Harold Kushner interprets poet Wallace Stevens' comment "Death is the mother of beauty" to mean that we cherish and find things beautiful precisely because we know they will not be around forever nor will we always be here to enjoy them. Death, in other words, brings meaning to life.”

We live in age where violence is often glorified in our culture, but in a way that makes it unreal. We see it on our screens, but we rarely experience it face to face. It is sanitised and we are detached from it. We glorify violence whilst at the same time deny the reality of death. In so doing we make life itself seem unreal. Not sacred or holy. We do not hallow one another, recognise the sacredness in life itself and thus existence becomes meaningless. Is it any wonder that a sense of despair is on the increase. If we take away the things which bring superficial meaning to our lives, what is left? Surely there is a better way?

Well I believe that the way is to sanctify life, to make everything holy, to hallow all our names. To recognise the sacredness of all souls, the living and the dead.

I like to get up very early on Sunday morning these days, ridiculously early actually. I am usually in Altrincham not long after 6am. I do a little exercise and then prepare myself for the day. I sanctify the day as I prepare to lead worship, two or three times. I like to arrive in Urmston no later than 8.30am even though the service doesn’t begin until 10am and no one else arrives before 9.30am. After opening and setting up I often take the short walk down Queens Road to the cemetery and walk round reading different headstones and contemplating the lives off those folk. People that touch so many other lives, people I never knew but who meant so much to others. I honour the dead which in some ways enables me to better serve the living. It helps me connect to the sacredness of life itself. There is nothing morbid in this activity. It enables me to connect the preciousness of the lives that have touched mine, but who are no longer with me. I say to myself hallowed be each of your names. It helps me recognise the sacredness of every soul. Not just on 2nd of November, but every day. For every day is a holy day, all ground is holy ground and each person is a holy one, from the core of their being. It helps me to recognise the sacredness of all life, for everything matters. Matter really matters you see. We are all holy and acceptable as we are, even the aspects of ourselves that we would prefer to hide, that we would prefer the world not to see, the things that bring us shame. They are all acceptable. If we hide them, or attempt to hide them, they will only appear in our shadow and cause damage. Mine do, I have seen evidence of this in the past year. Personal grief has brought aspects of myself to the surface once again, that I have not wanted to face, but in the end I have had to. We should never be ashamed of any aspect of ourselves, we are acceptable and loveable as we are exactly as we are in this moment.

I experienced a wonderful moment after last Sunday’s service in Altrincham. Two newer members asked me about sin, suggesting we are not all about it. That I don’t offer absolution for their short comings. I half jokingly said well how could I do such a thing. The truth is how could I. Who am I to think I can. Everyone falls short of their ideals, but no one, nothing is born wrong at their core, is rotten to core, or even selfish to the core. We are born whole and holy. That is why I say hallowed be all our names. That said we all fall short, we all get things wrong, all of us. The mistake is that we try to hide and en-shadowed these aspects of our humanity and this is where the problems come from, I have come to believe.

Perhaps the ancient tradition of Samhain will help us here, for I feel it is closest in connection to All Souls in its spirit. Perhaps here will find the true meaning of the next few days, perhaps the whole season of Remembrance. Here at this time we can truly remember the lost loved ones, at this time where the veil between the living and the dead is said to be most thin, we can re-feel these experiences as we touch and are touched by those who are no longer physically with us, but are still with us in our hearts, minds, spirits and souls. It might also be a time when we allow ourselves to be visited by the ghosts within ourselves, those aspects of our humanity that we try to keep hidden. The things that cause us pain and shame. We all have them, I do. They do not stay hidden for ever maybe we need to greet them like a long lost friend, maybe that is what Halloween and these other autumn festivals are actually about, they are there to allow us come to terms with our whole humanity and that of each other, maybe this is what the ancestors are trying to teach us after all.

I am going to end this devotion with a little bit of Wendell Berry “I go among trees”

I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.

Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.

Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.

After days of labor,
mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it. As we sing,
the day turns, the trees move.

