Monday 25 July 2022

Everything Is Waiting For You: The Conversational Nature of Reality

“Everything is Waiting for You” by David Whyte

Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

I was recently interviewed by Ken Garrity on Radio Altrincham. He likes to talk to different personalities in the town. It seems I am one of them. I am certainly someone who spends half his life with people in the town, engaged in conversation. I suspect that half of ministry is about conversation in one form or another, some might say it is the whole of it. That is of course if you understand conversation as being more than merely talking and listening. I shared very openly with Ken, perhaps far more than he expected me to. So much so that he himself shared something very deep and personal, which he had only ever told his wife about before. It was a spiritual experience he once had. We had a great conversation. Somewhere in that space we met one another and the listeners to the station certainly met us. Not in the way either of us expected and no doubt not way the listeners were expecting too. That of course is the beautiful power of conversation, it is far more than the sum of its parts and leads to who knows where.

The next morning I went for a walk around Dunham Massey, I had awoken in great spirits and felt deeply connected to everything, it felt like the whole of life was speaking to me, that I was in deep conversation with everything. I don’t believe I have ever felt a deeper sense of connection. I was very much engaged in what David Whyte has called “The conversational nature of reality”. I returned home in good spirits looking forward to the day ahead. It was about 9am and as I passed the chapel gardens I noticed the telephone hanging from “The Wind telephone”. I took a closer look and realised it had been vandalised. I was quite upset by this. I know that the emotion wasn’t just about the damage to the phone, but a few other things floating around in my psyche. During our interview I had been talking about “The Wind Telephone” with Ken and the centrality of grief in my ministerial journey.

There has been a lovely response to what has happened in the wider community and the “Wind Telephone” will soon be repaired. The connection has not been severed, in fact if anything it has helped in engaging in conversations about love and loss. It has helped folk engage in those courageous conversations, the ones that are often difficult to have. I have noticed in the last few days how much every conversations I have had appears to have deepened in meaning. I don’t just mean the spoken word here by the way, I also mean the conversation with life and what I believe is at the core of life, what I call God.

The poet philosopher and former marine zoologist David Whyte sees our lives as focused on what he calls "the great conversation" we have with ourselves and the great mysteries of life which surround us. He calls this “the conversational nature of reality.” Like Whyte I have come to believe that the essence of any real conversation is attention. It is about paying attention to that space where we meet life and life meets us, I suspect that it is in this space that God truly comes to life, or at least this is what my experiences teach me.

The other day I listened to a wonderful conversation between David Whyte and my favourite interviewer Krista Tippett, I have listened to it before. It is taken from “On Being” and was first broadcast in April 2016. In it he describes his early career as a marine zoologist, and how scientific language grew inadequate to describe his experiences in the Galapagos Islands. Whyte said, “In Galapagos, I began to realize that because I was in deeply attentive states, hour after hour, watching animals and birds and landscapes—and that’s all I did for almost two years—I began to realize that my identity … actually depended on how much attention I was paying to things that were other than myself—and that as you deepen this intentionality and this attention, you start to broaden and deepen your own sense of presence.”

Later in the interview he describes the “Great Conversation” as finding this meeting point between self and other, stating that he realised that in fact reality lies “at this frontier between what you think is you and what you think is not you.” And that It is incumbent upon people, then, to stop “abstracting themselves out of their bodies, out of their direct experience” and “hold the conversation at that frontier level.” He says that we must enter into what he calls “the conversational nature of reality.”

The anthem of Whyte’s conversational nature of reality is his poem “Everything Is Waiting for You.”, which we heard earlier. Here he encourages us to “feel the grand array; the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding out your solo voice.” He insists that the frontier of this profound reality of the world can be and is found in “the intimacy of your surroundings,” in “the way the soap dish enables you, or the window latch grants you freedom.” The key is in this line. That, “Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.” That it is about being alive to everything and allowing everything to be alive to you. This is more than just being mindful, it is about being in conversation with everything and everything with you, in fact in you.

