Monday 29 November 2021

May we become the light we have all been waiting for

I was walking through Altrincham the other morning. I was feeling good; feeling more settled as I feeling more at home, back in the chapel house. It has been a difficult few months; it has been a difficult couple of years for all of us.

Altrincham was busy that Saturday morning, the town was bursting with life. It was a challenge to weave my way through the burgeoning crowd. I found myself caught up in what appeared to be a bit of bottle neck and I soon understood why. There in front of me was a very old man, looking like he was being held up and walked down the street by what was obviously two young adult granddaughters. They were carefully and lovingly guiding his every step. His face was an absolute picture, I do not believe I have ever seen a happier one. The whole image light up my heart and soul. A light shining bright in this time of darkness. Don’t we all need our hearts and souls lighting at this time; don’t we all need to bear witness to hope coming to life in human form. Well, there it was, a little light shining bright, in a time of darkness.

We all need to see our Immanuel’s, the promise made to humanity of the coming of love, in human form, in a time of darkness. Immanuel means that God is still with us. Well, there it was shining bright on the streets of Altrincham, love come alive in human form. If we look for it, we will find it; if we live from it, it will come alive in our lives for others to see.

Advent is the time of waiting, of preparation for the light to come alive, to be born again. Well, it can do so in the manger of our hearts, in our frail human lives. We don’t need to wait for something to come at some time in the future. Instead, we need to prepare for it in our lives and give birth to it for all to see. Not just in the manger in an ordinary stable, but in our homes, in our families, on our streets, in our communities. Let us become the gifts we have all been waiting for. Our world needs it right now. Don’t we all need to see a little Hope. Let us become that Hope, the Immanuels we have all been waiting for. May we see in one another’s lives that God is still with us.

So let us become the light, but at the same time we do not need to either fear or decry the darkness. In this time of darkness, it is important to not only look for light, but we must also learn to love the dark. The Divine is there present in the dark, just as much as the light. If it were not, then the dark winters would be even harder than they are.

Christmas and Advent is a season of Joy, but what if we do not feel so joyful, does this mean we are not welcome, of course not. When we say come as you are, exactly, as you are, we mean that. We say bring your whole selves and we mean that. If God is still with us, then the Divine is present in the darkness too. Please do not hide any aspect of yourself, for it is welcome here.

Sometimes we are too quick to turn on the lights and not acknowledge the dark. This can be shocking and overwhelming. There are times we must let our eyes get use to the darkness in order to see what the dark has to teach us about ourselves and one another. Sometimes we need to befriend the dark, to bring us closer to one another and therefore connect to the light of love in all our lives. In so doing we can become the Immauels we have all been waiting for. Immanuel means that God is with us. With us in the darkness as well as the light. The darkness was there before there was light. In the darkness and love of our mother’s wombs, love was present. Just as it is present in the seeds that are planted in the dark earth that will sprout to life in the light of spring. We need not fear the dark and wait passively for the light to come, we must first befriend the dark and then become the light we have all been waiting for. Oh come, oh come Immanuel.

I have shared the following, “It is better to light one candle than curse the darkness”, with you before. It is an old Chinese proverb and has become the motto of Amnesty International. As we enter into the Advent season, I would like us to hold these words in our hearts. We live in cynical times, and it is easy to get caught up in negative thinking, to only see the troubles in life. The truth is there is much hope around us and within us, it’s just that we rarely focus light on it. This hope can be born again in manger of our hearts.

This Advent season I would like us think of ways in which we can bring a little light into the dark places of our world. Not so much the big things, but the little things. It is amazing how little things affect the lives of others in small and simple ways. Like the old man and his two granddaughters I witnessed the other morning, how they opened and awakened my heart and soul.

This Advent season I am asking us to become candles and lanterns, to bring some light into our world. To do what we can. To me this is living religiously; to me this is the essence of true religion. It’s not just about what we think, or feel, or believe or reject, it is a way of being; it is an orientation of the heart. It’s about spirit coming to life; it’s about spirit incarnating in our human form.

My hope is that we can be blessings to our world; that we can bring glad tidings of comfort and joy to our world. Our world needs it we all need it.

