Monday 31 January 2022

Living Spiritually Alive: Wholeness, Health & Well-Being

Last Sunday was a long day, a full day, a busy day. I don’t just mean my usual duties, but all sorts of other things going on, folk contacting me, having to carry many different things in my heart, mind and soul. My phone didn’t stop pinging, nor did my interactions and conversations abate. Late in the day I found myself “ligging” out on my settee, eating and half watching a drama on tv. I felt satisfied, if exhausted. I found myself making all kinds of noises in my mouth and throat, beautiful soothing sounds. I like to do this when I am relaxing. I thought to myself I really do need to learn “Overtone” singing. I was creating some wonderful bottom end notes, just smiling at myself in a state of bliss. As I went to bed, I decided I would not set my alarm, I would wake “naturally”. Can anyone really awaken unnaturally?

Well, I was obviously exhausted as I slept through until almost 9am, this is unheard of for me. I began my day in the usual manner, this included sharing my “It comes in the little things” reflection on Facebook, a spiritual discipline I have kept up since early December. How I have delighted in so many other people joining in. I had much to do that day, including dealing with many of the pressing issues left over from the day before. That said despite these many challenges I felt in good spirits.

As I ventured into the day the following poem “Any Morning” by William Stafford” was singing in my heart and soul.

Here it is:

“Any Morning” by William Stafford

Just lying on the couch and being happy.
Only humming a little, the quiet sound in the head.
Trouble is busy elsewhere at the moment, it has
so much to do in the world.

People who might judge are mostly asleep; they can't
monitor you all the time, and sometimes they forget.
When dawn flows over the hedge you can
get up and act busy.

Little corners like this, pieces of Heaven
left lying around, can be picked up and saved.
People won't even see that you have them,
they are so light and easy to hide.

Later in the day you can act like the others.
You can shake your head. You can frown.

Any Morning Can Be a Little Corner of Heaven

I could feel that little corner of heaven that morning, as I had the night before, despite the very real concerns and worries close at hand and in the wider world. Worries and trouble that have been very much with me this week. Not that I have been downbeat at all this week. I have felt connected, in good shape actually, with a real sense of well-being. I’ve found myself humming and singing to myself a lot this week, particularly the line “Groovy times are here again” by The Clash

Later that day I found myself watching the BBC news. Now amongst the more troubling news stories this last Monday there was one that was heartening. I found a little piece of heaven if you like. It was a story about the life of the wonderfully named Mercedes Gleitze, who was the first British woman to swim the English Channel in 1927, she was also the first person to swim the Straits of Gibraltar, later that year. Two achievements that although they were celebrated at the time, were unknown to her own children and grandchildren. A film has just been completed celebrating her life and a “Blue Plaque” has been unveiled at her former Brighton seas-side home.

The news item was shot on Brighton beach, on a freezing cold January morning. On the beach were scores of people going for their daily dip in the freezing sea. They are not alone. It seems the be the “in thing” this winter. I know people that go “wild swimming” in Pickmere out in Cheshire, every week; I know a whole load of folk who went there on New Year’s Day. I am told it is incredibly invigorating and those who do it say it makes you feel “so alive”. I understand that there are many health benefits to cold water swimming such as, boosting the immune system, creating endorphins that lift the mood, improving circulation and libido, the burning of calories, reduction of stress as well helping create a sense of community in the sense it increases socialisation.

I have not been tempted to take a dip myself, at least not yet. I am probably too scarred by holidays in Scarborough as a child and the cold North sea; freezing cold even in the middle of summer. That said I know I have said I would never do things in the past and then got into them. So I ought to learn that you should never say never. So, we shall see. That said I do know that I am more one for a long hot bath, after exercising. I love to loll and listen to music very loudly post workout, before eating. It all contributes to a deep sense of connection and well-being and enables me to fully engage with a very busy life. The messages, the phone calls, the encounters and conversations haven’t stopped all week, there is so much going on. I need this time.

At the beginning of the year so many of us resolve to live healthier lives, gym membership sores, as does attendance at slimming groups and their like. General physical well-being is often on our minds during the winter months, especially early January.

