Monday 12 December 2022

Our Rituals of Christmas Time: Personal, Universal and Timeless

The last two years have made it difficult for many of us to engage in many of our usual Christmas time rituals. The pandemic meant that we could not socially mix as we normally would. We had to find new ways to be more creative. As is the human way, we often did. I suspect we always have. The spirit always finds a way to bring light, to bring hope, when hope is hard to find. Even this year has felt a little strange with the football World Cup taking place as we engage in our usual get togethers. So yes Christmas has been different these last few years, but I know that its spirits burns just as bright as ever. It has certainly felt this way for these last few days. I know Christmas will once again be different for me this year, it feels good though.

Christmas means different things to each and every one of us. Do you know what, it always has. People often cry that it’s not what it used to be. Well do you know what it used to be many years ago is not what it used to be many years before then. Christmas, like everything is always in flux, nothing ever stays the same, this is the nature of reality.

Now despite the ever changing rituals and celebrations there does appear to be a universal spirit that has always existed. Do you know what the spirit has existed longer than the Christmas story and stories. Christmas is the ultimate Universal mythos of the heart.

Now while myths may not be be real, they are certainly true. Myth," said the Greek statesman Solon, “is not about something that never happened. It is about something that happens over and over again.”

So we keep on telling these stories over and over again, adding to the cannon. Why? Well be cause they keep on happening over and over again.

For many people Christmas is a time of love and compassion of bringing to the surface our better selves. For others it is about family (however we understand family) coming together. For some it is about God’s Love incarnating perfectly in life, in the Christ child. For others it is the celebration of the end of winter and the coming of life and renewal in the spring time. I think it is all of this and a whole lot more. It seems to me that Christmas is the ultimate universal festival of the heart. It is a mixture of so many traditions and it has altered so much over time, embracing and incorporating so much of this simple spirit of light and love. Christmas is the ultimate festival of the heart, perfectly placed in the deep mid-winter when we need it the most.

As the years go by the meaning of Christmas has changed for me, as the meaning of life has. I suspect it means more to me today than it has ever done. Every year this meaning grows. Christmas is not just another day to me, in fact it has truly become a season, the season of the heart come to life. Religiously it means more to me too. As time as gone by I have connected increasingly to the many and varied rituals of Christmas. Ok some may see these rituals as secular, but I am not convinced. I see the spirit at the heart of Christmas incarnating in all of them.

I love Christmas, I truly do. I love it because it fills my heart with nostalgia, generosity and goodwill, it connects me to life, to God and to the people around me, it connects me to the past, to my ancestors and to those who touched my life, many who are no longer here. I shed many tears around this time of year. It happened three times on Tuesday, the first as I was pushing and pulling weights in the gym, not a place for tears really. The other two times as I read and received messages of thanks for this work I do, how it filled my heart with thanksgiving. All this allows me to feel more alive. It opens up the present, the ultimate gift of life. The spiritual life is not about passively living in the moment, but truly bringing the moment to life.

Christmas is the heart of the year. Christmas is about Kairos time, not Chronos time. Time slows and our experiences thicken, if we allow them to. If we open our hearts truly to the spirit at work in the experiences. If we open our hearts to one another our relationships will deepen. What is more religious than this? For me to be religious is to increase our connection and to be spiritual is to increase our sensitivity, our experience of life.

An example of this are the many rituals that we all engage in each and every year. Such as going to buy a new tree, or fetching the artificial one from where ever we store it in the house. Getting out the decorations and placing them around the home. Myself and Molly had a lovely time chatting with Frank, Aled and Nick as they finished putting up the tree in the chapel gardens at Dunham Road. Molly loves Christmas trees, or should I say she loves stealing baubles from them.

For so many people simple rituals like putting up and decorating the tree connects us to our past and those who have touched our lives. There are so many memories tied up in these rituals. The memories will be mixed, as life is mixed, to misquote good old Moses “The blessings and curses of choosing life”. How many of us laugh and cry as we engage with these rituals and of course pass on the memories, rebind them, bring them to life, remember, reincarnate them. Isn’t this love re-incarnated. Yes, there is religion in the ribbons, but also in the baubles and tinsels. These memories are not always happy and there will always be tears, but no doubt in some way they connect us to those “Glad tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, glad tidings of comfort and joy.

Then of course there is the music, whether that be carols and carol singing or the many and numerous pop songs and classic songs from the old movies. For every service during in December you all insist on only singing carols and I’m with you all the way here by the way. The pop songs are no less religious, no less spiritual to me. They connect me to my past and those I’ve heard and sung these songs with and they help bring the moment more fully alive. They increase my experience of life too, they open my heart, they incarnate love. A taste of heaven.

I had an experience with this last Saturday night as I reengaged with a love that has been with me all my life. I went on a congregational outing with Rob, Helen and Nick from Dunham Road. We went to see my great musical love, New Model Army. It was a great night, they were on fine form. It was a truly religious experience and one so many have missed engaging in. They have for years played a mini tour around Christmas time.

Then of course there are the films, those great Christmas stories. For so many of us this is the heart of Christmas. What is your favourite? What film is at the heart of Christmas for you? They may appear to be secular, at least on the surface, but I bet you that they have within the same universal Christmas Mythos going on, that is at the heart of the Christmas story.

All these rituals to me are deeply religious and spiritual also. They connect us to one another, to life, that spirit at the heart of life, they connect us to our past and those who have touched our lives and they bring the gift of Christmas to life, the ultimate gift of Christmas, the present, the Christmas present. It truly increases our sensitivity to life itself.

Another universal quality is the journeying of Christmas. There is of course chronos journey through the Advent season as we open our Advent Calendars and count down the days. There are the journeys to buy the gifts for loved ones, there is the journey to events and parties. There is the journey home also. Journeying is of course at the heart of the Christmas mythos. Whether that is the journey of the Holy Family of Joseph and Mary, carrying the Christ child in her womb on the road to Bethlehem, of the refusal to be accepted, of the magical birth and adorations and then of course having to flee for their lives, a journey we can all relate to in so many ways. Journey’s people have been travelling on for generations. Then of course there is the journey of the Magi, the wisemen, who were called out to cross many lands in order to follow their bliss and bring gifts of love to the beloved.

These are journey’s of distance. But also journeys of depth. They are both chronos and Kairos journeys. I will be doing some journeying over the next few weeks. As I am sure you will all be doing so too. They will be journey’s of hope and of sorrow, of joy and laughter and some pain. They will be religious journey’s and spiritual journey’s, journeys of the heart. Journey’s that will increase our sensitivity to life and deepen our connections to one another, to life, to our past, our present and the future. It will open our hearts and in so doing incarnate love here in our lives.

It will help me follow in the great tradition of Mr Scrooge and his famous words at the end of “A Christmas Carol”

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”

So let’s journey on through this Christmas season and truly open our hearts and engage in its spirit. May our hearts open wider, at this the heart of the year. May our experiences deepen as we remember to slow down as we rush through the business of our days. May we know the true gifts of the season; gifts of love, compassion and acceptance. May we bring the spirit of the season alive and in so doing learn to make it Christmas in the days yet to come.

Oh I wish it could be Christmas every day, well it can be if we make it so, if we bring it to life through our humble human being.

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


Monday 5 December 2022

Turning Presents Into True Gifts

We are now fully into the Advent Season, the days that lead to Christmas Day. These are the days of waiting of preparation. The music is playing, we can hear all the familiar songs in every shop as we no doubt begin the process of selecting presents for our loved ones.

Have you done all your shopping yet? I’ve not even begun. I will soon, but not just yet. I’ve got too much to do.

Have you experienced any “Bah Humbug” moments yet?

I noticed one from a friend of mine. She posted a “Meme” on Facebook. A cartoon depicting two figures. The first is putting up Christmas decorations and saying to the other “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas” to which the other responds in far less enthusiastic way “It’s not Christmas though is it Barbara, because it is still XXXXXXX November.”