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

Monday 25 October 2021

Trust: We can't get on together in suspicious minds

I woke up feeling a little tired in my heart, body and spirit last Monday. I got up, prepared myself spiritually for the day, ate and dressed. I then turned on the BBC news. It was probably not the best idea. All I heard were reports of violence and abuse. Whether on line, or the brutal murder of another public figure, the M.P. David Amess. I drove into Altrincham and listened to the radio, my attention was drawn to an item reporting on the increase in online abuse over the last eighteen months, with a particular focus on the young women who were contestants on the reality TV Show “Love Island”. I arrived at my office, turned on the computer, sent off a couple of emails and made a few connections. I then set off to the supermarket for some food for the day, not in the best spirits, suspicious of the world and the people in it. Passing lots of groups of school children, who just seemed caught up in themselves, I was thinking to myself I wonder what cruelty some of them inflict on each other today. I was not in good spirits.

I returned following the same route I had left by, again passing school children in their uniforms, like groups of sticks of Blackpool rock, the kids round here have fancy uniforms. As I was nearing the town centre I noticed three teenage girls standing together around a sleeping homeless man outside A Plan insurance, what was once, Dawson’s music shop. Above the sleeping man was a sign reading “Public Liability Insurance”. If only something could save us from ending up in such a desperate situation. It is a distressing sight and a growing problem is this affluent town. A real contrast to the lives of we privileged folk. As I passed by I looked closely at the man and the girls. One of the girls had their phone out and the other two looked like they had grins on their faces, I was suspicious and concerned, so I began to approach them. I thought they may be mocking him and taking a picture. I asked them what they were doing? No sooner had I mouthed the words, I realised. My perception was completely wrong; it couldn’t have been more wrong actually. One of the girls had a fifty pence coin in her hand and what they were actually doing was trying to find a way to leave the man the money without waking him or disturbing him, the grin was one of nervousness. I said, “good girls” and went on my way into the day. Unlike them I passed by, if not on the other side. The image has stayed with me since and got me thinking about so many things. Especially about perception, suspicion, trust and distrust. How we are influenced by what we see and how others are influenced by what we do, what they see. It also got me thinking about how events can quickly change a persons perception and how vital it is to keep our senses open and respond to what is going on in the world in which we live and breathe and share our being, for it matters you know, it really does. There is no real neutrality in life. I’m glad I was awake to the world that morning despite feeling somewhat tired and dispirited, I have not done so since. Thank God.

Well I did a little as I went to Wednesday night after watching “Four Hours at the Capitol” a film showing the scenes and telling the story of the January 6th insurrection at the US Capitol Building. It was hard watching reexperiencing those terrivble events from only a few months ago. We live in challenging times, throughout our world. I am deeply concerned for liberal democracy.

We seem to be living in an age of distrust. Folk are increasingly suspicious of those around them. A feeling that is fed by a variety of sources. Some blame the media, an easy scapegoat. The truth is that individuals on social media are just as responsible for feeding their own fears and negativities. We are the media, it is not a separate entity from the rest of humanity. Just another former idol we have grown to distrust. Without some level of trust we cannot function, whether as individuals or as a society. Without a level of trust liberal democracy collapses and look what happens when this occurs. We only need remember the horrors of mid twentieth century Europe to see the results. Surely no one wants that to be repeated ever again.

Sadly we don’t trust anymore, we are suspicious, people feel frightened of so many things and respond from this place at times. I did on Monday morning. I was suspicious of three teenage girls who were actually doing something beautiful.

We need trust, it is an intrinsic aspect of human nature. It is the foundation of healthy psychological development, first established in the bond between infant and caregiver, a process facilitated by the hormone oxytocin. Trust is defined most simply as the expectation that other people's future actions will safeguard our interests. Without trust social life and society cannot exist. We trust others all the time as we hand ourselves over to the expertise and care of others. We yield some of our control and autonomy over our money, secrets, safety, all the things we value. Without trust, we would be paralysed, and social life would grind to a halt. It is trust, not money, that makes the world go round, that powers society. Without trust, we do not function. Trust may well be what Hobbes really meant by the Leviathan.

Perhaps the problem in so much of our lives and society is that we no longer trust. We don’t trust ourselves, we don’t trust one another, we don’t trust life itself. This is perhaps why we live in so much fear.