Now while there is a great deal of talk of improving our physical well-being, which is of course vital, there seems to be less talk of taking care of our spiritual well-being, which actually may well be more important. If I have learnt anything in life I know that my emotional, mental and physical well-being rests on my spiritual health. I discovered that if I take care of my spiritual well-being, as a result, the rest just seems to take care of itself. I never forget the importance of first things first.

The purpose of developing our spiritual well-being, is to improve our capacity to live in this life. I agree with my esteemed colleague Rev Bill Darlison who claims that the purpose of spirituality is to increase our sensitivity to life. Not so much transcend this life but to enable us to engage more fully in it. This is something that no one else can do for us, it is our task, our responsibility. Spiritual practice helps us to do so. As the Zen proverb says “no one else can eat your food for you, no one else can go to the toilet for you, and no one else can live your life for you. And, of course, no one else can do your practice for you.

Maybe this is something we could think about as we move into the year. To find ways to improve our spiritual well-being, to find a practice and stick with it, so as to increase our sensitivity to life and thus to live more spiritually alive. It doesn’t need to be anything drastic like cold water swimming, it could be something much simpler. I am continuing my daily practice of paying attention to and sharing the “little things”. It has made a huge difference. For every single day I am noticing more and more of these “little things” and I am finding so many other folk doing the same and sharing them with me and one another. It is a wonderful delight.

To live spiritually alive requires that we increase our sensitivity to life. In so doing it enables us to live more actively in the world and thus our lives will feel more meaningful, meaning filled. It is this that will give us a sense of well-being, of health. Health a word that has its root in the Old English word “haelp” meaning “wholeness, a being whole, sound or well” from the Proto-Germanic “halitho” meaning “whole, uninjured, of good omen”, from older words meaning holy, sacred or healed. In Latin it shared its root with salvation.

Healing, wholeness, health are about being in relationship with ourselves, one another and life. It is about increasing our sensitivity to all of this, this is true well-being. When we live this way we feel spiritually alive, as opposed to being estranged from life.

Spiritual well-being occurs in such relationships, relationships with ourselves, each other, life and whatever we believe is at the core of life, this is where true healing occurs. This does not mean that life does not affect us, there is no cure to life so to speak. If anything it will affect us increasingly. It does not mean the real troubles of life are taken away. What happens is that by being in relationship with all life, our sensitivity to life increases and we experience wholeness, well-being, health, and are thus touched by healing. We are filled with love, in life’s real challenges, and in so doing we know spiritual comfort and thus know what it means to be whole. We will feel wholly alive, we will live holy lives.

Health, well-being is not an absence of trouble of illness, instead it is a sense of being fully alive, like the feeling that those wild swimmers describe.

So, think about it. Can you think of one thing that can help improve your spiritual well-being and thus increase your sensitivity to life and to share it with those in your life. Can you attempt to stick at it day by day. Go on give it a go. I would love to hear about it, as I am certain others will too.

We each find our own bliss, our own groovy times, we rejoice in our own way…

So let’s go seek and discover, live wholly alive, live holy lives.

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

Monday 24 January 2022

Reconciling and Rebuilding, One Heart and Stone at a Time

A very old friend recently got back in touch with me. We haven’t spoken for a few months. I had had to distance myself from them due to some hurt that had been caused. They contacted me by way of apology. It wasn’t just that they wanted to say sorry, they were acknowledging where they had been wrong, they were admitting where they had caused harm. They were attempting to heal something that had been broken, our friendship. We have been through a lot together over the years and I do understand that they have been struggling, it was obvious at the time. I will of course meet up with them.

As I read my friend’s message what filled my heart with love, with joy, wasn’t so much the apology, anyone can say sorry, they key was in the fact that they could see where they had been wrong and wanted to rebuild something that is so precious. How can I stand in judgement, I am no saint myself. Any friendship, or human relationship, requires many moments of forgiveness; friendship, to quote David Whyte, is a “testament to forgiveness”.

