Monday 28 February 2022

The Virtues of Crookedness: The Meaning of Life Just Doesn't Add Up

There was a crooked man, who walked a crooked mile, who found crooked six pence, upon a crooked stile.

I don’t like Monday’s. Thankfully not in the same way as the character from the Boom Town Rats song. Still, it is not my favourite day, or doesn’t feel like it. I find Monday’s a bit of a chore, a challenge. I’m usually tired and find myself slogging through the day. Usually, after forcing my way through my gym routine, I am beginning to form ideas about what I will be exploring that week, I did this last Monday. Actually, the seed had been planted quite early the day before, although it had by Monday taken on a whole new life. I began my research, but was distracted by having to put together my latest contribution for “The Inquirer” and for the congregational calendars. I made a good start though and went to bed early that evening and slept.
Tuesday’s, I love. I wake early, alive and refreshed. Tuesday’s, tend to be inspirational days, ones when I am enlivened by everything. That said I am certain that none of Tuesday’s inspiration would be possible without Monday’s slog, so maybe the truly magic day is Monday. All day this last Tuesday my attention was focused on folks responses to crookedness and perceived imperfections. I arrived at my 7am meditation early, as folk were setting up. My friend Adrian told me one of the heaters had blown a fuse and wasn’t working. I knew it hadn’t, he just hadn’t tuned it on properly. My friend is an intelligent man and an engineer, but he couldn’t work out that the heater had two switches, to turn on. He is the second engineer I know who has been baffled by this in the last week. He then started talking about the need for laminated instructions and things needing to be really simple. I thought to myself, well it couldn’t be simpler. He then spent time trying to make everything about the get together perfect. Another friend arrived and felt the need to move the candles, so that they were perfectly in the centre of the room. I myself often feel the need to ensure there are more chairs than required, to widen the circle, my attempt to make things perfect, as well as ensuring the room is at the right temperature. We all have our little obsessions. Our hour together couldn’t have been better, but it was far from perfect. It was profoundly beautiful though.

Conversations about maths, or “math” have been floating around the ether of late. It is almost a God to be worshipped in the lives of some folk. Not for me. If life has shown me anything it is that it is not about simple equations, that will somehow resolve the chaotic nature of existence. Chaos rules it all. I had recently got involved online in a group called “The Unitarian Universalist Hysterical Society”, it is generally a light hearted group, although a majority of posts seem to be about three subjects, maths, cats and coffee. The post I responded to was suggesting that “math” was the meaning of life. It read as follows: “A couple of days ago when my math teacher asked “any questions”. I asked “What is the meaning of life”. She simply replied “The meaning of life is math.” Today we realised that in the alphabet “M” is the 13th letter, “A” is the 1st letter, “T” is the 20th letter and “H” is the 8th letter. 13+1+20+8 =42.

According to Douglas Adams in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, the meaning of life is 42. Now this is obviously him having satirical fun. It was funny seeing folk getting all excited by the letter making up “Math” 42. Well until myself and several others pointed out that Doulas Adams was British and thus would never have referred to mathematics as “math”, for him and anyone educated in Britain it is “Maths” and thus by this logic the meaning of life must be 61, which of course it is not. Life is not a mathematical equation and its meaning cannot be discerned this way, at least I find it hard to believe that it can be.

Now Tuesday, which was of course was the 22nd February 2022 was an exciting day for both mathematicians and numerologists, in fact throughout the world it was being labelled “Two’s Day”. According to many people It was the last day when we will witness the following sequence of numbers in a day 22/2/2022 or in America 2/22/2022 or as folk were posting 2/22/22. Now some were getting excited by the palindrome, whilst others by the idea that “the sequence had mystical powers believed to elevate energies in individuals lives, propelling them towards their dreams, desires and unfulfilled wishes.” The number 222 is an angel number and according to astrologers pivotal in shifting powers. I kept on hearing that 2.22 was the perfect time for doing this, but which one? 2am or 2pm or perhaps 10pm or 22.22 in the 24 hour clock. By the way you may find this shocking but many younger people today cannot read an analogue clock, only the 24hour one. It shocked me, I recall that learning to tell the time, by a clock, was one of the frsit things I learnt at school.