What can we do? Is there a solution? Well, I believe that there is. It began in what I bore witness to on the streets of Altrincham, under that “Public Liability Insurance” sign. It is up to us. It begins with taking the little risks that are needed, to offer some care. To trust that the care will be received and returned. To live with a little bit faith. Faith in ourselves, faith in each other, faith in life, faith in God, however we understand God. Faith is not a passive thing though, it comes alive in our actions and activities. The book of James stated “Faith without works is dead.” Well I have learnt that true faith is in the works. Faith either grows and diminishes in and through our works, how we live. It doesn’t come in the big things, it comes in the little things, “Thus saeth the Lord”

It comes in how we are in the coffee shop and supermarket, or on the phone when some poor customer service person makes their fiftieth call of the day. How we are with the person collecting money for another worthy cause. Do we occasionally stop, or do we do all we can to avoid them? Do we sneer sometimes? Do we give, without asking someone what they are going to spend the money on? I saw this the other day outside Marks and Spencer. Why ask what the homeless person is going to spend your fifty pence on, when you already know, why make them feel any smaller than they already do. Offer a smile to the stranger in the street, just for the heck of it. Let them know that you know that life is ok. Not yet paradise, but ok. This maybe the first smile they have seen in a long time. Talk to stranger about the most mundane of things, especially the weather, it is what connects us all after all. Stop criticising everyone you see for the way they dress, or the way they car they drive. It is not just on social media where such activities take place, they happen in every street too. Thank the bus driver, the delivery man, the person in the bank, the postie, you may be the first person to do so today. Don’t take the last parking space, let someone else believe in “The God of parking space”, at least for one day. Don’t argue every point, listen to what each of us must speak, try to understand where the person you disagree with is coming from, whatever they believe about God, the environment, Brexit, Covid and vaccines, try to understand where they are coming from. If you make a judgement, try not to stay in judgement, to stand in that judgement forever. Do not allow difference, to make all the difference.

Now all this on its own will not change the world, but it will make a difference to your little piece of it, the bit you inhabit and you never know you may set of a tidal wave of trust throughout the world. Chaos Theory works for everything. Everything we do and everything we do not do really matters. There is no neutrality in life. Cynicism rules because those with love in their hearts do nothing. Show the cynics how wrong they. How they are cowards who dare not step into the arean of trust, all they dare do is slung mud.

This will not insulate us from suffering, horrible things will still happen, they always do. Often, usually in fact, through no fault of our own. It will though save us from the suffering within the suffering, which leads to despair, a state of hopelessness. You see by living this way our lives will be given meaning and purpose, born by a devotion to life, love and one another. We cannot transcend the suffering that is a part of life, but we can be transformed by it. This though requires us to trust. To trust in one another, to trust in life, to trust in God, however we understand God. We have to take the risk of love, that is trust, it is a natural aspect of humanity, it is there in the infant, sadly somehow through life it is something that we lose, well it can be born again, even when it feels a little lost. It was by me on Monday morning. All I had to do was keep my senses open, go about my normal business and respond to life all around me.

So today I offer a prayer of thanks and praise to three teenage girls, and a homeless man sleeping under a sign reading “Public Liability Insurance” on the streets of Altrincham. I hope that we can all read the signs too. For we are all liable, we are all responsible.

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

Tuesday 12 October 2021

A Song For Long-Haul People

Last Sunday felt like a bit of a marathon. It was one of those Sunday’s when I led worship at three congregations one after the other. It’s not the first time I’ve done this. I recall one Sunday, during Advent a few years ago, leading at four congregations. I made myself ill, I will never do that again. It would have been an even bigger struggle if it had been this Sunday due to the Manchester Marathon. This always effects both congregations.

Last week was challenging enough. I confessed to Margaret our organist. after the Altrincham service, that I didn’t really feel up to going to Rivington. I am glad that I did though. It was a lovely experience. I just didn’t feel like facing it that day. It had been a long busy week and I was feeling a little tired, perhaps I had hit what marathon runners call “The Wall”. I had had a long distressing phone call with a dear old friend the night before also, which was on my mind too. That said I kept going and thank God I did.