Sometimes of course things cannot be forgiven, some things go beyond the pale. Some broken relationships cannot be healed, as the damage done is too much. Sometimes though it is just our pride that gets in the way. I know from experience of people in my life that folk can fall out, go into deep dispute, and they can’t even remember what they fell out about in the first place. Pride can stop us turning back to put things right.

I don’t believe that saying sorry takes much courage, Elton John is wrong when he says, “Sorry seems to be the hardest thing”. Anyone can say sorry, but it takes real faith and courage to admit where you were wrong and to want to bring healing. It also takes real courage and faith to meet the other halfway. So how could I refuse my friend. Quite the opposite in fact, I rejoiced when I read their message on Monday morning.

In our age we often see public figures apologising, often for the hurt caused. That said this is just saying sorry, it is not the same as honestly admitting fault and doing all you to make things right, to bring healing, to correct what was once wrong, to rebuild a relationship, perhaps even rebuild the world. I remember many years ago saying sorry to my grandma, for causing harm, I will never forget the words she uttered “Why do you always say you are sorry, when you don’t really mean it.” The words went right through me, deep into my soul. She loved me dearly, but could see I just felt bad about being caught out, I wasn’t admitting fault or attempting to put right what was wrong. I was just trying to control the consequences. I have never forgotten it. A lesson that politicians and public figures could do well to learn. It seems that truly admitting fault and doing all you can to correct them is not the way for many. In some circles it is considered a sign of weakness. Nonesense. It is a sign of strength, of courage, of faith.

Over the last couple of weeks, the “Parable of the Prodigal Son” (Luke Ch 15 vv 11-31), has tapping me on my shoulder. It is a universal tale that speaks on so many levels about the blessings and troubles with forgiveness and reconciliation. There are three characters in the parable a father and his two sons. The youngest son squanders his inheritance on a hedonistic lifestyle, he loses everything. In desperation he sells himself into slavery and due to a great famine finds himself close to starvation. It is at this point of utter despair and hopelessness that he remembers where he has come from, he remembers his father and reasons that even his father’s slaves have a better life than him. So, he returns home to throw himself on his father's mercy, not as his son but as a slave. On hearing he is returning his father rushes to meet him. Now even before his son atones his father does more than forgive him. He kisses him, a beautiful touch of intimacy and then as the son throws himself at his father’s feet he orders that the fatted calf be slaughtered and a huge party of much rejoicing be held, to celebrate the return of his son who was once lost but now is found.

The parable of "The Prodigal Son" is a beautiful tale of redemption and forgiveness, but is it a realistic one? If only it was that easy. Well, there is so much more to this story. There is another character who does not find forgiveness so easy to come by. There is the other brother who refuses to rejoice and celebrate the returning of his long-lost sibling. Quite the opposite in fact, he is angry, he is indignant, he will not reconcile with his brother and is now at odds with his father. In fact, he does not even refer to the "prodigal" as his own brother. Instead, he names him as “this son of yours”, and by doing so disowns him emotionally. He tells his father all he has done for him and yet has received nothing in return for his good and virtuous life. His father pleads with him and then utters the immortal words, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” He tells his older son that all that is his belongs to him and also reminds him that this brother of his has returned from the dead. He reminds him that he is his brother and therefore a part of him. They were all three of them once bound together and now need to be once again reconciled, they need to be re-bound. Now this to me is the essence of religious living. For I have come to believe that reconciliation is a deeply religious act.

Religion from “religiere”, meaning re-bound. One of the problems with some aspects of contemporary spirituality is that is individualistic, it is not about relationships, with life and with one another. To me life, especially the truly spiritual and perhaps religious one, is about relationships. Relationships with one another, with life, with our true selves and whatever it is we believe is at the core of life.