My request to you this Advent season is that do what we can to become blessings to all that we meet, to bring love alive in our lives. Let us also open ourselves up to the blessings this season offers to us, from one another and from all life, for that same spirit is present in everything. That spirit links us to the wholeness of life and the wholeness of eternity. It links us from our souls to the universal, to the eternal, soul.

O come, o come Immanuel. Immanuel means that God is still with us, may we recognise this in the love that is always with us. In both the darkness and the light. Let that love shine. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

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

Sunday 7 November 2021

There is always time to laugh and cry, you don’t have to wipe the tears from your eye

Last Tuesday was All Souls Day, a time to remember those that we have loved and lost. Those souls who touched our lives in so many ways. It is always a difficult day for me personally. Not least because it was on the 2nd of November 2006 that I experienced what has been the most significant loss of my life. A soul that reawakened a dying love in me, died that day. I re-felt that feeling whilst experiencing shared silence with friends in meditation as the sun rose that morning. I spent the day working on the service, that this devotion has come from, but also in conversation with many dear friends new and old. I also had a long overdue phone conversation with my mum. She has been quite worried of late as her beloved auntie Sheila is in Pinderfields hospital in a Covid ward on a ventilator. She also has all the other worries that mothers carry with them, not least of all for me one of her sons. It was good to talk, to love, to care. That afternoon, just when I needed it the most, I received a message from a dear old friend. She apologised for the lateness, but sent a rather lovely couple of pictures of myself with her and another dear, dear friend, from so long ago. I had requested a few weeks ago when I turned 50 if friends would send pictures and memories. It came at just the perfect moment as I recalled and re-lived so many memories. It brought tears to my eye. Tears of joy and tears of sadness. It brought a broad beaming smile to my face and no small amount of laughter. It reminded of what it means to truly live life as it actually is. You must accept all the blessings and curses of choosing life, to paraphrase good old Moses. Earlier that day I had met another friend for coffee. We had been trying to meet for weeks, but things kept on getting in the way. We shared about grief and about the joy of living. He is coming up to the first anniversary of the loss of his nephew. He will be spending a few days with his brother, whose son died last year. I shared the significance of the day with him. It was a rich and deep conversation. My life is filled with such things. It was a time of sorrow and yet there was a strange joy in the connection and no small amount of laughter. Of course we were interrupted several times by people we know, which again brought spontaneous laughter.

As I returned to my office those old familiar words from Ecclesiastes, were singing in my heart, as they were throughout Tuesday. They always touch that place deep in the soul of me, the place of joy and sorrow too. Words that are fitting for all seasons, but particularly autumn and especially November, this season of Remembrance. Ecclesiastes speaks, that truth of truths,that whatever we are feeling or experiencing at the moment is always fleeting and that “this too shall pass”; that nothing is permanent in life, it is forever changing and however you feel about a situation right now, you will feel differently soon. This is both good and bad news, well actually it is just reality. The key is to not deny the experience to know the joy and blessing as it truly is. For there is a time and place for everything under the sun. Do not deny this, for in so doing you are denying your full humanity.

The service that night was beautiful, it touched those parts that needed to be touched. It was wonderful to be together with others for this. November is the season of remembrance in so many ways. At this time, we remember those who have touched our lives in deep and special ways. Yes, we remember those who are no longer with us, but it is also important to remember those who are still with us too. Those two pictures of dear old friends helped me to remember this too. Actually, over the last few months I have had the gift of reconnecting with so many dear friends. It has been very special as my life has been blessed again by tears of pain, but laughter too.

In this season of remembrance tears come for so many reasons. Some are very obvious to us, tears of grief. That said they come for many other reasons too. This brings to mind the following rather wonderful piece on “Tears” by Frederick Buechner

“Tears” by Frederick Buechner

They say that whenever the great Protestant theologian Paul Tillich went to the beach, he would pile up a mound of sand and sit on it gazing out at the ocean with tears running down his cheeks. One wonders what there was about it that moved him so.