The Meme was a protest against how soon Christmas had begun this year, especially in the shops etc. I replied to the ”Meme” stating “Just to be an annoying pedant. It’s Advent, it began on Sunday. If you want to be truly liturgically accurate Christmas doesn’t actually begin until sunset on Christmas Eve. None of us want that, so please no more Bah Humbugging. “There followed many other complaints about the celebration of Christmas coming too early, people putting up their decorations too early etc. I put up mine on Tuesday night. I have gone much further than I usually do. Molly is certainly enjoying this. It seems she loves stealing baubles from the tree and playing with them. I have had to move Father Christmas and his little helpers out of her reach. Many folk have been telling me off all week for doing so, telling me I wasn’t allowed to until Thursday 1st December, to which I replied that Advent had already begun. It’s funny how folk suddenly get all Puritanical about these things from time to time.

I get where this all comes from, especially as it has been Christmas in most of the shops, since the beginning of November. There has been a Christmas tree in Café Nero for weeks. I know this because Molly stole a bauble from their tree several weeks ago. It has been her favourite toy since then.

The “Bah humbugging” about the early celebration of Christmas stems from this sense of over commercialisation and the thought that the spirit of the season will be lost. It seems that for many Christmas has become an almost secular exercise. Afterall less than half of the population now identify as Christian, at least according the figures published this week, from last year’s census.

Is it true though. Have we killed the spirit of the season with this over commercialisation? I’m not convinced. I think the spirit lives on and actually is present in the very act of such celebrations and even the buying and commercial activities.

If we look purely at the surface, there appears little evidence of my view. The Christmas season appears to be mass consumerism gone mad. The worst excesses of which seem to form in that most hideous of American imports “Black Friday”, which in reality is linked to the American holiday of “Thanksgiving”. We have not taken that part on, just “Black Friday”, not the giving of thanks bit. This occurred over the weekend that Advent began. And yet there is the spirit of Christmas in the spiritual elements of “Thanks Giving”. This is surely something that can be extended into this Advent season and on into Christmas itself. The spirit of Christmas is surely about giving thanks for the gifts we have been given and expressing this thanks in our lives by using our gifts in this our lives. We can become gifts to this our world, we can live in and through gratitude.

This can be exemplified in the presents that we buy for our loved ones, as they can become gifts. If chosen and wrapped with loving intention, then surely even this commercial activity is spiritual in nature.

In “The Gift” by David Blanchard, distinguished between a gift and a present. How the gift has a far more deeply spiritual and heartfelt significance than merely a present. It touched a part, deep in the heart of me.

Now of course the word “present” is something the spiritually inclined are obsessed with in our current age. So many talk of the gift of the present moment, that this is where life is. I’m certainly not one to wish to argue with these thoughts. That said I wonder if sometimes we become so obsessed with the present that we forget about the gifts we carry with us that we have been given in those many moments in the past. Too often we wish to lose what has gone before in our intense focus on the present that we fail to embrace the gifts that have come throughout our lives. I have come to believe that to truly embrace the moment, to be truly present requires me to be fully engaged with every moment of my life, for there the true gifts of life emerge.

Perhaps to truly live in the present moment is to bring our whole selves, every breath of our lives and perhaps every life that has made our life into this sublime moment.

This year I have reflected much on my life, perhaps more than I have for a while. I have thought much about the gifts I’ve been given throughout my days. Gifts I have not always appreciated at the time. In fact, many I failed to notice when they were given. The gifts of the love given by the precious people I have shared my life with, some who are no longer physically with me. The things they took the time to show me, how to do things and just how to be; the times they made me laugh and cry; the joy that they brought to my being. Gifts given freely from their heart to mine.

I’ve also been thinking of the many gifts I was simply born with, that I have not always made best use of, the Graces of life. I have been contemplating how I can make better use of these, the ultimate of free gifts, not just for myself but for the good of all?

Here's an extract from a prayer I shared during the Advent service.

Now is the moment of magic,

and here's a blessing:
we already possess all the gifts we need;
we've already received our presents:
ears to hear music,
eyes to behold lights,
hands to build true peace on earth
and to hold each other tight in love.

How do we make good use of the gifts we have been given from the beginning and throughout our lives? How do we bring these gifts to life in this beautiful present that is right here, right now? How do we make best use of the gift of life?

I will leave that one with you to ponder…

For most of us Christmas is about the giving and receiving of presents, but not necessarily about the gifts we both give and receive.

I suspect that the tradition of giving and receiving gifts at Christmas time is linked to the three gifts of the Magi “Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh”. Gifts of great value 2,000 years ago, although only gold has retained its worth today. Now in early Christianity the journey of the Magi was celebrated on the Feast of the Epiphany on the 6th of January, the 12th day of Christmas, hence the Carol “On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree”…etc...)

The early Christian church did not celebrate Christmas as we do today. The tradition of giving Christmas presents is really a modern one. By Victorian times the culture of gift giving and the mythos of Father Christmas, St Nicholas or Santa Claus was beginning to take hold, immortalised in the fiction of Dickens and the like. As the twentieth century moved on into the twenty first this culture developed into mass consumerism. Today it would seem that buying, wrapping and giving gifts has become nothing more than a mechanical chore and one of the worst examples of mass consumerism going. Is this really what Christmas is about? Is this really giving by heart? Is this really the spirit of Christmas? Well it is if we select, give and receive these gifts in the spirit of love. In so doing we bring the spirit of season alive, by incarnating the words from my favourite Carol “In the Bleak mid-winter”…

“What shall I give him? Give my heart”

I believe that the true spirit of Christmas is the heart, that this is the gift of the season. Christmas above everything else truly is the season of the heart. When we truly give our gifts to others we are giving them our hearts and when we truly give from our heart to another we are somehow bringing that heart of God alive and that spirit is once again incarnating in life.

This is the religion, the spirit that can still be discovered beneath the ribbons and the wrapping paper. This is the spirit that can once again come alive if we engage in the giving and receiving of gifts and not merely presents. This is one way in which we can truly begin to become a gift to the world.

When I really think of the gifts I have been given the greatest is of course life itself. This is of course the ultimate free gift. The ultimate unearned grace. It is easy to say we are grateful, for the gifts we have been given, whether at Christmas or throughout the year; whether they are material or spiritual in nature. But I am not so sure that this is what gratitude actually is. Gratitude is anactive thing, it is more than giving thanks, it is doing something with the gifts we have been given.

This is something to reflect on over the coming weeks as we approach Christmas. To consider the gifts that we have been granted and to perhaps think of the gifts we would like. To remember, but not passively, let’s instead make it an act of remembrance, of all that has been freely given to us, gifted to us. Let’s also make from these gifts a true act of gratitude for all that is our lives. Let’s become a part of the gift that is life itself and express this in our being. Let’s become the gift to the world. And pour out this gift on one another and to all life, in all that we feel, all that we think, all that we say and all that we do…

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

Monday 28 November 2022

Advent: Let Us Celebrate Those Who Have Lit the Flame With

We are entering the season of Advent. We are awaiting the birth of new light and life in this time of darkness. There does seem to be much darkness around, we need light, we need hope. I think sometimes the mistake we make is that we look for these in big things, in extraordinary things, including people. I have discovered that the extra ordinary is usually found in the most ordinary, the humble, in the little things, that mean perhaps almost everything. It often comes in small acts of loving kindness.

For the last 12 months I have engaged in simple daily practice of sharing the little things that my heart. I Have shared it on social media first thing every day. It has brought much light into my life, during sometimes challenging times and it has done the same for others too. I am going to continue.

Albert Schweitzer said “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lit the flame within us”.

There are many people who have lit the flame in me. During a recent “Common Search for Meaning” group at Urmston I was reminded a simple act of loving kindness that was offered to me at time of utter despair. I was broken by grief, the most broken I have been and ended up in the company of Alan Myerscough and Wynne Semester, who were both at Cross Street Chapel at the time, as was I. I will never forget their loving kindness that day. I particularly remember Wynne sitting me down and warming soup for me on the hob, insisting I ate it while she sat with me. She could not change what had happened and could do nothing to take away my pain, she could though lovingly support me, sit with me and feed, she offered comfort in the truest sense of the word. She recognised my pain and she offered me comfort. To me this true love, spiritual love, incarnated in human form. It has inspired my faith and my ministry. It was an Immanuel moment, for it reminded me that God is with us.

Maybe this something we can think about this Advent, think of your Immanuel moments, those folk who have lit the flame within you, when everywhere has been darkness.