Now whatever the merits of all this. What was lovely was to see how energised many folk were by this sequence of numbers. Hopefully it will help them live more connected lives, whatever the merits of this time and day. I certainly felt some really special energy myself. All of life was speaking to me, but then it often does on Tuesdays. I certainly didn’t see anything perfect this last “Two’s Day”, nor do I think that maths or perfect number sequences can provide me with any answers to the meaning of life. I find my meaning by engaging fully in life, but doing so imperfectly. Last Tuesday was one of those days. Thank you.

I am imperfect in everything I do. No doubt anyone listening to will hear all kinds of errors. Several congregants have told me, that I am well known for some whopping typos. I know that Colleen, the Inquirer editor, has to do some editorial work on everything I write, and my social media posts can be hilariously full of typing errors. I am somewhat raggle taggle generally in life. I, could never paint inside the lines. My handwriting is dreadful. I am a nightmare to accompany when singing, sorry musicians, but I often like to go my own way. My ear will sometimes try to improve a hymn.

Here is a song of praise for everyone who can’t paint within the lines, for those who move a little awkwardly, out of perfect step, unable to keep a straight line. I love the blessed crookedness of life, not the attempt to make everything perfect. I adore the holy imperfections in everything, this is the real beauty and perhaps meaning in life. There are no perfect moments or days, only this moment and this day, let’s make the best of it. I want to encourage myself and others to keep stumbling along, no matter how falteringly, carrying our wounds and unashamed by our scars, to keep on making the beautiful mistakes. To limp on as wounded healers. You see there is a danger in purity in holding up the ideal, ideas of perfection. Things don’t need to always add up, there is no perfect sequences or systems. Chaos rules OK. So, let’s not be afraid to be our perfectly imperfect selves. Let’s keep on making the beautiful mistakes. Some of life’s biggest mistakes have led to something wonderful, if unexpectedly so.

I was recently chatting with Jeanette Podestta, from Queens Road, about her dad John’s ashes. They will be scattered in the Garden of Remembrance at Dunham Road. John Reece’s wife Phyl and both his parents Horace and Elsie are at Dunham Road, named on the nearly full wall there. I remembered that her mum Phyl and begun at Monton Unitarians and asked if that was where they were. Jeanette then said something that was both stunning and amusing. It seems that her mum’s family had become Unitarians “by mistake”. It was during the second world war and there were no signs up at the church signifying its denomination. Well, Monton Unitarian Church is a grand old building, more impressive than the local parish church and it appears that the family had mistaken it for this. That said it must have become a happy mistake as they found a home amongst the Unitarians.

It got me thinking about the mistakes me make, how they can actually lead to blessings, as we learn from them, and or they might lead us to new and wonderful experiences. I also smiled as I thought of Jeanette’s grandparents and a line from the film “Withnail and I” that came into my mind, “We’ve come on holiday by mistake”. It reminded of a sign on the door of the principal of the Unitarian College Rev Dr Anne Peat, that read “I have learnt so much from my mistakes, that I think I am going to make a few more.” It got me wondering about the dangers of seeking perfection, “straightness”, I much prefer the virtues of crookedness, after all as Leonard Cohen observed, it’s the cracks that let the light in. Beauty in life is found in the imperfections.

Sadly, though so many see something wrong in this crookedness, in our imperfection. "The philosopher Immanuel Kant once wrote, "Out of timber as crooked as that which man is made of, nothing perfectly straight can be carved." Now some take this to mean that there is something wrong with humanity, rather than that the beauty in life is created by the misshapen, the imperfect. Ok so we can’t create things that are perfectly straight, we can though create something less perfect, with curves and knotholes. I for one find this more beautiful than the apparent perfect. Even if we did create something perfect, it would not remain that way, one day it break or deteriorate. Surely this is where the beauty is in life’s finiteness, that nothing ever lasts forever.

Many cultures celebrate the beauty of imperfection. Such as carpets in the Islamic tradition, that deliberately have a fault woven into them. Japan, a culture that on its contemporary surface seems obsessed with detail and perfection, as the wonderful example of Wabi Sabi, which creates something beautiful out of the cracks in pottery. When I think of myself and the most beautiful people I know it is the cracks in the pot that make them so. I rejoice in my potty, crack pottedness, I trust you will rejoice with me.