One thing I have noticed about myself, and other people is that sometimes our struggles with forgiveness and reconciliation is not necessarily towards the wrongs done by others, but our own shortcomings. That we struggle to reconcile ourselves with our whole humanity. To begin to do so we need to recognise that in each and every person exists the three characters portrayed in “The Parable of the Prodigal Son”. The one who is returning seeking forgiveness, the one offering forgiveness and the one who can feel rejected and neglected by this expression of love. Reconciliation is a process and one that takes time; it is a long journey but one that is certainly worth embarking upon. It is far from easy, but it is without a shadow of a doubt worth undertaking. If we begin this process of reconciliation in our lives, we can begin to rebuild our world. Now of course this no easy task. If I have learnt anything it is that this rebuilding begins with forgiveness. An easy word to speak perhaps but a difficult state to achieve and the reconciliation that it brings with it even harder. That said I suspect it is the purest act of love we can engage in.

My signature phrase as a minister is, “Come as you are, exactly as you, but do not expect to leave in exactly the same condition”. When I say it I truly mean it. We need to bring our whole selves exactly as we are, but to always remain open to the possibility that change can occur, that we reconcile ourselves to ourselves, to one another, to the whole of life and to whatever we believe is at the core of life. We can live spiritually alive, we can live freely and truly religiously.

Reconciliation is not easy, let’s not pretend it is. Now the reason that reconciliation it is so hard, especially with old hurts, is that when we engage in it these painful feelings rise up to the surface. Forgiveness is an act of remembrance. In order to forgive we have to truly re-feel all that has happened. We don’t really forgive and forget. What we actually do, if we are to truly forgive, is re-member. We re-bind the past to the present and can then begin to reconcile. This is why I say that reconciliation is a deeply religious act, because we are re-binding together what has been separated. That said by so doing we do truly begin to heal our world, one relationship, “one stone at a time”, one heart at a time, one soul at a time. It is so easy to look at the world in despair and say I am powerless, there is nothing I can do. The truth is that if we look at the world in this way that is true. That said if we look in our own hearts, in our families and our communities there is much that can be done. Perhaps if we begin here and reconcile ourselves with those closest to us there is much that can be done. I wonder sometimes if by focusing on the bigger picture, the whole world, we lose sight of those closest to us, including ourselves. We need to begin close at hand.

This brings to mind the following rather wonderful story: “The Map and the Man” taken from "The shortest Distance: 101 Stories from the World's Spiritual Traditions" by Bill Darlison

It was a particularly rainy Saturday afternoon. Two children, John and Rebecca, were becoming increasingly bored, and their father, who was under strict orders to keep them entertained while their mother went shopping, was running out of ideas. He wanted to watch the sport on television and to read his newspaper, but the children had demanded his attention. He’d tried them with paper and coloured pencils, but this barely entertained them for five minutes. He’d tried the television, but didn’t even want to play on their tablets. And there were still a couple of hours before mother returned!

Suddenly, he had an idea. Picking up a magazine from the table, he quickly flicked through the pages until he came to a map of the world. “Look at this, kids,” he said. “I’m going to cut this map into pieces - a bit like a jigsaw puzzle – and if you can put it together again, I’ll take you both to McDonald’s for tea! Is it a deal?

The children agreed to give it a try. Their father cut up the map, gave them a pot of glue, and set them to work on the kitchen table. He meanwhile, put on the kettle, made himself a cup of coffee, and sat down with his newspaper in the living room. He was feeling very pleased with himself. “It’ll take them at least an hour,” he thought with a smile.

But barely ten minutes later he heard, “finished dad!” He couldn’t believe it. He went through into the kitchen table and there, sure enough, sitting on the table, was the completed map. “How on earth did you finish it so quickly?” he asked.

“It was easy,” said John. “The map of the world was complicated, but on the other side was a picture of man. We just put the man together.”

“Yes”, said Rebecca. “If you get the man right, the world takes care of itself.”

There is some real wisdom here. If we get the man right, the world takes care of itself. I hear the wisdom of "First things first here; I here the wisdom I was taught many years "If you are spiritually well, the rest will take care of itself.

“If you get the man right, the world takes care of itself.” And if we do so we begin to build "the kin-dom of Love" right here right now.

It begins here in our own individual lives. It begins in our own hearts as we reconcile ourselves with our whole lives. It begins with those who we have shared our lives with. It begins by focusing on the little picture. If we get that right the bigger picture will begin to take care of itself. Remember as the little girl in the story said “If you get the man right, the world takes care of itself.”