Last Sunday was a very special day in so many ways. Full of wonderful and beautiful surprises. It ended late and was full of meaning and purpose. It had begun with an unexpected encounter with Alan Myerscough and Peter Sampson parked up outside Dunham Road. It was a joy to go for a coffee and chat with them and then for all of us to go our individual ways to do our services at different Unitarian congregations. They had travelled from north Wales that day and Alan was dropping Peter off in Altrincham so he could get the tram to Manchester, while he want off to play the organ and three congregations around Cheshire. There was such joy in that unexpected encounter, it lifted my spirits and filled my heart with love. There are so many little things that lift you up and keep you going when you don’t always feel in the spirit yourself. There is always invisible and visible help available.

On Monday I went to the gym and had a really good session. I felt reenergised. As I was changing afterwards I overheard a conversation between two men. One had obviously run the London Marathon the day before. He described the feeling after he’d finished. He felt like death lying there on “The Mall”, completely broken, almost in tears and then he described this insane idea coming into his mind, “I want to do that again.” I had met up with another friend the evening before who had run the marathon with his dad and his dads running friends, that day. My friend is super fit and his dad has overcome cancer in recent times. The odds were very much against him surviving, but he has. My friend’s dad was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. He had been one of the first patients to undergo revolutionary CAR T cell therapy treatment at “The Christie” and recovered. I think in their eyes running a marathon together was nothing in comparison to what they have been through. My friend, who although is super fit, is not a runner and he said that when talking with his dad’s friends he realised that he has never met a more obsessive group of people in his life, than marathon runners. The world is full of beautiful lunatics, they add so much to the rich tapestry of life. I am just chuffed to see my friend happy after all the suffering he and the family have been through. Just wonderful that a father and son can run together.

Now as you can guess this all got me thinking about Marathons and marathon runners and the characteristics of such people and if there are lessons here for life in general, particularly the spiritual life. I was thinking particularly about the struggles that we all face, like the battle my friend’s dad has had with cancer. I was thinking of the struggles the world has faced these last eighteen months and as we look forward to what we are being told is going to be a difficult winter. I thought to myself we are in for a long haul, a continuing marathon. Only this week I have heard of people struggling badly with emotional, mental and spiritual health. I was deeply upset when I heard a lovely member of the Dukinfield congregation the other week who had given up on life, she has stopped eating because as she put “Covid had got into her head”. This is someone I have grown to know well over the years. Like I have already mentioned I had a really painful conversation with one my dearest and oldest friends last Saturday, it ended badly as the friend is in a desperate state mentally. Thankfully they are getting help this week. I have heard of others this week too. We have to continue to stick together and help one another keep going to support each other as those people lining the streets of Manchester are doing this Sunday.

It brought to mind the following wisdom which is sometimes attributed to the film maker Michael Moor, but was originally uttered by Amiee Van Ausdall, I beleive

“This morning I have been pondering a nearly forgotten lesson I learned in high school music. Sometimes in band or choir, music requires players or singers to hold a note longer than they actually can hold a note. In those cases, we were taught to mindfully stagger when we took a breath so the sound appeared uninterrupted. Everyone got to breathe, and the music stayed strong and vibrant… So let's remember the advice of music: Take a breath. The rest of the chorus will sing. The rest of the band will play. Rejoin so others can breathe. Together, we can sustain a very long, beautiful song for a very, very long time. You don’t have to do it all, but you must add your voice to the song.”

Life is a marathon it is never a sprint. Anyone can put effort in for a short while, but what is required is sustainability, endurance, “sticktooativeness”. Stress is helpful to the sprinter, but not so helpful to long haulers.

In “The 10-Step Stress Solution: Live More, Relax More, Reenergize” Neil Shah explores how life is like a marathon race requiring a relaxed body with only an occasional sprint. Describing how a sprinter is usually muscular and stocky, highly stressed and that they don’t even need to breath in a race. Stating, “During a race their bodies are usually very tight and tense; their teeth are gritted, their veins are bulging and they have looks of determination on their faces.”