Some Japanese robes, kimonos, have a design and purpose that is very different to clothing in other cultures, particularly in the west. They are plain and deliberately have imperfections sown into them, at least on the outside, and yet on the inside they are intricately beautiful and meticulously crafted. The purpose I suspect is to remind the wearer that the beauty lies within, too easily we are distracted by attempts to appear perfect, at least on the outside, whilst on the inside we feel that something is wrong. We are perfectly imperfect, cracked pots, both beautiful and somewhat worn and a little crooked by life. This though does not mean that there is something wrong with us at our core. Our task, I suspect, is to bring this to life. The cracks not only let the light in, thy let it out too. We have a purpose here. Let’s crack on.

Life is not a competition where we have to be number one. Life is about falling down many times, making numerous mistakes and helping one another become the best we can be, not for ourselves alone, but for all to share. I reckon if we were perfect, or appeared that way, we would be of little use to others, we would be completely and utterly unrelatable.

Perhaps this is something to think about, consider the mistakes you have made, how they have led to wonderful things. Perhaps the gifts that have grown from your woundedness, even brokenness at times. Where have you been led by these beautiful mistakes? What blessings have been unearthed later in life. Maybe places you have been or things you have done by mistake that have led to some kind of blessing. Perhaps what brought you here, both today and in the past. I bet it wasn’t the search for some perfect equation, although it may well have been a search to find meaning in life. The answer is not maths, or math and it certainly isn’t 42. The answer to meaning is in asking the question, it’s in seeking and it is in living with one another. All of the beautifully strange, the perfectly imperfect, people just like you and me.

So lets keep on walking the crooked mile. You never know we might just find a crooked six pence, upon the crooked stile

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

Monday 21 February 2022

Calm in the storm: We are in the boat together

Recently instead of meeting folk in coffee shops for a chat I have taken to go for a gentle walks, side by side down to Stamford park in Altrincham. I love to wander round side by side listening and talking. In some ways conversations like this seem to flow more freely. This is how it should be, neither leading or following, simply accompanying one another. As we walk it is lovely to watch all the little creatures, the dog owners and all the dogs in so many shapes and sizes. One of my favourites is a woman who sits and reads on a bench with her faithful terrier by her side. She is obviously not bothered by the cold as she is always there, no matter the time of the day.

I love to pause at the ponds and stop for a while, talking while watching the ducks and the geese. These graceful creatures who seem to be floating along, seemingly effortlessly. Of course they are not, all the work is going on beneath the service and yet they appear totally calm. There is one creature that always floats along alone, he seems to bully the mallards, they don’t get too close. He is a type of a duck I would guess, but he is much bigger than the mallards, more the size of the Canada geese. He has the head and plumage of a male mallard and yet some of the colouring of the geese. My imagination plays tricks with me at times and wonder if he is mixture of the two. I often joke with the folk I stand with about this.

We are currently in storm season, Eunice and Dudley this week. By giving them names, they sound friendly, which of course they are not. Such weather often leads to much devastation. It has in the south of England and Wales this week, not such mere here in Cheshire. There are other storms brewing too. Troubles in eastern Europe and of course a looming economic crises, fears about the rising cost of living and how folk will cope. There are other more personal storms too. My phone hasn’t stopped all week, so many folk struggling and suffering with one thing and another. I have met with many people this, week. I have listened and shared with so many. It would so easy to have become overwhelmed by it all, to think this is too much. Each demand was completely unaware of the next. So I have continued to paus, to centre down, to connect to that place of stillness and calm and continue to do what I am able to do, one thing after another. Now don’t get me wrong I haven’t been as graceful as a swan, a duck will do for me. I have kept on returning to that calm, to the still small voice, deep within me, within everything, it has enabled me to face most of what has needed to be faced. It has done so for many years now, but it does take effort and like the ducks it doesn’t mean I don’t flap about from time to time and I do duck under too, but never for long. At the end of each day I spend a little time quietly reflecting, tying up the loose ends and then sleep. I have been sleeping deeply all week, I have not been awoken by the storms outside my window. I begin again the next day with my consideration of the little things I have witnessed the day before. None of this stops the storms, nor does it protect me from the damage that will inevitably be wrought. That said it does keep me safe and enables me to repair the damage that is done. It also enables me to journey with others as they sometimes become overwhelmed by the storms of life. Several times this week I have driven with friends to one place or another, talking but mainly listening to either their troubles or the troubles of those in their lives. I have walked and talked with others, several have called round and I have visited folks in their homes and the hospital. We have faced the storms together, side by side. It has felt, at times, like we have got in the boat together and faced the storms of life. Not rescuing one another, but actually sailing through the storm together, side by side.