It begins with you and it begins with me. It begins by returning to Love.

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

Monday 17 January 2022

Pythagoras: The Song of the Universe, in Silence and Joy

I have noticed how much I have enjoyed walking back and through Altrincham these last few days. I enjoy the feel of it, the atmosphere, and the people I keep on bumping into. I do know a lot of people and spend quite a bit of time stopping and talking.

Now I know Altrincham hasn’t changed, so it must be something in me. There is music in the air, or so it seems, I can hear it in my heart and soul It is a sign I have space in my life that I am particularly enjoying these encounters at the moment. Been several lovely ones this week. I have also enjoyed the beautiful music in the air, breaking through the silence. Like most towns Altrincham has its fare share of buskers, of mixed ability. Recently we have been blessed by the most talented cellist. I have from time to time stopped to listen to him play, rather than just walk on by. He is a lovely American guy, I haven’t yet asked him what brought him, but I am glad he is. I have felt a stillness in my heart the last couple of weeks and silence in my mind and my soul has been filled with both music, joy and laughter, for this I am deeply grateful.

Music, joy and laughter has been in short supply over the last couple of years, well in a communal sense, music, joy and laughter that we share together. We are all missing it I know. I think one of the reasons that the Brass Band concert was enjoyed so much this December is that such joy and music has been in short supply. Doesn’t life need to be enlivened by it? It needs such shared expression of joy, our souls needs to sing and it needs to laugh, we need creativity, art and poetry, just as much as we need peace and stillness. All work and no play makes all us pretty dull.

I have been thinking of music of late. I mostly listen to it while driving, not at home and not in the gym, or even out walking. Most folk have headphones on, or actually in your ears, but I don’t like them, it blocks me off from the world and that is the last thing I want. I want to be awake to the world, more connected, to hear the music of the world, so no earphones for me.

My soul seems to have a new space of late. Music like most of life is as much about space, silence, emptiness as it is about sound. The skill is what we fill and surround the emptiness with, what we create within this space. This brings to mind the following poem “On Music” by Rainer Maris Rilke

Music: breathing of statues. Possibly:
stillness in pictures. Speech where speech
ends. Time upright and poised
upon the coastline of our passions.

Feelings for whom? You are the transformation
of all feeling into – what? . . . audible landscape.
You stranger: music. Heart’s space
that’s outgrown us. Innermost us
which it’s scaled, surmounted, gone beyond
into holiest absence:
where what’s within surrounds us
the way the most skillful horizon does,
or the other side of the air,
no longer lived in.

translated by William H. Gass

There is something about music, and all creativity really, that moves Rilke says “as the other side of the air”, it takes us to another place, that helps us better inhabit this place. For me it is not about escaping reality, but truly inhabiting it, with the whole of my being. It is not about transcendence, but transformation. This for me is the essence of the spiritual life, its purpose is to enable us to live better in this life and one aspect of this is to truly enjoy this life, not simply endure it. The arts certainly help with this, it beautifies our existence.

I am no musician. My brother is. He is an excellent teacher these days and was for many years a working musician. He never made much money, but he made a living and lived a life. My brother is also very much a mathematical person, his children are basically mathematical geniuses, as well as excellent musicians themselves. It seems that music is more than mere creativity, it also mathematical. I suspect that this is probably why I am no musician. I’ve got the music in me, I’m just not sure I’ve got the maths. The music is in my soul, but perhaps not my brain.

This brings to mind one of those figures that we all learnt about in maths lessons as children, good old Pythagoras and his theory about triangles. You may recall it: that the sum of the square of the hypotenuse of a right angle triangle is equal to the sum of the square of the opposite two sides (by the way I didn’t remember that, I had to look it up). It is now thought that he did not originally come up with this theorem that it had been around for some four hundred years, dating back to ancient Babylonia. In fact, some scholars question everything that is attributed to him, suggesting that it was actually discovered by others. Not that it matters really, this is classic mythos, which is not really about fact and actual truth, but deeper universal truth. What really matters is the wisdom itself and not which individual discovered it first.