There is a story of a Hasidic rabbi, renowned for his piety. He was unexpectedly confronted one day by one of his devoted youthful disciples. In a burst of feeling, the young disciple exclaimed, “My master, I love you!” The ancient teacher looked up from his books and asked his fervent disciple, “Do you know what hurts me, my son?”

The young man was puzzled. Composing himself, he stuttered, “I don’t understand your question, Rabbi. I am trying to tell you how much you mean to me, and you confuse me with irrelevant questions.”

“My questions is neither confusing nor irrelevant,” rejoined the rabbi, “For if you do not know what hurts me, how can you truly love me.”

There are many who have rekindle the spark in me over the years. I hope that I done so in lives of others too. Alan and Wynne certainly did that day. They recognised my pain and offered me true comfort. They incarnated love through their being. They loved me.

It has been through experiencing the light once more coming on and witnessing it in the lives of others that keeps the fire of hope burning deep within me. We human beings are capable of incredible acts of love and compassion. I see this every day in my personal interactions and I also see it on a global level in the way that we do respond to the horrors and crisis that we witness in our lives both locally and globally. We humans are capable of such goodness.

The key is to believe and to bring that belief to fruition that we are capable of deep caring as well as destructive aggression; that we are just as capable of good as we are of evil. By the way I mean all of us, not just some of us. I do believe that we are formed from Divine love and that we have that Divine spark that created the beginning of all life within us; that we are all formed from that Original Goodness; that we all have that same stardust within us. Our problem is that we have forgotten this and or rejected it. When we do this we turn from a love for all life into a rejection and hatred of life itself. To me this is where the darkness, the evil in life comes from. From rejecting life and the love from which we are all formed.

…By failing to recognise that we are the light of the world…

It is our task, I believe, to rekindle that loving flame within each and every one of us. It is our task to become the Immanuel, the ones that the world has been waiting for. Not to wait for some figure to come and rescue humanity, but to become those people ourselves, to let love incarnate within us and through us. To bear witness to the fact that God is already with us, in our hearts and souls and to bring that love to life. We must become the Immauels, the ones we have all been waiting for.

It is so easy to sink into despair and say, there is no hope for humanity, but is this true? I don’t think so, but it is up to us. There is no point just waiting for something to happen, it is we who must become the savours of our world and it begins in our own hearts and minds, in our own families and in our own communities and hopefully the whole world. It is our task to bring the spirit of love alive in our lives and in our times and places. It is our task to become the Immanuel’s.

…We must become the light of the world…

We can build temples of hope in all our hearts, in spite of the despair that we see within our own lives and those all around us. We can bring love alive once more. We can light the flame within us and rekindle the flame in those who need it the most, who feel close to giving up, who feel consumed by despair. We can become the blessing that our world has been waiting for.

…We can become the light of the world

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

Monday 7 November 2022

The Hidden Wholeness in Life's Incompleteness

I will begin with a bit of Mary Oliver, her poem “Breakage”

I go down to the edge of the sea.
How everything shines in the morning light!
The cusp of the whelk,
the broken cupboard of the clam,
the opened, blue mussels,
moon snails, pale pink and barnacle scarred—
and nothing at all whole or shut, but tattered, split,
dropped by the gulls onto the gray rocks and all the moisture gone.
It's like a schoolhouse
of little words,
thousands of words.
First you figure out what each one means by itself,
the jingle, the periwinkle, the scallop
full of moonlight.

Then you begin, slowly, to read the whole story.

I love Mary Oliver, I love the way that she looked at life, what she saw and what she shared of what she observed. This poem is a great example of how she saw things and what she saw in what she observed. On the surface this poem appears to be about nothing more than broken shells scattered along the edge of the sea. On one level it is. That said it is actually about so much more than those broken shells. It is about life. It speaks to me about my life and the lives of most of the people in my life, those who share who they are with me. Lives like mine that sometime feel incomplete, only half formed and yet fractured all over the place.

Yet perhaps this is where life’s lessons are, in these broken pieces, in their incompleteness, as Mary suggests if you attend to each sharred you will be able to “figure out what each one means by itself,” you will “begin, slowly, to read the whole story.” In so doing you might begin to experience a kind of wholeness, completeness. Yes, you might still seem cracked on the outside, but you will approach an inner wholeness.

Over the last few months been seeing a psychologist. I felt I needed some extra help following the aftermath of dear Andrea’s death. It has helped me immensely, thank you for the support in doing so. I feel it is coming to an end and has helped me piece together some of the shattered shells, of recent times and my whole life in actual fact. I feel like I am closer to a sense of inner wholeness. Please don’t get me wrong I am not suggesting I am even close to some perfect self actualised human being, nothing is ever complete.

There are fractured shells all around us. Often looking at the world in recent years, it is easy to focus on all that is wrong, not working, as life were some kind of grim jest. This is not all of life and even if we just look at the surface of life, it can appear somewhat broken, beneath this surface there can still be found a deep love, a sustaining power, a hidden wholeness. There is a goodness in everything, I have come to believe that it is our task to bring this goodness to life, something I feel better equipped to do so now, than I did few month ago, when I was run down and worn out by so many things.

I have mentioned here a couple of times the phrase “Hidden wholeness”. It was coined by the trappiest monk and mystic Thomas Merton. Who wrote:

“There is in all visible things an invisible fecundity, a dimmed light, a meek namelessness, a hidden wholeness. This mysterious Unity and Integrity is Wisdom, the Mother of all, Natura naturans. There is in all things an inexhaustible sweetness and purity, a silence that is a fount of action and joy. It rises up in wordless gentleness and flows out to me from the unseen roots of all created being, welcoming me tenderly, saluting me with indescribable humility. This is at once my own being, my own nature, and the Gift of my Creator’s Thought and Art within me, speaking as Hagia Sophia, speaking as my sister, Wisdom.”

When life shatters us into pieces and we feel broken, we can feel we will never believe that things can be put back together again, like “Humpty Dumpty”. On the other hand we can be broken open into something new and to a greater capacity to bring healing to our wounded whole; we can share our imperfect love and allow this hidden wholeness to come to life and light, through our frail human being.

In life there are many things that separate we human beings, often our beliefs and disbeliefs. Whether these be religious or anti-religious, political, social, cultural we separate ourselves through them and yet we are all human, imperfect, incomplete. We all love and we all grieve when we lose those we love. To quote Eugene Ionesco “Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish bring us together.” We are united by a common humanity, united by our shared hopes and despairs, by our broken shards. We are each of us unique and complete as ourselves and yet we only truly know ourselves through our relationships with one another and with life. To quote Mark Nepo “It is a great paradox of being that each of us is born complete and yet we need contact with life in order to be whole. Somehow we need each other to know that completeness, though we are never finished in that journey.”

We are living in ever more dividing and divisive times. We do not see ourselves as one people. This is dangerous. Not only to ourselves but to our shared humanity. By separating ourselves we will never know wholeness, we will never truly be all that we can be. No one is an island. We need to be at one not only with ourselves, but with all of life and whatever it we believe is at the core of all life, the hidden wholeness, to truly become completely ourselves, to touch perfection. Remember perfection means completeness. This is what salvation means by the way. To quote Forrest Church. “What I'm talking about…is salvation. The Latin root, salve, means health. The Teutonic cognates, health, hale, whole, and holy, all share the same root. Being an agnostic about the afterlife, I look for salvation here—not to be saved from life, but to be saved by life, in life, for life.

Such salvation has three dimensions: Integrity, or individual wholeness, comes when we make peace with ourselves; reconciliation, or shared wholeness, comes when we make peace with our neighbors, especially with our loved ones; redemption, in the largest sense, comes when we make peace with life and death, with being itself, with God.”

When we experience this wholeness, we are as close as we will ever be to perfection, to completeness, although only for a moment as our lives go on. We begin to truly live our lives. Life is the greatest gift of all, the ultimate Grace. So, choose life.

This brings to mind the following from the Sermon on the Mount “Therefore be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect.” This is heaven on earth, this is the Kingdom of Love right here right now. This is the purpose of the spiritual life, this is the religion of love, of true communal spirituality. This is what it means to live in perfect love Perfection is not flawlessness as we often think it is. Quite the opposite perfect love is sincere, it’s about showing our cracks, our flaws, our scars, showing who we truly are. The Latin root of perfection is “perfectus” which meant “completeness”, or wholeness, health in mind body and spirit, wholeness with self, others, life and God. This is what I suspect Thomas Merton meant by this “Hidden Wholeness”, well it needs to no longer stay hidden.