Storm seasons brings to mind a favourite story. It is an extract from a book titled “Have a Little Faith” by Mitch Albom. The book is set over an 8 year period and explores the lives of two seemingly ordinary, but actually extraordinary men. One is the authors childhood Rabbi Albert Lewis and the other is a former drug addict criminal Henry Covington who spends his time serving a community of homeless people and addicts in a run down former town church. Both characters describe coming through many struggles and storms and doing so with grace and love, and by the power of service, whilst accompanying others through the storms of life. It describes the power of living by just a little faith, what a difference that makes. These are lives full of questions, struggles and doubts, but yet a faith to live by. The following extract is from a sermon delivered by the Rabbi:

“A man seeks employment on a farm. He hands his letter of recommendation to his new employer. It reads simply, `He sleeps in a storm.’

The owner is desperate for help, so he hires the man.

Several week pass, and suddenly, in the middle of the night, a powerful storm rips through the valley.

Awakened by the swirling rain and howling wind, the owner leaps out of bed. He calls for his new hired hand, but the man is sleeping soundly.

So he dashes off to the barn. He sees, to his amazement, that the animals are secure with plenty of feed. He runs out to the field. He sees the bales of wheat have been bound and are wrapped in tarpaulins. He races to the silo. The doors are latched, and the grain is dry.

And then he understands.

`He sleeps in a storm.’

My friends, if we tend to the things that are important in life, if we are right with those we love and behave in line with our (beliefs), our lives will not be cursed with the aching throb of unfulfilled business. Our words will always be sincere, our embraces will be tight. We will never wallow in the agony of `I could have, I should have.’ We can sleep in a storm.

And when it’s time, our good-byes will be complete.”

Wonderful isn’t it…

We cannot stop the storms from striking, whether this be the stormy weather, or the troubles caused externally to us, by forces way beyond our control, or the ones that strike close at hand, or the ones that grow from deep inside our own being. That said there is much we can do about how we are during these storms, how we live within them and how we accompany one another through them. We don’t sail this ship alone. One thing is for sure is that none of us have to face the storms alone. We don’t need any special power to do so, just the ordinary human kind will do, but we do need to be prepared and this is where spiritual practices come. A calm mind and a still heart are the key. It is said that Gandhi loved storms. He began life as a timid child, but he learned to keep his mind so steady that he could face tremendous crises with courage, compassion, wisdom, and even a sense of humour. A sense of humour is vital in helping us through such storms, remember to be in good humour originally meant to be in good health. We have the capacity to deal with what ever challenges life throws at us, but we do need a calm mind and still heart to draw on the resources deep within us. We also need to accompany one another, to encourage each other when it feels too much.

When I consider Jesus’ attempts to teach his disciples I often think that this is where his frustrations came from. I know that this is perhaps an unorthodox view, but I think that this is what he was trying to teach those that followed him, to find that power, that still small voice within. It is certainly something he did as he took time alone, to commune with God. In Mark ch 4 during a passage titled “The Calming of the Storm”. Jesus rebukes the frightened disciples who have woken him “Have you know faith” he is doing so because he knows that they can calm the storm, they just do not have the faith in themselves to do so. He shows them the way. They had after all come through such storms before, this was very common on the Sea of Galilee, where storms would rise up from nowhere. Unfortunately, though they just became enthralled by his ability to calm the sea, rather that having enough faith to come through it themselves. Not alone, but together, side by side in their boat.

When the storms strike we do not have to face them alone, although it is our responsibility to play our role fully. Our responsibility is to support one another in the storms of life. There is a real power in being together, so long as it does not lead to unhealthy dependency. It is important that we get in the boat together at times, side by side, not so much to rescue each other, just to be there when the wind is really blowing and life seems too much.

We do not need to fear the storms that will come in life. We cannot stop them and when they come we cannot avoid them. That said we do not have to be destroyed by them. We have all that we need to come through within each and everyone of us. It is vital that we take care of this and bring it to life. It is equally as important to stand side by side with each other as we face the storms together. Not so much to rescue each other, but to from time to time journey in the boat together, to help each other to face the storms of life.