Whereas a marathon runner is lean, have little tension in their bodies, they are relaxed, as they do not wish to waste energy. Breathing is vital to them, stating “Long-distance runners take slow, deep and rhythmical breaths. They breathe deep into their belly, maximizing the amount of oxygen they are inhaling, which in turn keeps them relaxed and helps to fuel their run.”

He suggests that we cannot face life as sprinters. Stating instead that: “Our approach to life should be that of a marathon runner: to develop a sustainable and maintainable pace, and to speed up when faced with a challenge or a stressful situation, always returning to our long-distance pace.” That we need to “develop the stamina and endurance of a long-distance runner and you will ensure that you happily and healthily keep yourself moving through the marathon that is your life."

Now of course seeing life this way can feel like a slog. When I’m at the gym I don’t enjoy cardio but I find myself doing it each day keeping going. Got to look after my heart, for without it I have nothing. It can at times feel “Sysyphean”. “Sysyphean”, literally means extremely difficult to the point of futile. It relates the king of Corinth in Greek mythology “Sisyphus”.

Sometimes by sticking at it, when life is difficult, can feel futile. Like where on a road to nowhere. Like Sisyphus pushing a rock up a hill each day, only to have to face the same rock the next day. The same task must be fulfilled again the next day. It can feel like “Groundhog Day” It doesn’t have to be like this. Before his eternal punishment, Sisyphus loved life and all its possibilities for joy and happiness. He loved life so much he defied the gods by stopping death. When the gods discovered his trickery, they designed the perfect punishment. They gave Sisyphus eternal life, just not one filled joy. This was his punishment, because no one would desire a life comprised solely of pushing a rock up a hill, knowing it will only roll back down again, thus accomplishing nothing in the end, beyond its reaching the top.

Now of course this is a myth. The usual understanding of this story is that Sisyphus’ hell is repeating the futile task. I am not so sure that this true. To me the hell is that he has to face the task alone. This is where the lack of joy comes from, from facing this struggle alone. Hell is the inability to ask for help, whether visible or invisible. Sisyphus is punished for his hubris, his excessive pride, self-confidence and defiance of the gods. It comes from his belief that he can live forever and the fact he must fulfil his task alone. The beauty of life is in the fact that it doesn’t last forever, thus each moment is precious. No two moments are every exactly the same. “No one steps in the same river twice”, because the river is not the same and neither is the person stepping into it. Also, we do not travel alone, we do not get through on our own. We have help available to us. All we have to do is level our pride and let the help, both visible and invisible, be there for each of us. And of course offer our own hand when it is needed. It is not that we complete each others tasks for them. It is that we support, encourage and offer a helping hand along the way.

In many ways vulnerability maybe the secret to “sticktooativeness” to persevering when life is hard. Maybe admitting you’re tired and asking for help is the real strength that gets us through. I saw this again last Sunday, on several occasions, as I have so many times in life. Humility, accepting my humanity, is always the antidote to the dangers of hubris.

I suspect that the dominant myth of Sisyphus, pushing his rock up that endless hill, has done us no favours. We assume that Sisyphus is suffering because his work is endless, when maybe it’s his isolation and lack of a place to rest that is his true torment.

We do not need to persevere alone. We can not only survive but even thrive together, through community. We can endure together by encouraging each other to keep up our spiritual practices, to live by our faith and to remain open to humour beauty, joy, grief, embracing gratitude and forgiveness and practicing self-compassion. Sometimes you just have to stay open, if you do you see incredible beauty, and or bump into friends unexpectedly. Friends on the same or similar marathon.

The people I know and serve offer community, in a variety of ways, something that people are struggling to find or refind at this time. We need love and support in order to keep on turning, to persevere. It is important to remember that we find greater strength, power and sustenance communally. This I have come to believe is the primary purpose of free religious community, some thing that is so important to never forget. This communities that I and my friends Alan and Peter serve are their to sustain those in the wider community to maintain our spiritual perseverance.

We need each other and folk out there need us if we are to persevere against the struggles in life. We also need to be able to be vulnerable enough to admit that we need help as we will all struggle at times. When this happens we need to be willing to ask for that help. There will be times when we will need to let others help us to push our rocks or support us through our struggles. We will need to take time of rest, even ministers. We need this rest, it is necessary, nay vital for us to build the resilience required for the journey ahead.