This is the purpose of spiritual community; this is the purpose of our free religious faith. To bring this hidden, this inner wholeness to life, through our imperfect, shattered, fractured human lives.

We are never truly whole complete unless we are at one with ourselves, one another, life and whatever it is that we believe is the power that permeates all life. We do this by bringing this “Hidden Wholness” to life. We can never truly become ourselves alone. This is why true community is so vital to the spiritual life. We need right relationship to become wholly who we are. To me this is the purpose of what we do as a community. Yes, it’s about becoming who we truly are, but this cannot be done in isolation. This is the purpose of free religion. It allows the birth of the true spirit in each of us, but no one can completely give birth to themself, by themselves. To repeat those words of Mark Nepo: “It is a great paradox of being that each of us is born complete and yet we need contact with life in order to be whole. Somehow we need each other to know that completeness, though we are never finished in that journey.”

In so doing we can begin to bring the “Hidden Wholeness” to life.

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

Monday 31 October 2022

We need not fear the dark: removing the masks of Hallo'ween

“Hide-and-Seek with God” by Mary Ann Moore

Once upon a time God said, "I'm bored because I don't have anything to do. I want to play with my friends." And because God is God, as soon as the words were spoken, God's friends were there. When God saw them all gathered, God said, "I've been bored because I haven't had anything to do. Let's play something."

"Good idea," said God's friends. "What shall we play?"

God thought for a minute and then said, "I know, let's play hide-and-seek!"

The friends all said, "Yay!" They knew that hide-and-seek with God was always exciting and different because God was the one who hid and God always thought of wonderful places to hide.

God's friends closed their eyes tight and counted to ten. When they opened their eyes, God wasn't there anymore. So they all went off to look for God.

One friend decided to look close on the earth and soon came to a meadow. As he was searching, he stopped to admire the tender new sprouts of green grass pushing their way up toward the sun. As he bent over to look more closely at the tender green, he realized there was something special and amazing and wonderful about it. So he jumped up and ran back to home base, calling out, "I found God! God is green and growing. I found God in the grass!"

Another one of God's friends decided to look for God in the night. She watched the sun go down, and heard the work-a-day noises stop, and saw the lights in the houses go out. As it got darker and the peaceful night wrapped itself around her, she listened very hard, and then she realized there was something special and amazing and wonderful about it. And when it was so still that she could see and hear nothing at all, she suddenly jumped up and ran to home base, calling out, "I found God! God is dark and peaceful. I found God in the night!"

A third friend looked on the earth and felt the mystery of the grass growing toward the sun. He stayed and watched the night come on, and he felt the mystery of the darkness and the stars. He thought to himself, "These mysteries are special and amazing and wonderful." But when he finally came back to home base, he said, "I found wonderful mysteries but I'm not sure if I want to call them God."

A fourth friend decided to look for God where people were. He joined a group of people going home from work and went with them into the store where they bought food. He went with them back out on the street as they started for their homes. He was with them when someone came up and said, "Please, I'm very hungry. Could you share a little food with me?" The people readily agreed and as he watched them share, he realized there was something special and amazing and wonderful about those people. He turned around and ran to home base, calling out, "I found God! God is love and sharing. I found God in people who care for others!"

Finally, two more of God's friends, a boy and a girl, decided to look for God together. After a time, they came to a house and decided to look for God in the house. In the house they saw a room, and they looked for God in the room. In the room they saw a mirror, and they looked for God in the mirror. As they looked into the mirror, they realized there was something special and amazing and wonderful being reflected in it. They turned around and ran to home base, calling out, "We found God! We found God in us!"

At this God appeared again and said, "I had so much fun! Weren't those good hiding places? Some of you found me, others weren't sure, and others are still looking. That's OK because the most important thing is just to play the game. Let's do it again! I'm sure I can think of some other good hiding places." And they all called out, "Olly, olly, oxen free, free, free!" And the game started all over again.

Today is the 31st of October 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.

At this time of year we acknowledge the coming darkness. Yet the dark is something so many are afraid of; we are afraid of the dark, the unknown. We need not be, there is richness there, there is something in the shadow, the unknown. Maybe it is in the darkness that we can find aspects of the Divine love that cannot be known in the light. In my experience God is as present in the dark as in the light, perhaps more so in fact. It brings to my mind the following from Psalm 139 vv 7-12, which reminds me of the story we heard earlier “Hide and Seek With God”

Psalm 139:7-12

King James Version

7 Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
8 If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
10 Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.
12 Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.

People like to dress up at Halloween, they also put on masks, that hides who or what you are. People sometimes play hide and seek games, trying figure out who is who, or where certain figures are hiding. Playing hiding seek and hiding in general is often how we find many of the secrets of life, we have to search, sometimes in the dark to find what we are looking for. Faith for me is about seeking, often in the places we would rather not look. If we do not look, we will never find.

On Tuesday 25th October, just as I was putting this service together, I came across the following daily reflection posted by Rev Laura Dobson the minister at Macclesfield and Chorlton. It is a quote from Clarissa Pinkola Estes

"In myths and fairy tales, deities and other great spirits test the hearts of humans by showing up in various forms that disguise their divinity. They show up in robes, rags, silver sashes, or with muddy feet. They show up with skin dark as old wood, or in scales made of rose petal, as a frail child, as a lime-yellow old woman, as a man who cannot speak, or as an animal who can. The great powers are testing to see if humans have yet learned to recognize the greatness of soul in all its varying forms."

Clarissa Pinkola Estés

How much is hidden in life? How much is hidden within ourselves? How many of us fail to recognise the greatness of soul within life and within ourselves? How much do we hide behind our own masks and personas? So many of us are hiding behind so many masks, I wonder how many are really seeking, especially within the darker places.

People have always worn masks, they seem to be an aspect of every culture, often the help us tell our mythological tales, revealing something of the truth of life, through that wonderful vehicle, the story. In the plays of ancient Greece masks were worn and exchanged by the players to depict each individual’s persona. The word ‘persona” itself is actually derived from per-sonare which meant “to sound through”? It was not only the face of the character that was expressed through the mask, but also the voice was exaggerated too. There is something beautifully powerful in this, it’s a wonderful metaphor for who we are as human beings. In many ways we can be identified as much by our voices as our faces and we can attempt to cover up who we our through our voices too.

Masks of course are not only the domain of ancient times either. Many of our modern day heroes wear masks too. In many ways the hero has to wear a mask in order to protect his identity and therefore walk through life anonymously. It seems a hero cannot be a hero twenty four hours a day seven days a week three hundred and sixty five days of the year. The demands and the pressures it seems would be too much. Think about Zoro who has to don his mask in order to fight for his people; think about Batman and Spiderman too who’s greatest fears are to be unmasked. There are numerous other examples too.

Now there is a part of me that just doesn’t like any of this. This idea of hiding who we are or having to be transformed into someone else to become a hero or a completely different personality. There is a loneliness in it that I want to rebel against. Think about it, all those heroes have a loneliness about them. They all have a dark side, they somehow can’t quite connect with everyone else. There is something about wearing the mask that depicts hiding these aspects of darkness.

This brings to mind a dark figure from folklore and often horror films etc. it brought to mind a figure that has always haunted me, the scarecrow, perhaps the epitome of a loneliness in effigy. They are the loneliest of the lonely. They stand alone staring at the world.

I remember as a child that one of my favourite tv programs was Wurzel Gummage. Like so many other children’s characters Wurzel desperately wanted to fit in to be a part of life, but never really succeeded. Now while he didn’t wear a mask he did something far more extreme. He would have to painfully remove his head and replace it with another totally different one that completely changed his personality. For poor old Wurzel whatever he did always ended in disaster and he could never be what he tried so hard to be. He was always on the outside looking at the world alone, a scarecrow not a part of human life. He wore a different head for every occasion but that did not help him become what he wanted to be.