He makes a profound statement that humans are the only thing in creation that doesn’t want to be itself, that tries not to be itself and that the key is to become ourselves and this is done through conversation, with everything. Everything is waiting for us, waiting for us to truly become all that we were born to be. The problem for so many of us is that we reject ourselves, that we believe there is something fundamentality wrong with us. Nothing else in life feels, thinks and acts like this, only humans. It is only we who refuse to engage in the conversation. Everything is waiting for us.

For Whyte this began during his transformative experience in the Galapagos. Nature is one gateway into the conversation with reality, which of course we are all a part of, sadly at times we try to deny this. The problem we humans have often struggled with is that we have felt a part from, separate from nature.

Everything is waiting for us.

Whye points out that the conversation takes place in and through everything, even the seemingly mundane. In this poem he invokes the everyday familiarity of stairs, doors, phones, kettles, and cooking pots and he ends by harking back to nature ending with these amazing words: “All the birds and creatures of the world are unutterably themselves. Everything is waiting for you.”

He ends by inviting us back to engage in the conversation, to not feel alone and alienated telling us that our true calling is simply waiting for us, it is waiting for us to simply engage. “Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.”

Everything is waiting for us.

I enjoyed a wonderful experience of this earlier this week. In deep conversation, walking and talking with a friend. Also during the “Singing Meditation” on Tuesday evening in the chapel gardens, when through getting lost in joy singing with others, in blending voices and sitting out in nature I felt fully engaged in the conversational nature of everything.

The next morning I woke very early and met a friend and walked down to Dunham Massey. It was wonderful to move through everything, the beautiful countryside, for a couple of hours, with virtually no one else about. We were powerfully alert, alive to everything and it seemed that everything was alive in us. We were in deep conversation with one another, but more than that with everything that we moved through. There wasn’t a prescribed plan we just kept moving, down different paths, some barely trodden, in many directions. We talked about life, our own and others, some real depth philosophy, psychology, theology and a whole lot more. It felt like we were comfortably ourselves, somewhere in that space, more came alive. At the same time we fully engaged with the sights, sounds, smells, noise and feel of everything. The ground at our feet had a particularly profound effect it seems. We even had time to bump into one or two folk we knew and continue the conversation.

Wednesday morning was one of those conversations that you never want to stop, well it doesn’t have to stop, it will continue, we just had work commitments that morning. It was though a wonderful example of the “conversational nature of reality” we met one another, ourselves, life and that which is the core of life as we walked and talked as we got lost in Dunham Massey.

Everything is waiting for you. Everything is waiting for all of us. The conversation is reality. The beauty and profound nature of reality is everywhere, in everything, even the kettle boiling as you make that cup of tea for a guest. All we have to do is bring our attentiveness to the frontier between self and the rest of creation, and then enter into conversation with it. We must come out of abstraction and back into the world again as Whyte did when he left the Galapagos island and began his real work.

The spiritual life is about living more spiritually alive. It is about increasing our sensitivity to life itself. It is about being increasingly affected and then becoming more effective in life. “Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.”

I have come to understand that at its core the spiritual life is about relationships; relationships with life, with each other, with ourselves and with God, whatever we understand God to be. And how do relationships develop? Well through conversation, through sharing ourselves with each other, not by losing ourselves, but becoming ourselves through our conversations with the other, lower and upper case. We relate through conversation and thus we grow spiritually, through relationship. “Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.”

If life has taught me anything it is that it is all about relationships, everything that really matters is about relationships. The key to all relationships is conversation, of some kind, it is about being alive and alert in spiritually intimate ways.

We have to believe we belong here of course, that we do not reject our humanity. Everything is waiting for us. More than that everything needs us to engage in the conversation of life. Life needs all of us. Everything is waiting for us.

Life is all about relationships; the spiritual life is all about relationships. Relationships with life, with each other, with ourselves and with God, whatever we understand God to be. And how do relationships develop? Well through conversation, through sharing ourselves with each other, not by losing ourselves, but becoming ourselves through our conversations with the other, lower and upper case. We relate through conversation and thus we grow spiritually, through relationship.

Everything is waiting for us.