The storms will strengthen us as we move forward in life and we will be able to encourage one another when we are afraid to face the storm as it is brewing, as everyone loses the faith that they can weather another storm, from time to time.

Have a little faith.

I am going to end this devotion with another story. It is taken from “Rites of Justice: The Sacraments and Liturgy as Ethical Imperatives” by Megan McKenna

"Once upon a time there was a master violin maker. His instruments were exquisite, and the sound that could be drawn forth from them was beyond description. He only accepted a small number of apprentices, and he took them through the long and arduous process of making a violin from the choice of the tree to how to string the piece at the very end, after the varnish. There was one apprentice, an especially adept one, who had trouble with only one aspect of the process: the choice of wood. He had mastered all the other levels but would balk at the choice of which tree to mark and cut to form the base of the violin. Finally the master took him out to the forest again.

"It was the dead of winter, a frightfully cold and windy day, with snow swirling and ice thickly hung in all the trees. They walked north and the master starting marking out the trees.

" 'Why?' the apprentice queried. 'Why these?'

"The master answered, 'They face due north and they take the brunt of the wind, the chill, and the ice. They make the best violins.'

"They returned. The storm grew stronger, and the student asked his teacher, 'Master, doesn't it bother you to think about the trees that you marked standing alone in the wind, standing against all this ice and fury? Have you no pity for them?'

"The master eyed him and smiled, 'No, not at all. You see, they are being tuned!' "

Maybe that’s what happens to us as we come through another storm, maybe we become better tuned so that we can encourage one another, when the storms strike and it all seems too much. We can get in each others boats and encourage one another to keep on sailing through the storm.

Remember Gandhi loved storms, for he believed that the trials and tribulations brought out the best in him. They often do with us, that is if we have taken care of what we can, for they enable us to become more loving and sensitive to the needs of others, thus we will understand when we need to accompany others, journey side by side with them and encourage them to face whatever storms come their ways. Also, when the time comes, when we lose faith in our ability to face the next storm, that we will be equipped to allow others to get in the boat and journey with us too.

Through all the tumult and the strife, I hear the music ringing: It sounds and echo in my soul – How can I keep from singing!

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

Monday 14 February 2022

Not Everything is Lost

“Gate A-4” by Naomi Shihab Nye

Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning my flight had been delayed four hours, I heard an announcement:
"If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately."

Well—one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.

An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing. "Help,"
said the flight agent. "Talk to her. What is her problem? We
told her the flight was going to be late and she did this."

I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke haltingly.
"Shu-dow-a, Shu-bid-uck Habibti? Stani schway, Min fadlick, Shu-bit- se-wee?" The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the next day. I said, "No, we're fine, you'll get there, just later, who is picking you up? Let's call him."

We called her son, I spoke with him in English. I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and ride next to her. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just
for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know and let them chat with her? This all took up two hours.

She was laughing a lot by then. Telling of her life, patting my knee, answering questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies—little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts—from her bag—and was offering them to all the women at the gate.
To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same powdered sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.

And then the airline broke out free apple juice from huge coolers and two little girls from our flight ran around serving it and they were covered with powdered sugar, too. And I noticed my new best friend— by now we were holding hands—had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country tradi-tion. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and I thought, This is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that gate—once the crying of confusion stopped—seemed apprehensive about any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women, too.

This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

Not everything is lost. I love this story poem by Naomi Shiab Nye. It describes beautifully what it means to truly live sacramentally, what it means to bless those we meet, to live by blessing, isn’t this true communion a love fest, a true love fest. This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost. This is how we are meant to live spiritually alive. Yes, we can all be lost at times, but it does not mean all is lost, we can soon be found.

Not everything is lost.

Last Saturday, evening I was talking with one of the regulars of “Colours of Grief”, she was utterly lost. Not necessarily with the grief that comes with death, more living grief. She was deeply lost within herself, so much so that she was finding it really difficult to connect with anything. She was almost in the same panicked state as the woman in Naomi’s poem. I walked her to her car when suddenly a British Bulldog appeared from out of the twilight. He ran straight towards me, jumping up my legs as dogs do. His tale was going like billy-ho

We instantly stopped our conversation and were consumed with concern for the dog. He had no collar and we wondered where the “ummer” he had come from. My friend suddenly forgot all her troubles and was focused purely on finding this lost dog’s home. My phone rang and I became distracted by another crisis. We searched around and noticed the gates of next doors house was open, so we approached and knocked on the door. A man answered and his wife and children came to the door. It was their dog “Buzby” who had got out. How on earth they hadn’t noticed is beyond me. They are new neighbours and I had not met them before. The dad did make me chuckle when he told me the dog’s name “Buzby, as in sir Matt”, he is obviously a Manchester United fan.