For all of us there are at times when to simply take the next step, to persevere with whatever our task is, seems to take all the courage we can muster. Past experiences can often stop us dead in our tracks. Fear can block our attempts to step out into the world and back into the adventure of life with all its many challenges. Sometimes it seems too much, sometimes it is. So, we surrender, ask for help and then through faith, hope and love we find the strength to persevere, but to not do so alone. Remember we never sail this ship alone. We are in this one together all the way.

Below is video devotion based on the material in this "Blogspot"

Tuesday 5 October 2021

Wanted, Needed, Loved

“A Prayer Addressing All Hungers” by Debra Smith

We are hungry

We are eating our daily bread
and bowing our heads
and yet we are hungry

We are thanking the farmer
and the farm worker
and yet we are hungry

We are speaking in spaces
for food that is healthy
and still we are hungry

We are tiring of slogans that say
Feed the Children
and mean feed the children

We are hungry for something
that feeds more than bodies

We are hungry for help
Help us oh you who apportion the funds
Find in your hearts the child who you were
who would share with a friend
free and friendly
Lead us not into meanness

For we are the hungry
We want the loaves
and the fishes
the water
and the wine
of sweet justice for all

We are hungry

Whenever I log onto “Facebook” it asks me “What is on your mind Danny”. On Monday morning I replied “There’s absolutely nothing on my mind. This would be good except I need to think of something to explore this week…Any ideas?”

Well, I was amazed by the response. I know some wonderful and interesting people. I spent Monday working on a funeral and a few other things. At the end of the day I read what had been posted and I just marvelled at the responses. They offered me such fruits for after all it is by our fruits that we are known.” By Tuesday the phrases “To be wanted, needed and loved” was singing in my heart. What are our wants and needs? How do we respond to them and those of others? Is it from fear or love? For it matters as it from these that the world will see us and recognize.

In recent days we have seen a response to perceived needs in a less than healthy and dare I say sane manner. Chaos and panic buying at our petrol stations, for fear that petrol is about to run out. There have been similar reactions over the last 18 months. There is much anxiety around, people feel uncertain and insecure. I was talking with a woman at the gym the other morning. We often talk, she knows I am a minister. She has trouble with anxiety and that morning everything was irritating her, every sound was splitting right through her head. At least she spoke and as she did you could see her anxiety easing. The admittance there was a problem and the connection helped her. Another friend has also been struggling with anxiety these last few days, brought on by concerns for both of her parents. She is doing all she can, but it is not easy. There is a great deal of anxiety around at this time of uncertainty.

This all got me thinking about our human needs. I don’t just mean what we want as individuals, but our actual needs. How we fulfill and realise them. I’m not just thinking as individuals but as people who live in community with one another. I suspect that our most basic need might be this. So often people feel isolated and disconnected and the last 18 months has not helped with this.

Exploring our human needs is not a new subject. There are many theories as to what they are and how we feed them. During the middle years of the 20th century American psychologist Abraham Maslow suggested a hierarchy of needs which he illustrated as a kind of pyramid of needs.

At the bottom of the pyramid are our basic physiological needs for food, water, rest. At the next level are safety needs for security and shelter. After that come our needs for belonging and love, intimacy and friendship. The need for sex, as most of us know, comes only after we’ve eaten and rested and are in a warm, dry, safe place. Nearing the top of the pyramid come our esteem needs: finding self-worth through our external accomplishments and the affirmation of others. At the very top of the pyramid is self-actualisation, or reaching our full creative potential. That’s the part of our lives, after we’ve taken care of all of our other needs, in which we can begin to make meaning of our lives, find our place in the universe, and understand the impact we’ve had on the world and the people we love. Maslow later expanded on this suggesting that we also have a need beyond self-actualisation. Recognising a need that transcends the confines of self, reaching a stage beyond in which we seek the fulfilment of others, we an acknowledge our responsibilities to help others.