How many of us wear masks or put on different heads in our attempts to be accepted? Why do we believe we are not good enough just as we are, exactly as we are in this present moment, warts and all and beauty spots too? Why do we believe we need to act differently around certain people just to fit in. why do we think we need to wear different masks or even heads for different occasions and even change the way that we speak in order to fit in and be accepted?

We do not need to hide who we are. We need to seek for life, in life, in the light and the dark. We must not en-shadow who we are, to hide in the shadows. Nor should we be afraid to search in the darker places of life. There is so much of soul waiting to be found in life and within ourselves.

So many of us fear the dark, the unknown, the unseen, the uncertain. The truth is though that so much of life is uncertain. I have learnt that it is vital to accept this, to surrender to this and through this you find the courage to simply live and truly be yourself and to discover real faith in life once again. We cannot hide from anything, we cannot hide behind masks, we cannot hide from the dark.

I am going to end this morning, as I began, with a little story. It’s about a young boy who lived with his parents on a farm. His job each afternoon was to fetch the afternoon paper so that his dad could read, after a long days work, while eating his tea. Now one November day he forgot to fetch the paper and by now it was turning dark. It turned four o’clock, nearly tea time and his mum noticed that he hadn’t fetched the paper, she asked her son if he would get the paper. Twenty minutes later she asked again and then ten minutes later, still no paper, so she asked once again. This went on until the mum completely lost her temper and shouted at the boy, will you get your dad’s paper. At which point the boy burst into tears. His mother realising something was wrong went to boy, who was inconsolable by now. After a while she calmed him down and asked him what on earth was wrong. He began to explain that all his life he had been afraid of the dark, but was too afraid to let his parents know. His mother soothed him and then asked. Now then you are a boy of faith and you believe in God, you believe that God is in you and with you. That God is in everything, even the dark. The boy nodded and then his mother said “There is no reason then to fear the dark, for God is in the dark, and God can do anything. Now be a good lad and go and get your dad’s paper.” At this the boy looked up at his mum smilingly and went to the door. He opened the door and confidently and shouted “God will you get me my dad’s paper please.”

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

Monday 24 October 2022

Welcome to the House of Belonging

“Roots hold me close, wings set me free”. “Spirit of Life” by Carolyn McDade is a much loved hymn, I certainly love it. I wonder how many times I have sung it out and loud and proud in my life. I love that we sing of roots holding us close before wings that set us free. This makes sense because before you can fly free, express your full humanity, you must first feel that you belong, you need strong roots before you can be set free. This brings to my heart my understanding of our flaming chalice, the symbol of our free religious faith, rooted in belonging, in history, in tradition, but not held back by any of this. It is this sense of belonging though that enables us to fly free, to express our souls, to who knows where. Before we can know freedom, we must first feel secure where we are, that we belong. We can then begin to express who we truly are, without fear of rejection. Belonging must come before freedom. We need roots that will hold us close, love us unconditionally, before we can even attempt to fly free.

I remember when I was a young man I thought that freedom and the attainment of it were the things of the highest value in life; that liberation meant escaping the shackles that hold us back and stop us being all that we were meant to be. That I needed to escape where I had come from, the drudgery of my life. I sang songs about freedom as I left behind all that I saw as unimportant. When I look back now what I see is a man who was a slave to freedom.

Over the last few years I have learnt about belonging; and I have learnt that belonging is really about love; I have learnt something about what love actually is. I am not talking about romance here. No, I am talking about that unseen force that connects all life and that enables us to form deep and meaningful relationships with ourselves, with each other and with all life. I name this God, others may use different words. To me this is the essence of belonging, to live in and through love. To love who you are, the life that you have and the tasks that this life asks you to fulfil.

It is this love that allows me to belong, that enables me to connect with all that exists now, all that has been in the time before now and all that will be in the future. It is love that has become the roots that hold me close so that I can stretch out the wings that will set me free and allow me to glide in the wind. To know love is to know that you belong and it is this that is perhaps the ultimate freedom. Before you can be truly free, to express all that you were born to be, you must first believe that you belong; belong as you are, exactly as you are in this time and place. It is the roots of belonging that give us the freedom to stretch out our wings and fly in the wind, free. This is the highest form of love to me.

A sense of belonging is a deeply precious thing. It is belonging that helps us become who we are meant to be. It is a sense of being rooted and being held and loved by these roots that allows us to spread our wings and fly free; it is a sense of being rooted that enables us to not fear the wind, but to embrace it and to let ourselves go. When you feel that you do not belong you cannot thrive, you shrivel up and perhaps die.

Now of course we do not need to belong in exactly the same way; our roots need not, in fact should not, be identical in order for us to belong. Each root has to find its own way into the soil. To truly belong is to be welcomed exactly as you are warts and all and beauty spots too. Not every tree in the forest is rooted in an identical way, it is the same for folk in community. We do not have to try to be like those here, in order to truly belong, in fact we don’t want you to comply in order to belong here.

I am going to share with a favourite by a favourite. “The House of Belonging” by David Whyte

“The House of Belonging” by David Whyte

I awoke this morning in the gold light turning this way and that thinking for a moment it was one day like any other. But the veil had gone from my darkened heart and I thought it must have been the quiet candlelight that filled my room, it must have been the first easy rhythm with which I breathed myself to sleep, it must have been the prayer I said speaking to the otherness of the night. And I thought this is the good day you could meet your love, this is the black day someone close to you could die. This is the day you realize how easily the thread is broken between this world and the next and I found myself sitting up in the quiet pathway of light, the tawny close grained cedar burning round me like fire and all the angels of this housely heaven ascending through the first roof of light the sun has made. This is the bright home in which I live, this is where I ask my friends to come, this is where I want to love all the things it has taken me so long to learn to love. This is the temple of my adult aloneness and I belong to that aloneness as I belong to my life. There is no house like the house of belonging.

A new life has recently come into my house of belonging, Molly the Havanese puppy. She has had no trouble finding a sense of belonging here. She has easily settled in. Everyone who meets her says how at ease she is with strangers, both human and dog like. She has a comfortable sense of herself. She feels a part of the community around the chapel and in the town too. Now fortunately she has had no bad experiences as of yet, thank God. She has never been hurt or rejected. I suspect that this isn’t the case with anyone else either within the chapel community or the wider community. I suspect that she thinks that the buildings and gardens are all a part of her house of belonging and all the people here a part of her family. Whenever we leave the house she goes looking for her family, she is so excited about who she will meet, particularly the familiar. She knows that she belongs here and thus feels free to express herself, if only it was so easy for we folk. It is not so easy for we to be ourselves, unlike Molly who is totally at ease were herself. I have never known a dog so in love with their own reflection. She stops at shop windows to admire herself and when she approaches my bedroom mirror she happily touches her nose against her own reflection, as she would when meeting another dog in the street. Molly is happily herself.

To belong you need to be yourself, while paradoxically in order to be yourself you must first of all feel that you belong. When you feel that you belong you will no longer feel the need to fit into, because you will be at ease with yourself.

Brene Brown has said

“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

I like Brene Brown, I particularly like what she has to say about the difference between “Belonging” and “Fitting in” that they are not the same thing although they are often mistaken for one another.

Brene Brown explains that “Fitting in” is really about assessing situations and becoming the person that you believe you need to be in order to be accepted and acceptable. Whereas “Belonging” does not require us to change who we are, but to be who we really are.

Belonging is an innate desire to be a part of something larger than ourselves. This is a primal yearning, deep within the soul of us and thus we often try to acquire it by fitting in and seeking approval from others. Now not only does this not satisfy this yearning it actually becomes a barrier to it. In so doing we lose our identity and feel even more lost and lonely. True belonging you see only happens when we present our true, authentic, imperfect selves to the world, “warts and all” and beauty spots too. Unless we are at home within ourselves we will never feel that we belong anywhere. This is why Molly is such a good teacher to me, she feels that she belongs as she is, exactly as she is.

John O’Donohue’s in his wonderful book “Anam Cara”, relates belonging to longing and yearning. He suggests that we need to find a balance in belonging and that often our problems stem from not being truly at home with ourselves; that we should be our own longing; that the key is to be-long within ourselves. If we belong within ourselves then we will feel at ease and belong wherever we are. Therefore the sense of who we are, our identity will not be ruled by the need to fit in, to belong, externally.