So I invite you to join with me in the conversational nature of reality. “Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.”

Everything is waiting for us.

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

Monday 18 July 2022

Turn towards the sun, sideways into the light, not away from life

A good friend Rob planted a load of beautiful flowers in gardens at Dunham Road. Gardening is a new love for him; a love born from the grief of the loss of his father, who was an early Covid death. He had nurtured the seedlings and had so many that he was giving them away as gifts. He wanted some to come to the chapel, as it means so much to him. It is where his soul came back to life. He also wanted to thank me for helping him along the way, not least when his father died. He planted the flowers on the second anniversary of his father’s death back in the Spring.

He planted many sunflowers and some are now blooming. I was admiring them early the other morning and thinking of how they always turn towards the sun. How it is a source of everything to the sunflower. They need to turn towards the sun not only to survive, but to thrive. I don’t think I am that different myself, are any of us?

When I think of my friend and his flowers, particularly those sunflowers I see a love born from pain and suffering. The way his father died and the way so many others did and still do, in such tragic isolated ways, without the ability to grieve this love as they would have normally done so. My friend has created something beautiful from that suffering, something meaningful that he can share with others. I see pure joy born from the pain and rich meaning too. Thus, there is no despair, no empty shell, no lingering destructive resentment. Thinking of this turns my heart towards the sun, just like those sunflowers he so lovingly planted do.

I was thinking of this the other morning as I walked down and round to Dunham Massey. I had much weighing heavily on my heart that day, things are would rather not face. Not least the news that my cousin has only a few days to live. I was travelling to see my auntie and uncle that day. Cheryl is now home, where she is being cared for as her life comes to an end.

It was a beautiful sunlit morning in Dunham. I bumped into another friend and his wife, they were out running. I had never actually met her before. We had once spoken on the phone, when he was in his darkest hour, a few years earlier. So, it was lovely to actually meet her, in the sunshine. Things are very different for them now, thank God. There lives have certainly turned around, they turned towards the light and back to life.

As I wandered in the morning sun I was reminded of Mary Oliver’s poem “The Sun”.

Here it is

“The Sun” Mary Oliver

Have you ever seen


in your life

more wonderful


than the way the sun,

every evening,

relaxed and easy,

floats toward the horizon


and into the clouds or the hills,

or the rumpled sea,

and is gone--

and how it slides again


out of the blackness,

every morning,

on the other side of the world,

like a red flower


streaming upward on its heavenly oils,

say, on a morning in early summer,

at its perfect imperial distance--

and have you ever felt for anything

such wild love--

do you think there is anywhere, in any language,

a word billowing enough

for the pleasure


that fills you,

as the sun

reaches out,

as it warms you


as you stand there,


or have you too

turned from this world--


or have you too

gone crazy

for power,

for things?

Mary had such a beautiful pastoral way about her. Her poems were very real and earthy, there are no bromides and yet there is a deep sense of love and care, and devotion to life, they are spiritual in every sense of the word. There is a sense of the sacred in anything and everything she described. She reminds me how vital it is to sanctify life and let life sanctify me, by simply being alive. Like my friend and his sunflowers. I feel so carried and cared for by Mary’s words in “The Sun” and yet brought to a halt by the final lines which asks if we have turned away from  the world or gone crazy with power for things. Both will be destructive, it matters how we live in this world and how the world lives in us, it really does. It matters how we turn in life, is it in love, towards the sun, or do we turn away from life or perhaps even worse get so crazy with power we try to destroy everything in our way.

As I continued my walk round Dunham I was reminded of another poem of Mary’s, I thought of my friend and his flowers as I remembered a few lines from “Morning Poem”: “Every morning the world is created under the orange sticks of the sun the heaped ashes of the night turn into leaves again and fasten themselves to the high branches…”

How important it is whenever the pain gets too overwhelming, when, to quote another line from the poem, that “heavier than lead” feeling comes, that we keep on turning back to life. That we do not let our ego control the lives of others. That instead we turn to life and play our role in everything. Afterall this is what life needs and in so doing meaning always emerges right there in the ashes of suffering.