I think Maslow’s pyramid is helpful, but a bit like the stages of grief it does seem somewhat simplistic and life just aint like that. We all thirst and yearn and hunger for things in life, including spiritually. We are not merely physical beings who need our physical, psychological and emotional needs met. In some ways the spiritual hunger and yearning can be the primary one. I have a friend who wrote a PHD on the Irish in Manchester. It was an attempt to explode a few myths and he did. One thing that stands about the Irish and particular Catholic communities in the nineteenth century was that despite the incredible levels of poverty they were able to raise incredible amounts of money to build beautiful ornate churches. It seems that their spiritual needs were important to them, along with other needs of the wider community. They did not see their needs as being purely individualistic, which is perhaps the curse of the current age.

Swiss Psychiatrist Carl Jung also recognise deep more spiritual needs. It took an interesting view on addiction and human desire suggesting that they are ultimately a spiritual yearning, a longing for another dimension beyond the material plane. In a letter to Bill W, one of the founders of AA, just before Jung died he wrote about a client, who was a part of the Alcoholics Anonymous story, stating that "His craving for alcohol was the equivalent on a low level of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language: the union with God." Interestingly salvation for the alcoholic is not purely an individual thing.

So many folk are thirsting for wholeness Perhaps our yearning, our wants, our needs are an expression of a perceived lack of something; a sense that something is missing, that we are experiencing an emptiness. And that there is a possibility for fulfilment if only we can become clear what the lack is really all about. This is hunger so many feel, wherever they are Maslow’s perceived pyramid. Those who hunger for food hunger for wholeness just as much as those who feel they are achieved their physical and emotional needs.

In “The Book of Awakenings” Mark Nepo seems to agree, he writes “I believe there is a dimension of the inner life that is as imperative and equivalent as food and shelter. Without the fulfillment of these basic inner needs, we are just fed and sheltered bodies void of life. Without love, truth, and compassion, all the comforts of modern life don’t matter, because we are simply reduced to biological machines, not even as present as animals.”

If we only live a life where our basic needs are met first, we will never take the risk to live the best life we can. We will certainly not live from love. We will feel we need to eliminate all the external troubles before we can truly live our lives. Well, there will always be external troubles. Perhaps not a world wide pandemic and all kinds of shortages, but other troubles, that stop us being what we can be in this world and giving what we have for the good of all. We will not live in and from love, we will live from fear until the day comes when we do not live at all.

This is not to say that the basic needs aren’t vitally important. Of course they are. Without basic shelter and food, there is no security. There are enough people in this world struggling just to survive. That said just because they are struggling to survive it does not mean that they are not living the lives that they can, living spiritually alive.

Besides which if we live lives aiming at material security first we may find that this is another hunger, another addiction, that can never be satisfied. We might start to believe that we can never have enough petrol, or toilet paper, or shoes, or cars or holidays in the sun, or whatever it is that we think makes our lives worth living.

We can begin to live from love right now, whether our other needs have been fully met or not. As Nepo writes: “Spend whatever you can afford on making love work, bringing true into being, and allow generosity and compassion to flourish. This is more altruistic. It is necessary to be fully alive. It’s part of the wood that keeps that inner fire burning.”

So what is that really need in life? Well I suspect it is a sense that we are wanted need and loved. The problem is that if we simply go seeking that, it is another feeling that can never satisfied, not wholly. Instead what I suspect is needed is for us to become people who invite others to realise that they are wanted, needed and loved as they, exactly as they are in this moment. What the world needs is more people who instead of grasping at everything for fear that someone else will get it; become people who will give of themselves, who will offer the hand of acceptance and love and invite the other as they are, exactly as they. You do not need to be the perfect self actualised individual to achieve this. It can begin right here right now, you can offer such love, before you reach any summit.

We seem so focused on reaching some imagined place or idealised state. We do not need to wait until we have reached Maslow’s self-actualised state before going beyond the limitations of self, to that to a stage in which we seek the fulfilment of others and finally acknowledgement of our responsibilities to help others. We will never reach that stage if all we are seeking is self-actualisation, why because it will still be all about us.

The journey is the gift, there is no real end, this gift is in living this way now. If we live with love in our hearts we might just find our most basic needs being met and those of others too. We might just begin to live a life where we truly realise that we are wanted, needed and loved as we are, exactly as we are in this moment.
Below is a video devotion based on the material in this "Blogspot"