The problem of trying to fit in and not belonging stems from a sense of being different, something I know I’ve experienced at times. This can be a real barrier. Now of course sometimes these barriers are put up by those who would exclude certain types of people for being different. We have seen horrific examples of this throughout human history. People exclude for racial, political, religious, gender and sexual identity. There still are barriers that exist, although thankfully many have come down.

That said it can still be difficult to join a group where you feel that you are different from the others.

Most people find it difficult to join something, to belong to something when they feel different to those already present. It’s the same with any group or community, including church and chapel communities. It is hard to walk into anything you have never been to before. I know it took me some time to pluck up the courage and explore religions community all those years ago

We say here that all are welcome, to come as you are regardless of who you are, where ever you have been and where ever you are going. You are welcome as you are exactly as you are in this moment. That said people are still reluctant to walk through the door and when they do they often find it hard to belong here, even amongst us. The reasons for this are many and varied and how we resolve it is not easy either. I think that the key is to be as open and welcoming as we can be. They key is to cultivate a true sense of belonging, which begins within ourselves. For if we belong we will not need to try to fit in and hopefully the stranger will more easily feel like the neighbour. As Philip L Bermoan wrote in “The Journey Home”

“Truly spiritual people are in the habit of cultivating the nearly forgotten art of basic hospitality, perhaps because they realize that when we are able to make others feel comfortable, the pleasures of belonging are close at hand.”

They key is to cultivate the pleasure of belonging.

The key is to bless one another with our presence and they will feel that they belong amongst we people who belong here as they are exactly as they are in this moment. For as Rachel Naomi Remen wrote in "My Grandfather's Blessings"

"A blessing is not something that one person gives another. A blessing is a moment of meeting, a certain kind of relationship in which both people involved remember and acknowledge their true nature and worth, and strengthen what is whole in one another. By making a place for wholeness within our relationships, we offer others the opportunity to be whole without shame and become a place of refuge from everything in them that are not genuine. We enable people to remember who they are."

A sense of belonging is a deeply precious thing. It is belonging that helps us become who we are meant to be; it is sense of belonging that give us deep roots that will enable us to fly free; It is a sense of belonging that enables us to be ourselves, in whatever company we find ourselves without feeling the need to fit in; it is a sense of belonging that allows us to become good neighbours and to bless the whole world with our welcome.

Here I hope you find a place where you belong. Here I hope you find a house of belonging.

I’m going to end with a blessing by John O’Donohue “For Belonging”

“For Belonging” by John O'Donohue

May you listen to your longing to be free.

May the frames of your belonging be generous enough
for your dreams.

May you arise each day with a voice of blessing
whispering in your heart.

May you find a harmony between your soul and

your life.

May the sanctuary of your soul never become haunted.

May you know the eternal longing that lives at the heart of time.

May there be kindness in your gaze when you look within.

May you never place walls between the light and yourself.

May you allow the wild beauty of the invisible world

to gather you, mind you, and embrace you in


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

Monday 17 October 2022

Finding Your Voice in the Silence

Here is a little piece by my favourite farmer poet, always a farmer first Wendell Berry, “The Silence”

“The Silence” by Wendell Berry

Though the air is full of singing
my head is loud
with the labor of words.

Though the season is rich
with fruit, my tongue
hungers for the sweet of speech.

Though the beech is golden
I cannot stand beside it
mute, but must say

‘It is golden,’ while the leaves
stir and fall with a sound
that is not a name.

It is in the silence
that my hope is, and my aim.
A song whose lines

I cannot make or sing
sounds men’s silence
like a root. Let me say

and not mourn: the world
lives in the death of speech
and sings there.

I was chatting with my friend Michael the other day, struggling with my throat but still finding it hard not to speak. I was recalling a conversation I had with a few family members at my cousin Cheryl’s funeral. Our Sammie was talking about how we were as children, in our large complicated family. She was talking about how quiet I was, a gentle sort really and how often many of the others would torment and pick on me for this. She was contrasting this with the person I am today who often does the public speaking on behalf of family. It is not that I was a mute as a child, its just that the others were far more boisterous and loud. In fact I was a talker from a very young age, as my mum always says I could talk before I could walk, she means hold a conversation as a toddler. It must have been a strange sight to behold. I just tended to be quiet when all the others were around, to be honest this is still usually the case. My friend Michael made a humourous response to my perceived childhood silence saying “Well you have certainly made up for it since.” He was suggesting that I usually have something to say about things. I told him afterwards that he had just made it into this weeks sermon, which as you can see he has.

I continued the conversation with Michael saying that actually I often keep quiet. In fact I reckon that sometimes in life I have kept silent when perhaps I should speak up more . That in recent times I am endeavouring to speak up more at the appropriate time, to address the inbalance. I then quoted Ecclesiastes “There is a time to speak and a time to be silent.” The key, as it usually is, is discerning when that is, to unearth the wisdom to know the difference.

Now of course part of my role as a minister is public speaking. My voice is an important tool of the trade. I remember being taught how important it is to take care of your voice. Well last Sunday I was really struggling with my voice. I had developed a head cold and by Sunday it had moved into my throat. By the end of the day I could hardly speak at all. The early part of this week has been a struggle. I have rested, taken appropriate medicine, a dear friend even left some lemon and honey on my doorstep. Been quite painful as I have gone about my usual duties. I went to bed in Tuesday night still in some pain, I even woke in the night still struggling to swallow. I awoke again at about 5.15am to find Molly resting her neck and little head across my throat. I don’t know how long she had been laid like this. It was strange to find myself laid on my back as I usually sleep on my side. As she lay there I felt no pain. After about 20 minutes she moved away and I noticed that I could swallow without pain. I have been able to do so since. Now please do not get me wrong I am not claiming a miracle here. I do though feel like she blessed me and I was able to speak freely again. This is a good thing as I did have a speaking engagement that evening. So thank you Molly, thank you to the friend who left the honey and lemon, thank you to paracetamol, thank you throaties pastilles and thank you to those kind souls who have let me rest my voice.

This all got me thinking about speaking, how important it is to do, after all it is our primary way of communicating with each other. Not constantly of course, but to use your words wisely and appropriately, to have a voice, to find your voice. This means it is important to listen appropriately too, to have your ears awake in the silence. I know I am at my best when I find my voice in the silence, when I listen with the ears of my heart and speak my truth in love.

I am amused by my friend Michael’s comment about making up for being quiet, his suggestion that if anything I talk too much. His suggestion that I am somewhat loquacious. It reminded me of the following tale I recently came across.

Pianist Artur Rubenstein, loquacious in eight languages, once told this story on himself: Some years ago he was assailed by a stubborn case of hoarseness. The newspapers were full of reports about smoking and cancer; so he decided to consult a throat specialist. "I searched his face for a clue during the 30 minute examination," Rubenstein said, "but it was expressionless. He told me to come back the next day. I went home full of fears, and I didn't sleep that night." The next day there was another long examination and again an ominous silence. "Tell me," the pianist exclaimed. "I can stand the truth. I've lived a full, rich life. What's wrong with me?" The physician said, "You talk too much."

Maybe Michael is right, is this why I have been having throat problems? Do I talk too much?

It is an interesting question. The truth is that when I am in the company of most people I spend most of the time listening, it is other people who do most of the talking. This is as it should be in my line of work. The key is that when I do speak I do so generally in a thoughtful way.

It is important to be thoughtful when we do speak, about what we say and how we say it. We live in age where everyone has an opinion about everything and freely expresses it. Sometimes with true knowledge and or consideration of those who are listening to it. Social media gives everyone a captive audience. What we say and how we say will always have an impact. I know people listen to me, not everyone obviously, so I need to be careful, even when being humorous. We need to listen, to take in even the silence, to absorb and then speak truth in love. It brings to mind the following story told by Rami Shapiro in “Minyan: Ten Principles for Living a Life of Integrity”

"There is a Hasidic story about a town gossip. This fellow thoughtlessly told and retold stories about others that brought them shame. The town's rabbi met with the man and confronted him with his words. The man was stunned. He had no idea he was spreading such hurt. He broke into tears and begged the rabbi for help. 'There must be something I can do to atone for the wickedness I have done.'