Another idea attributed to Pythagoras is “Musica Universalis” which is the idea that the universe is composed entirely of numbers, and that these numbers correspond to music. Therefore, the whole of reality, including us, is composed of music and numbers. That everything resonates its own frequency. He believed that each of the planets created their own frequency and sent it into the universe, hence the phrase “Musica Universalis” or “Harmony of the Spheres”. Now it wasn’t that we necessarily heard the music with our ears, rather that their cosmic vibration resonated with us, impacted upon us, like all music can. Perhaps like a deaf person enjoys music not by physically hearing it, but by experiencing the vibrations of music (Good, good, good, good vibrations). Isn’t music felt as much as it heard. Pythagoras believed that our souls were both nourished and purified by the vibrations of music, which kept us spiritually healthy, just as food and exercise kept our bodies healthy. I was thinking of this as I noticed all the new people in the gym at this time of year. Yes, they are taking care of their bodies, but I wonder how many and spending as much time and energy on exercising their souls.

There is an account by Iamblichus’s that describes how Pythagoras made his discovery about the music of the spheres, no doubt it is apocryphal, it is classic mythos. One day Pythagoras strolled past a blacksmith’s forge and was captivated by the sound of the many hammers pounding in a pattern that suddenly sounded harmonious. He rushed into the forge and immediately began investigating the cause of the harmony, testing the various hammers in various stroke combinations — some producing harmony, others discord. After analysing the patterns and weighing the hammers, he discovered a simple mathematical relationship between those that produced harmony — their masses were exact ratios of one another’s.

From this, it is said, he developed “Musica Universalis”

I wonder how “Musica Universalis” awakens your lives, how it exercises your soul? What music makes you smile instantly? What makes you want to dance? What opens your heart, for a love realised, or perhaps one unrequited? What do you turn to in time of loss, in deep grief? What stirs those darker parts of your being, when it seems all too much? What do you turn to in times of joy and celebration? What are your redemption songs? What is your favourite overpowering noise, when you need shaking out of something? Or what do you turn to when you need to return to stillness, to peace?

What nourishes, purifies, restores, energises or perhaps exercises your soul? Maybe something to consider in the coming weeks, as we live through this winter and move toward Spring and hopefully better days of joy and celebration, fun and laughter.

The music is in all of us, we have to sing it, to play, to join in the harmony of life. We sing our own tunes, but by joining together our own voices we create something beautiful we play our role in the “Musica Universalis”. We need to express the music in us and we need to experience it in all of existence.

Music though is as much about silence, as it is about sound. Just as most of life is emptiness and space, the best music understands the importance and use of silence, Pythagoras reputedly said "Learn to be silent. Let your quiet mind listen and absorb the silence." In order to engage in the great harmony of life we need to learn to be still and silent, to know when we need to engage in our sound and to listen to the sounds that surrounded us, that we are part and parcel of. If we become quiet enough in our hearts we may just open the door to “Musica Universalis” then our song will become a part of the greater reality.

Now one of my favourite and perhaps the most beautiful of all musical vibrations is that of laughter, something that often burst through the silence. A friend said to me the other day “I was coming to a place unfamiliar to me and then I heard your laughter and instantly knew it would be ok, it suddenly felt familiar and welcoming.

Parker J Palmer claims that “Laughter and silence are among our most reliable guides on this magical mystery tour called life.

On the surface, the two may seem to have little in common, but their kinship is soul-deep. Both make us vulnerable by penetrating our illusions and taking us closer to reality, grounding, renewing and redeeming us as they do.

Silence deprives us of distractions, forcing us to face the gnarly emotions that can arise when we stop yammering for a while. Laughter often reflects our foibles and flaws, holding up a mirror to how ridiculous we can be. We have a name for people who trust each other enough to risk the vulnerability that comes with sharing silence and laughter. We call them soul friends.”

Like music silence and laughter are essential to our souls. We need to renew and nourish our very human being. We need them to fully engage in the harmony of existence, to play our role and to be fully a part of life. We need them to engage in the Divine Harmony in which we play a small but vital role. We got the music in us, we got the joy and laughter in us and we need to be truly silent in order to feel fully a part of all of this.