The beauty and the power of it? The inexpressible mystery of it? The futility of all those waves endlessly flowing in and ebbing out again? The sense that it was out of the ocean that life originally came and that when life finally ends, it is the ocean that will still remain? Who knows? . . .

Maybe it was when he looked at the ocean that he caught a glimpse of the One he was praying to. Maybe what made him weep was how vast and overwhelming it was and yet at the same time as near as the breath of it in his nostrils, as salty as his own tears.”

Who knows why the tears come. Does it matter? I don’t think so. They are precious sacraments though, every single one. They are far more than water leaking from our eyes. Emotional tears help to cleanse us. Their composition is different from those that result from cutting onions or from irritations in our eyes. We cry not because there is something wrong with our eyes. Tears created from emotions contain more toxins, much like sweat does. They help to cleanse the body and also contain leucine enkephalin, an opiate. Tears created from felt emotion not only cleanse us, but ease us too.

Brings to mind the following “Going On Together” by Yehuda Amichai

"Above the hotel gate, I saw a sign:
'International Conference on Inflammation of the Eye'
for those who have cried too much or not cried enough.
All of them with name tags on their lapels
like temporary nameplates in a cemetery or markers
in a botanical garden.
They approach one another as if sniffing, as if checking,
Who are you where are you from and when
was the last time you cried?
The subject of the morning session is 'Sobbing:
The end of Crying or the Way It Begins.' Sobbing
as soul-stuttering and griefstones. Sobbing
as a valve or a loop that links cry to cry,
a loop that unravels easily, like a hair ribbon,
and the crying — hair that fans out in profusion, glorious.
Or a loop that pulls into an impossible knot —
sobbing like an oath, a testimony, a cure.
Back in their cubicles, the women translators are busy
translating fate to fate, cry to cry. At night they come home,
scrub the words from their lips, and with sobs of happiness
they start loving, their eyes aflame with joy."

An interesting take on tears on sobbing.

In ancient times tears were considered sacred. So much so that they were stored in bottle like containers called “lachrymatories”. They are mentioned in the 56th Psalm of David verse 8, who prays to God 'Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?'. In ancient Rome mourners filled small tear bottles or cups with tears and placed them in tombs as a symbol of respect for the departed. The volume of tears attested to the status of the deceased individual. Mourners were recruited and paid for the specific purpose of producing and collecting tears for these containers. You can find Lachrymatories in museums thoughout the world. They reappeared during the nineteenth century, when many of our modern customs around grief and mourning were established. Tear bottles were made with special openings to collect the tears and when they evaporated it was thought that the appropriate period of mourning was over. It would seem that the practice has re-emerged in recent years. You can have your own made by a specialised craftsperson and or have your tears enclosed in a glass necklace.

I am not sure what I think of all this. I wouldn’t want to store and enclose something as sacred as a tear, shed from the deepest aspect of our humanity. It’s a bit like the butterfly collector who wants to pin the butterfly down. A butterfly is a butterfly when it lives for a short time in a garden and flies. Just as a tear is precious as it is a spontaneous reaction to a lived emotion. Once we store these things we kill them of real meaning. You cannot freeze a moment, its beauty is in the lived experience. That said mementos, like photographs, can help us reconnect to an experience shared with a loved one, so they do have an important value. Like I say I am not entirely sure how I feel about such things as tear cups and their like. What about your good selves?”

Tears of course are not always about sadness. There are tears of joy too. There are other expressions of emotion as well. One being laughter. Now one thing we do not do is store is our laughter. Well I suppose there is canned laughter, but is there anything more artificial and soulless? Nor am I great believer in fake laughter. People do things like Zen laughter groups. Laughter for me should always be spontaneous, otherwise it just isn’t real; laughter for me is just as sacred as any tear. We recognise one another often through our laughter. I have shared much laughter recently, with some dear old friends. Such sacred moments.

Laughter is so important. I recently discovered the following amusing poem “Bad news about my vocation” by Koertge

Bad News About My Vocation

by Ron Koertge

I remember how the upper crust in my hometown
pronounced it—care-a-mel. Which is correct, I guess,
but to everybody else it was carmel.