"The rabbi instructed the man to take four pillows out into a field. Once there he was to slice open each pillow with a knife and shake its feathers into the wind. The man thanked the rabbi and rushed off to do as he was told. He purchased four fine feather pillows and cut them open in the field, watching as the feathers scattered in every direction.

"He returned to the rabbi to let him know he had completed his penance.'Not quite,' said the rabbi. 'Now go back to the field and retrieve the feathers.'

" 'But that is impossible,' said the man. 'The winds have taken them everywhere.'

" 'It is the same with your words,' the rabbi said gravely. 'Just as you cannot retrieve the feathers once spilled, so you cannot withdraw words once spoken. No matter how sincerely you desire to undo what you have done, the harm caused by thoughtless speech cannot be rectified.' "

To Practice: Monitor your words so that they do not set in motion harmful things. And when they do, ask for forgiveness.

It also reminds me of the “Three Fold Test” for right speech. According to this test there are three things that we ought to ask ourselves before speaking:

Is it kind?

Is it true?

Is it necessary?

Sometimes silence, not saying anything is the best option. We do not always have to fill every second with words, silence can be golden, we do not live on the radio. There is a time to speak and a time to be silent. Being silent is not a passive thing, it is an opportunity to listen. This is an active thing if we truly pay attention to what others are saying, if take in what they say and absorb their words. It will hopefully inform how we speak and act in this world.

As a minister of religion I need to be very careful in my choice of words. There are warnings about this in the third chapter of the book of James in the New Testament. As he points out preaching and teaching are dangerous professions and any misuses of the tongue by a teacher is judged with extra strictness. He also says that the tongue is a fire. And even a small spark, a tiny hint of a flame, can burn down a whole forest.

I need to be very careful, skilful in what I say, people listen to me.

I must be mindful not to do what they said of Lenny Bruce “He uses words as weapons to hit people over the head with”. We all need to speak our truth in love, but we need to do so mindfully.

We must never underestimate the power of words as well as the power of silence.

There is a time to speak and a time to be silent, the key is knowing when that is and to use our time wisely and with love. We must never lose our voice, it is important that we find our voice. Sometimes the best place to find your voice is in the silence, when we truly listen to that still small voice that can only be heard in deep silence.

So listen with the ears of your hearts to one another and to yourself and when you need please do speak your truth in love, for our world needs us to.

Please find below a video devotion based

 on the material in this "blogspot"

Monday 3 October 2022

From Paralysing Worry to Creative Concern

I have a new joy in my life, Molly the beautiful Havanese puppy. She is a wonderful blessing and a great responsibility. She is also, I have noticed, something else to worry about. Like I don’t have enough. I found myself the other day very worried as she had eaten something, probably from the garden, that had made her sick. She then went very quiet for an hour or so and I got increasingly worried that there was something seriously wrong with her. I was so worried I couldn’t focus on anything else. I made the fatal error of googling. This is never a good idea as you can go down all sorts of avenues and end up convincing yourself of all kinds of trouble. I need not have worried as an hour later she was her usual self. No doubt it will happen again as this happens a lot with dogs, big and small.

I have experienced a few other worries over the last few weeks, around Molly, family and friends, all those who I love and care about. This week I have had much to hold in my heart and many people to be concerned about, it is my job afterall. It has also been the funeral of my cousin Cheryl and I have been back and forth to Yorkshire on a couple of occasions. There are other family troubles too. It has been a week of carrying so much, a heavy week and a deeply emotional one, hearbreaking at times. Cheryl’s funeral went as well as such things can, but word it was painful.

Now please do not get me wrong none of this worry had paralysed me. I have been very productive, despite what I have been carrying in my heart. I have also had the joy of Molly and one or two pleasures in my life. I have often stepped out into the world and sung. Unlike Mary Oliver singing is not something I worry about. Here is a bit of Mary on worry.

“I Worried” by Mary Oliver

I worried a lot.
Will the garden grow,
will the rivers flow in the right direction,
will the earth turn as it was taught,
and if not how shall I correct it?
Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?
Will I ever be able to sing,
even the sparrows can do it and I am,well, hopeless.
Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism, lockjaw, dementia?
Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up.
And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

Mary Oliver. Swan – Poems and Prose, 2010 Beacon Press

We all have our worries in life. I am sure that some of you share Mary Oliver’s or perhaps some of your own. Many are deeply concerned about how they might cope through this winter. I know a lot of people are deeply worried, that financially, they will be unable to get by. Many have health worries whether physical, emotional, mental and or spiritual. Many worry that if they become ill, that they will be unable to get the help they need. Such worry can only impact negatively on people’s well-being.

There is no doubt to me that anxiety and depression is on the increase. Things have not returned to “normal” since Covid, if anything people seem to be struggling more now. It is also worth noting that we had these very same problems long before the Pandemic.

Worrying and getting caught up anxiety will not solve any of these problems, in fact it can only make them worse. That said just telling folk not to worry doesn’t help either. All it does is eat away at their well-being further. If we could just stop worrying, I am sure that we all would. Besides it is not feeling worried that is the real problem, it is becoming paralysed by it.

Being paralysed by worry does none of us any good, it can be deeply crippling and life reducing. Now of course we should not dismiss the challenge of life and live like some kind of delusional Pollyanna, but to live in and through worry destroys any joy in life. I remember a few years ago speaking with Rev Jill McCallister who was visiting from the US. She told me how she worried about her congregants; she worried how she could help them with their crippling anxiety about life. She described them as people of privilege and yet they were still ruled by worry. I have the same concerns about you folk as well as friends and family. I wonder how much of our energy is spent worrying about the people in our lives? Is this the best use of our limited resources? Surely it would better to put our energy into something more constructive.

I spend a lot of my time listening to people. They tell me of their worries and often end their time sharing with the classic line “Oh not to worry”, which of course is precisely what they are doing. That said I know that by sharing our worries they do somehow occupy less of our head space. I had a long conversation with my brother the other morning, as I was working on Cheryl’s eulogy, he was seeking help with his deep worries. They are not trivial. In sharing with me he gained some strength to continue doing what he can and not become paralysed by fear. While we were speaking Molly was sat on my lap, almost sensing I needed support. She stayed there all the time I wrote Cheryl’s eulogy. It was a bit of a challenge as for most of it her head was resting on one of my hands and thus I had to type one handed. She kept me going though.

Sometimes the most crippling aspect of worry is worrying about what might be, the worst possible scenario, as I did when exploring Google after Molly was sick.

The thing about worry is that, as Mark Twain observed, is that most of the things that we worry about never happen, Molly was fine afterall. And yet as we go through our day the worry machine is there chugging away in our minds stopping us experiencing this life we have been given. How many of us worry so much about being on time that we ruin every journey we take. This is one of mine by the way, especially on the Washway Road. How many of us worry about the weather when going on holiday. How many of us spend our days worrying about how we look, what people think of us, will the world come to an end, the political situation of the day. Our children and what their lives will be like and a myriad of other possible troubles. We are no different to Mary Oliver in our worries. The problem is not worry of course, it is what we do with our worries.

Now please don’t get me wrong I’m not suggesting any of these worries are real, of course they are. Surely though wouldn’t it be better dealing with the things that trouble us as best we can rather than wasting our days worrying about every little thing.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we waste so much energy on worry? Why are we so afraid of things going wrong? Why do we believe that we can stop such things happening, that we can somehow control life? Well we can’t. Things will go wrong. And do you know what that aint always a bad thing.

Not that worry is wholly bad either, it has its place. We have the capacity to worry for good reason. As we anticipate that something bad could happen, the discomfort of worry spurs us to avoid that unfortunate something or at least mitigate against it. No doubt it is something that has evolved in humanity to guard against danger and to prepare for troubles ahead etc. Such as storing food for winter. The problem is though that we go too far with this and become paralysed by worry.

It would seem that the key is where we focus our attention. Worry and concern can help us to do so in positive ways. Likewise, it can paralyse us too, as our attention becomes purely focused on the worry and not what we can do about it. The problem is not so much the worry and concern, but what we focus our attention on and how it leads us to act. For what we focus our attention on really matters.