So come and join with me in the “Musica Universalis”, let us join together in the Divine harmony and sing the joy of living in all its mystery”

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

Monday 10 January 2022

The Growing Edge of the Serenity Prayer

A friend posted a “Meme” the other day. It was a cartoon illustration of two characters on the end of the year. One is standing looking anxious and the other on their knees gardening. The character standing asks “Why are you so optimistic about the New Year? What do you think it will bring?” while the kneeling character replies “I think it will bring flowers.” The first character then asks “Yeah? How come?” to which the kneeler replies “Because! I’m planting flowers.”

The kneeling character is planting flowers, an act of faith in action I would say.

Life can feel completely out of control at times. It can feel uncertain, like we are being battered around. We can feel powerless over what might happen. This can cause anxiety and lead us to cling more tightly to things. The truth is we do not know for certain what is coming. If the last two years have taught us anything, then surely this is so. That said there is much we can do; there is much that we have a great big say in. While we are not God’s, we cannot control the spheres, we play a role. By planting our own versions of the cartoon characters flowers, we can be pretty sure that we will bring flowers. The seeds we sow make a whole lot of difference in life. Not only for ourselves but for others too. Never think that you are insignificant, that you do not matter. You do, you really do. Please believe that. While we cannot shape the oceans, we can impact on the little bit of space in which we live and breath and share our being. What we do and what we do not really matters, it really does. So go plant some flowers if flowers are what you want 2022 to bring.

Now as anyone who knows me will testify, I am no gardener. That said I do love a good gardening metaphor; gardening is full of metaphors of the things we must do in order to live well. We must prepare the soil and enrich it; we must plant and tend to the seeds; we must weed out whatever it is that stifles the flowers form growing; to enjoy a rich harvest we must give our whole selves to the process without being sure what will come. We cannot guarantee the weather or other influential conditions, but we must give ourselves wholeheartedly. Not only for ourselves, but for others, for such planting and growing is for others to enjoy also.

Isn’t this life. We do what we can and in so doing we create something. That said sometimes even if we give everything there can be a bad harvest. Does this mean we give up? No of course not. There is such joy in planting and sharing and mostly we create something beautiful and wonderful if we give our whole hearts to our endeavours and do so not only for ourselves alone.

We cannot predict the future, but what we do in the present matters, it really does. It is easy to think that everything that we say, do and think has little or no meaning. That how we are has no real impact on the world in which we live. Is this true? Is what we do insignificant?

It is easy to say that we are powerless, but is that entirely true? While we as individuals are not masters of the universe, we are not the Prime Mover, what we do or do not do matters. We each and every one of us leaves an impact of some sort on this world of ours. It matters what we feel, think, say and do or for that matter do not do. It really does matter what we do and what we do not do. No, we are not the ocean, but we are a part of what makes up the seas.

Yes of course we have to accept reality as it is, but that is not the whole answer. It is just an element in the process. It really depends what we do from there.

This brings to mind that wonderful universal prayer “The Serenity Prayer” of which there are many versions. The following short one is probably the best know “God grant we the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference”

The “Serenity Prayer” is one of the great prayers, simple, practical and beautifully universal. It speaks powerfully to the heart and soul of so many people and has been doing so ever since it was first written by Reinhold Niebhur in the 1930’s. I even got into a conversation about it in a remote village in Transylvania when I went on a trip there a few years, an experience that is etched on my heart and soul and will be forever.

One day I visited a small community, a village called Icland - there is no other settlement in the region whose name ends in land, the story goes that it was originally settled by people from Ireland or England – I walked up the hill towards the parish house and settled into a little schoolroom with a few adults and two teenage girls. For some reason I had images of Thomas Hardy or even Dickens in my mind as I walked up to the house and looked at the village. None of the houses had running water, everyone had a well. The minister led a short religious education class and I was deeply moved by the conversation which she translated for me. It was a conversation about struggles with the current economic climate and the importance of letting go of control and not becoming blocked off from God. The words of the serenity prayer came to my mind as we spoke “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference” – if only we could all find that wisdom to know the difference. I mentioned this and then a few moments later one of the women present produce a copy of the prayer from her purse. We then continued with the conversation which was one of the most beautifully moving and connective ones I have ever had. We spoke deep into one another's hearts. I left these people knowing I will probably never see them again, but also knowing that this conversation would be etched on my soul for a long time to come. During the conversation I had felt the presence of the spirit that I call God powerfully. I can picture the woman Elizabeth in my mind’s eye as she talked openly and eloquently of her struggles with life and faith. I can picture her now.