Which led to the misconception about the order
of Carmelites.

I imagined they served God by heating sugar
to about 170 C, then adding milk and butter
and vanilla essence while they listened
to the radio.

I thought I could do that. I could wear the white
shirt and pants. I knew I couldn’t be good
but I might be a good candy maker.

So imagine my chagrin when I learned about
the vows of poverty and toil enjoined
by these particular friars.

I also crossed off my list the Marshmellowites
and the Applepieites, two other orders I
was thinking of joining.

I love this poem. For some folks poetry is a serious business, perhaps it is. It can also be seriously funny. Life is far too serious a business to be taken too seriously. It should be the same with poetry, or at least this ought to be the lot of the poet.

Some people find me amusing, I am please about that. I was asked to conduct a funeral for someone recently. I was asked because the deceased sister knew that I had a sense of humour and wouldn’t be poe faced. That said one thing I have never been any good at is telling jokes. In fact part of my ministerial training was to learn how to tell jokes really badly, or certainly that seems to be the impression I give. The Baptists students. got “stand up” comedy training, we got the opposite it seems. So please stop me, stop me, stop me. Stop if you think you’ve heard this one before. Please stop me…

A Vicar, a priest and a Unitarian minister were travelling together to an ecumenical lunch, they were trying to save petrol money. Sadly on the way, they were involved in a fatal car crash. Now while they all sadly died, there was some good news, they all made it to heaven, even the Unitarian, which surprised them all.

No that isn’t the joke.

As they were going through orientation. They were all asked, 'When you are in your casket, and friends, family, and congregants are mourning over you, what would you like to hear them say?' The Vicar said, 'I would like to hear them say that I was a wonderful husband, a fine spiritual leader, and a great family man.' The priest said, 'I would like to hear that I was a wonderful teacher and a servant of God who made a huge difference in people's lives.' The Unitarian minister replied, 'I would like to hear them say, "Look, he's moving."

I did warn you I was never a great teller of jokes. I am though blessed with a sense of humour, thank God. I promise no more jokes.

Life is not easy. It can often seem even more difficult at this time. If I was to just sit with the pain of life I would do nothing but weep. That said there is more to life than this. There is love, laughter and joy too, despite all the very real pain and suffering. I Suspect that one of the greatest paradoxes of life is that it is vitally important to learn to take ourselves seriously enough to take ourselves lightly. To realise we are not alone and that there is much love and joy to share.

“For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven.” And the seasons turn and pass and come again. This last couple of years I feel that the line “A time to weep and a time to laugh” has taken on a deeper meaning. In recent weeks and months, as I have spent time with dear old friends and new ones too I wept more and by the same token I laughed more too. More of those barriers have come down. I know for a fact I have felt more. I suspect I am not alone in this. I Know it will make me more resilient and enable me to serve in a better and more open manner. My jokes though will not improve. So please forgive me.

I’m going to end this devotion with “A Recipe for Resilience” by Margaret Weis

“A Recipe for Resilience” by Margaret Weis

This recipe has been tweaked over time, so adjust as necessary.

Sometimes it yields more servings than anticipated.
Sometimes it needs a bit more of this ingredient or that.
It comes from generations who have gone before me, and I've added my own flavor along the way.

A Recipe for Resilience

One part courage
Two parts tears of failure and doubt
One part deep listening
One part each of both silence and laughter
A dash of trust
A pinch of wonder
A heaping scoop of naps and snacks

In a separate bowl, mix together family, friends, and those who challenge you to be your best self, those with whom you disagree.

Add slowly to the larger pot, add a bay leaf for … well, whatever it is bay leaves do, and let simmer for as long as you need (which is often longer than you realize or anticipate).

Keep the heat at an even temperature – hot enough to cook throughout, but not so hot it burns the bottom.

Can be served at room temperature, warm, or even cold if necessary.
Serve alongside your favorite soft blanket, dog, cat, or other soft item.

Make often,
Share with others,
Hold onto the leftovers – you’ll need them after a long day that challenges your soul.

Please find below a video devotion

based on the material in this "Blogspot"