It was lovely to get the lost wandering dog home. What was equally so was the impact it had on my friend, how she responded to its needs, she suddenly wasn’t so lost herself in her troubles, it was beautiful to witness.

This all brought to mind a quote I often see posted on social media “Not all who wander are lost”, it comes from the “Lord of the Rings”. It is certainly true, just because someone is wandering aimlessly it doesn’t mean that they are lost, Buzby wasn’t he was just wandering round the neighbourhood, but he could have easily found his way back home, it was we who intervened. It also got me thinking that all who are lost do not necessarily wander. You can be lost in the most familiar of places, in the safest places, surrounded by loving company, as my friend had been. She was lost oh so deeply within herself. Somehow by helping Buzby find his way home, she found herself at home in herself once again. I admire my friend greatly as even though she doubts it she always seems to find her way back home despite her very real troubles.

Most folk are familiar with the phrase “The unexamined life is not worth living”. Socratres is reputed to have said it at his trial when he was found guilty of impiety and corrupting of the youth. He chose death rather than exile. For if he was in exile he would be unable to continue to examine life. As Socrates trusted his religious experiences such as his guiding “daimonic voice” he preferred to seek truth in the after-life, than to live a life not identifying the answer on earth. He would rather die than live an unexamined life.

It is vital to know ourselves, to be true to ourselves. Although the most important knowledge to know is that we are mortal, we are not God’s at least according to those great thinkers of ancient Greeks. To “Know thyself” is to know that you are mortal, you are not God.

So yes “The unexamined life is not worth living”, that said I have also found that that an over examined life can become stagnant. It is so easy to get lost in ourselves, so lost that we fail to live and find it impossible to engage with life fully. When this happens life can feel like it isn’t worth living. To quote good old Forrest church

..."an overexamined life is not worth living. I know that. some of you who come to me for couselling are so wrapped up in your own and your parents' underwear that I sometimes wonder if you will ever get out, if you will ever get naked. Just remember, you are not alone on the Titanic. we are all here together, on this extraordinary ship - different classes, yes, and not enough lifeboats - but when it comes to death there are never enough lifeboats. the ship is magnificent but one day it will sink. All hands will be lost.

This advice may return to haunt you, but I commend you to ignore life's dangers as readily as you protect yourself from them. Even as an overexamined life is not worth living, an overplanned life lacks wonder and sponteneity. The harder we work to get things exactly right, the more cautious we become, the more careful not to fail. Risking nothing, we stand to gain little beyond the security of battened-down existance. We miss the sea breeze and the ball. We will know little failure, or only little failures, but consider the cost. any sure thing is almost sure to be so carefully packaged that when we unwrap it, the size of the box will turn out to be so many times larger than the size of the gift that we cannot help but be dissapointed.”

We do not have to wander to feel lost, we do not have to step out into the wilderness, the unknown. It is just as easy to get lost in the most familiar, to be lost in ourselves, so much so that we fail to live. We are communal beings, we are in this together and do you know what we often only truly find ourselves in the love and service for one another, this it seems is where true meaning emerges. This is often where we truly find ourselves, our purpose.

We all feel lost and confused at times and we all find ways to help and encourage, to keep one another going. I love the wisdom of the greats, but they are not really my inspirations. It is the ordinary folk all around that I admire the most, that change my life. It was an ordinary man from Oldham that guided me when I was most lost, not Socrates or Frankl, Jesus or Gandhi, they have helped, but were not the real inspirations. I do not stand on the shoulders of giants. More ordinary folk, those that stumbled along a lot, those that fell many times, but rose again. They had no special wisdom or power, in fact they constantly messed up, they often failed. That said they were filled with love and courage, they were perfectly imperfect. They got up every time they fell, they kept on going and encouraged others to do so too. They helped others and each other to reach what seemed unreachable, they inspired others to do the same. When I am gone I hope that no one tries to stand on my shoulders, I am certainly no giant. I am more interested in walking shoulder to shoulder with others, inspiring each other, offering courage and bringing out the best in each other, just as Buzby did in the Twilight of last Saturday.