Walking in nature brings solace to me, it is not the answer to the troubles both close at hand and in the wider world but my heart and soul needs it in order to return to whatever is my responsibility. In so doing joy is born deep in the heart, even in the very real suffering. The suffering is not transcended, it is transformed into meaning and love. Gosh have I known love this week.

On Tuesday after talking through some very difficult and painful experiences with someone another favourite poet came to my heart, this time as I watched dogs frolicking in the park. This time it was David Whyte and his poem “Tobar Phadraic”, again it is a poem about turning, only this time sideways into the light. Here it is:


Turn sideways into the light as they say
the old ones did and disappear
into the originality of it all.

Be impatient with easy explanations
and teach that part of the mind
that wants to know everything
not to begin questions it cannot answer.

Walk the green road above the bay
and the low glinting fields
toward the evening sun, let that Atlantic
gleam be ahead of you and the gray light
of the bay below you, until you catch,
down on your left, the break in the wall,
for just above in the shadows
you’ll find it hidden, a curved arm
of rock holding the water close to the mountain,
a just-lit surface smoothing a scattering of coins,
and in the niche above, notes to the dead
and supplications for those who still live
But for now, you are alone with the transfiguration
and ask no healing for your own
but look down as if looking through time,
as if through a rent veil from the other
side of the question you’ve refused to ask.

And you remember now, that clear stream
of generosity from which you drank,
how as a child your arms could rise and your palms
turn out to take the blessing of the world.

I love the line,
"Turn sideways into the light." It is just so beautiful . it comes from a Celtic myth about a tribe of people who went into battle knowing they would be defeated. They stood facing the enemy and as the enemy charged toward them, they turned sideways into the light and disappeared.

There is much more to the poem of course, but that is perhaps for another day.

“Turning sideways into the light” reminds of another way to face life and conflict; it reminds me that in war no one wins. Yes, one side may lose more, but no one wins. There is so much conflict in life and it grieves my heart. I was reminded of this last Monday and shared deeply about it on Tuesday. To “turn sideways into the light”, suggests another way, one that is relational, what Whyte would call conversational. You do not have to have the confrontational conversation that those who come towards you want. It is about turning down another path, not the one the antagonist wants you down. “Turning sideways into the light” is another way of saying Jesus’ teaching in Matthew ch3 v 38 “But I say to you, do not resist the evil doer…love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” “Turning sideways into the light” is like turning the other cheek. In so doing the hatred and aggression is transformed and disarmed. This takes courage and deep integrity. It is a shift of consciousness akin to Gandhi on the “Salt Marches.” In so doing suffering is transformed into meaning and love. It is a better way that recognises how sacred everything is, not least ourselves. It brings healing too.

So it matters which way we turn in life, it also matters how we turn. It matters what we do and how we do it. It matters whether we turn towards the world or sideways into the light, rather than grasping for power and creating conflict. It matters how and which way we turn. I prefer to be a sunflower always turning towards the light, the warmth of the sun. Rather than someone who charges towards life and others, head down causing destruction. In so doing it enables me to turn to life in a loving way.

It is a curious phrase to turn, or to turn again or even to return. Did you know that to turn or to re-turn was the original meaning of the religious word “conversion”. Conversion is rooted in the Latin word “convertere”, which meant to turn around to transform. Today I choose to turn towards the light and not away from life and in so doing whatever suffering is there begins to be transformed into love and meaning emerges, thus there is no despair. I have felt this powerfully all week, right down in the core of my being, it is why I have known such joy.

This brings back to my mind Victor Frankl and that wonderful and simple equation D=S-M

Despair equals suffering minus meaning...Despair is suffering without meaning.

In “Man’s Search For Meaning” Frankl wrote “Man is not destroyed by suffering; he is destroyed by suffering without meaning.” He discovered that if we have a “why” to live for we can endure anything. More than that actually it is this that allows us to thrive, to be all that we are born to be. To not only improve our lives, but to serve our world. In so doing, despite living with real suffering we can know joy, in even the tiniest of things, our hearts will seek it out, that is what hearts are for.