As “The Serenity Prayer” teaches, the key to life is always finding the wisdom to know the difference; the key is discernment. We need to be able to discern, to sift out, what needs to be let go of what needs to be accepted and what needs to change either internally or externally for this to happen.

I love the serenity prayer for many reasons, but primarily because it is humble, honest and open. It is not a petition demanding that the universe conform to our will, instead it is asking for guidance and strength to do our part and to see what our part is, while also accepting the realities of the world in which we live. Finally, it also points to the fact that we need to discover the wisdom to know what our stuff is, what our stuff is not and what is in our power to change.

It is not a passive prayer about simply accepting the status quo, quite the opposite. I see a lot of faith and works in these words. It is a prayer about seeking out what we can do and doing it. “Why are you so optimistic about the New Year? What do you think it will bring?” “I think it will bring flowers.” “Yeah? How come?” “Because! I’m planting flowers.” If no one plants flowers, there will be no flowers.

Planting those flowers brings some other wisdom to my mind Howard Thurman’s concept of “The Growing Edge” here he describes it:

“The Growing Edge” by Howard Thurman

“Look well to the growing edge. All around us worlds are dying and new worlds are being born; all around us life is dying and life is being born. The fruit ripens on the tree, the roots are silently at work in the darkness of the earth against a time when there shall be new leaves, fresh blossoms, green fruit.

Such is the growing edge. It is the extra breath from the exhausted lung, the one more thing to try when all else has failed, the upward reach of life when weariness closes in upon all endeavor. This is the basis of hope in moments of despair, the incentive to carry on when times are out of joint and men and women have lost their reason, the source of confidence when worlds crash and dreams whiten into ash. Such is the growing edge incarnate. Look well to the growing edge.”

The call to “look well to the growing edge” is the call of courage, of hope, rather than fear and despair, despite the very real troubles present in life. Yes, it does seem, to quote Howard Thurman, that the “times are out of joint and (people) have lost their reason” while “worlds crash and dreams whiten into ash.” That said instead of descending into despair, lets plant some flowers, as a commitment to life and living and in so doing we will “Look well to the growing edge!” This “the basis of hope in moments of despair, the incentive to carry on”. Let’s carry on.

Carrying on is not hopeless idealism by the way; Thurman certainly was not some hopeless idealist. He was a black man born into a culture of white supremacy, just one generation from his grandmother’s experience of enslavement. He knew from experience, real lived experience, that new life is born even in the midst of horror. It is easy, it is lazy, it is cowardly to indulge in cynicism and fatalism and to claim that we are powerless in the midst of life, to give up and not plant flowers. This is not life, if it was nothing would ever have changed. The growing edge is about accepting reality as it is and then doing what you can with you have, it is about planting the seeds of hope.

Yes, we need to accept reality as it is right here, right now. That said we also need to find the courage to plant our flowers, to live on the growing edge, to discover the wisdom to know the difference and to do what is not only in our power, but what is our responsibility to ourselves, humanity, to life.

So, I am going to end this devotion with a question. What is your growing edge? What is it that you want to grow? What is yours to bring to life in this our shared world? What is your responsibility?

Whatever it is will not come to fruition instantly. It is not a sudden quick fix. It will grow slowly, almost imperceptibly, but it will grow all the same. Rather like the plants and flowers grow, that require patient care and attention, but they will only grow if we plant them and do our part in nurturing them.

So you may well ask:

“Why are you so optimistic about the New Year? What do you think it will bring?” “I think it will bring flowers.” “Yeah? How come?” “Because! I’m planting flowers.”

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