We all feel lost at times, but we can always be found again. No one needs to lead, nor does anyone have to follow. We all take our turn, just like those Canada Geese I love so much and their honking.

As Naomi wrote “And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and I thought, this is the world I want to live in. The shared world.… This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.”

I saw this once again last Saturday and I have been witnessing it all week. I have seen over and over again that when we feel lost we are found again through our shared interdependence, this is how we are sheltered and saved. My friend and “Buzby” the bulldog showed me that once again in the twilight last Saturday. All is not lost, faith, hope and love will always lead us home. This is the world in which we all share. “This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.”

So, know yourself, know that you are mortal and know that no matter how different you might feel, how lost it all seems, no one is anymore lost than anyone else and no one is anymore different than anyone else.

Not everything is lost.

We all feel lost at times, it is important to accept this. The problem isn’t getting lost, we all get lost. The problem is in losing faith that you can be found once again. The key is how we live when we find ourselves lost. Do we close down and get lost deeper in our fear, or do we pause and reach out and ask for help from those loving forces that are all around whether visible or invisible.

Also when we see another lost, or hear their call. How do we respond? Do we stay lost in our own or others underwear or do we ourselves answer the call?

Not everything is lost. All is not lost. No one is ever truly lost, we can always find our way back home.

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

Monday 7 February 2022

The Gift of Small Things: A Living Gratitude List

The other day I was chatting with a man, we often greet one another as we pass in the street. We did our usual of saying hello. I asked him how he was and he replied, “I am doing ok”. He politely returned the question and I answered “all is well”. He took a couple of more steps and then he stopped and said, “well actually things haven’t been ok.” He knows who I am, he continued saying “my wife has been quite ill with Covid and is in hospital again suffering from “Long Covid”, it is very worrying.” You could see he looked so very lost. Then he reached into his pocket and produced a “scratty” piece of paper with a list words on it. He showed it to me saying “These are the list of all the different doctors, consultants and other practitioners that have been to see her, to try to help. Not students or ones just to look at her, but who are trying to help her get well.” I thanked him for showing me his simple “Gratitude List”. I wished him and his family well and told him I would be thinking of them and holding them in my heart and my prayers. As he walked away, I wondered how many people he was sharing this list with; I wondered how many he had helped in so doing. I thought I am sure it is helping to sustain him in this difficult time. It had certainly helped me that day as I was returning from an upsetting and distressing situation myself. The conversation was a beautiful gift and I felt graced by what he had so freely given me, passing on gifts that had been so freely given to him and his wife. I wonder how many of these gifts, these graces bless our lives every day. I wonder how often we think about them, I wonder how often we share about them. Yes, we say thank you, but how often do we act with gratitude for these wonderful gifts that are freely given. What Kent Nerburn calls “The Small Graces”, those gifts of the ordinary, what I share as my “little things”

It is important to acknowledge the gifts that come freely in life, there are so many. We don’t always notice them. I know how much it helps me when I do. That said this is not enough on its own. I know lots of people who as a practice write gratitude lists. I am sure it helps them think about the blessings in their lives, I know it has for me. It is not enough though, just to acknowledge, just to say thank you. For the thank you to be true gratitude, what is required is for us to do something with these free gifts, these graces. We need to make acts of gratitude, like the man with his list. He is acknowledging and he is sharing with others the deep care his wife is receiving. This is why I say his “scratty” piece of paper is a “True Gratitude List”. In the same way that faith is dead, it is meaningless, unless it is shown through works; or that saying “sorry” doesn’t mean anything unless true acknowledgement of wrong doing is made; our thanks is meaningless too, unless it is transformed into acts of gratitude. I don’t mean grand gestures here by the way, I mean simple, humble meaningful ones. To quote good old Micah 'And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?' Well to me that is precisely what that man was doing while he was sick with worry about his wife. He was still able to create and share his “scratty” gratitude list; he was still able to create a humble act of gratitude. I’m sure that piece of paper is a lot scrattier today, due to how often he has removed it from his pocket and shared it with someone. It also answered a little riddle for me, I now know what my scratty little magpie has transformed into. Thank you.