Throughout the Gospel accounts Jesus is often portrayed as being concerned with what the people he is with focus their attention on. When he said “consider the lilies” he was turning their attention on the lilies, to experience them. Likewise when he said “the kingdom on heaven is at hand,” he was pinpointing the exact location of where attention ought to be in order to enter the kingdom. And when he said “fear not, judge not, love one another.” He was suggesting that the focus ought to move away from images that generate fear and judgement towards ones centered on love. This it would appear is a solution to being dominated by worry. Worry was as troubling 2,000 years ago, just as much as it is today.

The key it would seem is to focus our attention in loving ways in the moment that we find ourselves rather than being paralysed by worries of what might be.

We cannot escape the trouble of life. Life is by its nature a risking business. It does us no good to waste our days worrying about what might go wrong. Instead what we need to do is embrace the risk of life. I’m not saying to go involve ourselves in foolish risk taking, no what I mean is that we need to give ourselves away to something useful, something beautiful, something life enhancing. The key is to “risk ourselves for the world…to hazard ourselves for the right thing.” As David Whyte wrote in his essay on “Longing” from his wonderful book “CONSOLATIONS:The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.”

To quote David:

"We are here essentially to risk ourselves in the world. We are a form of invitation to others and to otherness, we are meant to hazard ourselves for the right thing, for the right woman or the right man, for a son or a daughter, for the right work or for a gift given against all the odds. And in all this continual risking the most profound courage may be found in the simple willingness to allow ourselves to be happy along the way….”

I just want to repeat the last sentence ‘in all this continual risking the most profound courage may be found in the simple willingness to allow ourselves to be happy along the way….’

Worry can eat away at any chance to be happy in daily living.

None of us knows what the future holds. There will be joy and there will be troubles ahead for all of us. That said we cannot waste this life worrying about what might be before it ever happens. Surely it is better to risk our lives to some greater love, whatever that love might be. It’s love of course that leads us to a sense of wholeness and connection with all of life.

So, I am not saying to you this morning, don’t worry. What would be the point of that? Instead what I am saying is turn your worry into concern, be inspired by it and act in this world in loving and more beautiful ways. You never know but by doing so you might just allow yourself to be happy along the way.

I will end today with a favourite poem by favourite farmer poet Wendell |Berry “The Peace of Wild Things” which offers a solution to being consumed and paralysed by fear. It came to me as I walked around King George V pond the other morning after I had finished writing our Cheryl’s eulogy and before I returned to write this sermon. As I wandered around the pond with Molly safely in her papoose, and as I observed the ducks, the geese and swans,I took in the peace of wild things having turned my worry into useful concern. Yes I shed tears, but I also connected to the life all around and as I rested in the grace of the world and I felt free.

“The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Below is a video devotion based 
on the material in this "blogspot2

Monday 19 September 2022

Falling Leaves: Loving What is Mortal

Each morning when we awaken we do not know what the day will bring, there will no doubt be some kind of ying and yang to it, there will be blessings and curses, joys and sufferings. Last Saturday was one of those such days. I spoke with my auntie Lynne, she told me that my cousin Cheryl’s life was coming to an end. I then met with friends. An hour or so later the news came through that Cheryl had died, I was fortunate to be with those friends. Although we knew what was coming, it was still a shock to the system, losing dear Cheryl.

An hour later I set off on a long car journey, alone. I was going to pick up a puppy dog, the lovely Havanese Molly. It was a day the reminded me so powerfully of the impermanence of life, although of course not of love, that always lives on. Physical life though comes into being and sadly comes to end. Those that remain are left to grieve. Of course as a nation we are currently grieving the loss of Queen Elizabeth II after a 70 year reign.

Each morning when we awaken we do not know what the day will bring. So how do we prepare ourselves for the unknowable? This is a question that brings to my heart the following poem by David Whyte

“What To Remember When Waking”

In that first hardly noticed moment in which you wake,
coming back to this life from the other
more secret, moveable and frighteningly honest world
where everything began,
there is a small opening into the new day
which closes the moment you begin your plans.

What you can plan is too small for you to live.
What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough
for the vitality hidden in your sleep.

To be human is to become visible
while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.
To remember the other world in this world
is to live in your true inheritance.

You are not a troubled guest on this earth,
you are not an accident amidst other accidents
you were invited from another and greater night
than the one from which you have just emerged.

Now, looking through the slanting light of the morning window
toward the mountain presence of everything that can be
what urgency calls you to your one love?
What shape waits in the seed of you
to grow and spread its branches
against a future sky?

Is it waiting in the fertile sea?
In the trees beyond the house?
In the life you can imagine for yourself?
In the open and lovely white page on the writing desk?

By David Whyte

When we awaken, we have no idea what the day will bring. The day is a blank page. It is in that first hardly noticed moment, when you open your eyes again, that the sacredness of life is born; a sacredness which we lose when we make plans that deny that things are always changing. In that moment we close the moment, the reality, of what it means to be human, to be alive.

I have been watching the leaves falling these last few weeks. They have fallen earlier this year, no doubt a consequence of a hot summer. Watching those leaves falling reminds me of the impermanence of life, something that is hard to accept for most of us, including myself at times. Marina Popova has described this as ‘that perennial heartbreak of beholding the absurdity of our longing for permanence in a universe of constant change’.

It brought back to my mind the first of those Delphic Maxims “Know Thyself”, to know yourself of course meant to know that you are mortal, that your life will come into being, but will also come to an end. Mortality is the beauty and energy of our lives, it reminds me just how precious life is. I have watched my new puppy Molly come to life and confidence these last few days, she is a great responsibility. Being a dog it is likely that I will watch her grew and develop and become who she is, but I will also have to live with the knowledge that I will one day witness the end of her life. It will break my heart. For now I will enjoy her and my responsibility for her life. She is the most joyful of blessings.

This brings to my mind one of my favourite Mary Oliver poems “In Blackwater Woods”. I have named my puppy Miss Molly Malone. Now everyone has assumed that she is named after the Irish folk song. Well, if truth be told, she isn’t she is actually named after Mary Oliver’s life partner and wife “Molly Malone Cook”.

Here is the poem:

“In Blackwater Woods” by Mary Oliver

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
to let it go.

I love Mary Oliver, she had such a real spirituality, connected to the ground in which all being exists. She saw the beauty in life, without ever hiding from the shadow, the darkness. In many ways she found God just as much in the darkness and suffering of life as the beauty of the natural world, expressed so beautifully in this poem, as she reminds us here “that, thankfully, the other side of the river of loss is salvation”. By the way she was in no way sentimental about the natural world. She was a very real observing and writer about life and at the same time truly soulful.

This poem reminds me how vital it is that I follow her instruction to “love what is mortal, to hold it against our bones, as if your life depends upon it (because I have learnt my life does) and when the time comes, to let go.” Sounds simple doesn’t, but it is far from easy. That said I agree with her, it is the only way to truly live in this world. I will repeat again her final words: “To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”

It brings to mind some other words from another hero Forrest Church:

“The fact that death is inevitable gives meaning to our love, for the more we love, the more we risk losing. Love’s power comes, in part, from the courage required to give ourselves to that which is not ours to keep: our spouses, children, parents, dear and cherished friends.”

It takes courage to love what is mortal, to hold it to your bones as if your life depended upon it and when the time come to let it go, it takes true faith and courage.

The falling leaves remind me of this. They are letting go of what is mortal. Why do we find it so hard? Why do we wish to cling on forever to what is mortal.

The Buddhist say that life is dukkha, that there is suffering in life, that nothing last forever, is permanent, that everything in life is impermanent. I was thinking of this as I looked at those fallen leaves, as I watched Molly playing with them and noticed how many we were accidently carrying into the house. I thought of the cycle of life, how this time next year it will have gone full circle. There will be loss, there will be new life, there will be suffering and above all there will be love.

Remember as Mary wrote:

To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
to let it go.

I am holding these words in my heart at the moment. They teach me how to live spiritually alive. They teach me a beautiful reverence for life, how sacred life is, how vital it is to recognise this. To love as deeply as you can this life, to love fiercely and hold those you love tightly to your heart and when the time comes, when they breathe their last breath, to let them go. You have to in order to love this mortal life that we are all a part of. This is the only way to live spiritually alive.

This is what we are here for, to live and to love what is mortal, our lives depend upon it.

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