Like all spiritual muscles “gratitude” needs to be exercised for it to grow and become more useful. I have noticed it developing in me every since that doorstep gift left by a friend and ever since I’ve been sharing about “the little things” or what Nerburn has called “The Small Graces”. The magic of exercising gratitude is that it enables us to look outward, it is an ”unselfie” approach as what it does is that it helps us focus our lens outward rather than inward. It helps us appreciate the small gifts around and us and to see where the work needs to be done. In so doing it enables us to live out our faith in life itself.

I wonder which way our lenses are focused each day. Are we taking in the world or our purely focused on ourselves. We are made to live in the world. We are relational beings. This is the spiritual life.

Living by Gratitude is not about the things we do or do not receive; it is about being in relationship. It is about being in relationship with ourselves, the life we have, the people we share it with, the planet we inhabit and the universe we are a small but vital part of. It is also about being in relationship with whatever we understand is at the core of this. For me this is God, others understand this differently or give it another name. What we name it is almost irrelevant. What is really important is how we respond to this mystery that is life. All of us can pray for a grateful heart, for the gift that is life itself, and for the opportunities that life offers to us, but it doesn’t mean much if we don’t do something with it.

One of my favourite quotations is the following by Meister Eckhart:

If the only prayer you ever say in your whole life is “thank you,” that would suffice

I love it and yet I know that merely saying “thank you” is not enough. Yes it is faith, but it lacks the works for it to be an act of gratitude. Saying thank is part of it, acknowledging what is given is vital, but it is not enough. Yes, it is a vital component of living spiritually alive, but it is not quite enough; we do need to want what we have in life, but it’s not quite enough. For we do not live in the clouds we live here on earth and for faith to truly become vital we must transform it into works. Saying thank you is not enough, what matters is what we do with the thanks and praise we offer. What we do with the greatest gift of all, life, that we have been freely given. Something that we played no part in receiving. Life is the first free gift that we are all given, but it is not the last. How often do we see this. Certainly I have neglected it at times. Life is the first Grace, but not the last.

Gratitude shares the same linguistic root as grace, gift, pleasing, it originally meant goodwill. So, it seems to me that to live from gratitude to is live from goodwill, it is an act of goodwill. It is kind of like living in a state of grace, or gracefully if you like, which is a lot better than being a disgrace, which is perhaps a reflection of the ungrateful, those whose lens is purely focused inwardly, those who only really think of themselves. Those who only notice what is wrong with their lives and are unable to see what is around them. I bet they don’t have a “scratty” piece of paper to share, or if they do that theirs is a list of those who they resent and want to get back at.

So, what is your list like? What are you carrying around with you and sharing with the world?

When I think of sharing of the gifts that life freely gives, of a living gratitude list, I often think of poetry as being one form. One of my favourites is Mary Oliver who had a wonderful gift of sharing such things with the world; an ability to see “The Small Graces”, despite life’s very real troubles. She certainly had many herself, but she found salvation in “The Little Things” and she shared them with the world.

This is expressed beautifully in her poem “The Gift”, I particularly love the line “I wanted to thank the mockingbird for his song.” She describes doing this by playing him some music from Mahler and the mockingbird played some of it back to her. It is a bit like me and my blackbird, we sing back to one another, forever raising each another’s voices. My friend sharing his “scratty” gratitude list, is just like Mary’s mockingbird and my blackbird. Aren’t each of us singing our songs, in our own ways.

So here is Mary’s poem “The Gift”. It seems an appropriate way to end this devotion. I hope we can all be as grateful as she was, I hope we can all take the world as seriously as Mary did, and remember to turn our lens outward and see all that is in our world to savour and perhaps save and to share it. I hope we can all make living gratitude lists, to crumpled, no matter how scratty.

“The Gift” by Mary Oliver

I wanted to thank the mockingbird for the vigor of his song.
Every day he sang from the rim of the field, while I picked
blueberries or just idled in the sun.
Every day he came fluttering by to show me, and why not, the white blossoms in his wings.
So one day I went there with a machine, and played some songs of Mahler.
The mockingbird stopped singing, he came close and seemed to listen.
Now when I go down to the field, a little Mahler spills through the sputters of his song.
How happy I am, lounging in the light, listening as the music floats by!
And I give thanks also for my mind, that thought of giving a gift.
And mostly I'm grateful that I take this world so seriously.

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