The question this raises though is how do we uncover meaning? Where do we find meaning in our lives? What about those who tell us that life is essentially meaningless? Is there one meaning? Is there one truth?

Now Frankl would suggest that it is for each of us to discover our own meaning in any given situation. That this is our task; that this meaning may not be in the given moment but in some place in the future; that it is to be found in some purpose or meaning yet to come.

What are the things that hold us and sustains when life seems too much?

Remember Frankl’s equation D = S-M. Despair is suffering without meaning. How do we find and develop meaning in our lives, in spite of the inevitable suffering that will always be present?

Well, that is up to each of us. I know my friend found it in those flowers he has been nurturing ever since his father died, sharing that love and beauty with others. I find it in simply being in life, but also in accompanying others in their grief and suffering, as well as refusing to play the game of destruction. I would much rather live authentically from love and turn sideways into the light.

So many ask why, when suffering occurs. I cannot answer that, at least not fully. All I can do is encourage folk to keep and turning towards the sun, or sideways into the light and walk side by side, to accompany each other. Maybe that is the answer, to not turn away from life, even when it really hurts and to keep on turning towards light and love and truth and in so doing meaning will emerge and the suffering will be transformed into love.

Please find a video devotion based on

the material found in this "blogspot"

Monday 11 July 2022

Time is always short: How do we spend this precious time we are given?

“The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac” by Mary Oliver

Why should I have been surprised?
Hunters walk the forest
without a sound.
The hunter, strapped to his rifle,
the fox on his feet of silk,
the serpent on his empire of muscles—
all move in a stillness,
hungry, careful, intent.
Just as the cancer
entered the forest of my body,
without a sound.

The question is,
what will it be like
after the last day?
Will I float
into the sky
or will I fray
within the earth or a river—
remembering nothing?
How desperate I would be
if I couldn’t remember
the sun rising, if I couldn’t
remember trees, rivers; if I couldn’t
even remember, beloved,
your beloved name.

I know, you never intended to be in this world.
But you’re in it all the same.
so why not get started immediately.
I mean, belonging to it.
There is so much to admire, to weep over.
And to write music or poems about.
Bless the feet that take you to and fro.
Bless the eyes and the listening ears.
Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste.
Bless touching.

You could live a hundred years, it’s happened.
Or not.
I am speaking from the fortunate platform
of many years,
none of which, I think, I ever wasted.
Do you need a prod?
Do you need a little darkness to get you going?
Let me be urgent as a knife, then,
and remind you of Keats,
so single of purpose and thinking, for a while,
he had a lifetime.

Late yesterday afternoon, in the heat,
all the fragile blue flowers in bloom
in the shrubs in the yard next door had
tumbled from the shrubs and lay
wrinkled and fading in the grass. But
this morning the shrubs were full of
the blue flowers again. There wasn’t
a single one on the grass. How, I
wondered, did they roll back up to
the branches, that fiercely wanting,
as we all do, just a little more of

A friend sent me a picture of him and his bride on Wednesday. It was a beautiful picture, but a heart-breaking one. It was taken at St Anne’s hospice. His sadly his wife died this morning, Saturday, I saw him just an hour ago.

The other day I received the sad news that my cousin Cheryl is terminal ill with cancer too. She will be going back to be cared for by her family. I will go and see them in the next few days. We never know what is coming in life. We have all received those phone calls throughout life. Ethan has been on my mind much these last few days. I will never forget the phone call that came out of that blue autumn day. We have all received such calls throughout our days no doubt. I will never forget the moment I experienced his death, when it felt like the whole of being was ripped out of me. There have been many ghosts and reminders of him this week. He lived such a short life, a little over six years.

Don’t we all need more time.

Every morning we step out into the world uncertain of what the day will bring. Yes we make our plans and designs and have our own ideas about what will be. Sometimes things work out exactly as we expect, but often they do not. Sometimes they work out far better than we could have dreamed of, but at other times they do not. We cannot predict life and I do not believe that it is already pre-ordained. I believe that the book of life always remains open. I do not believe that God has pre-ordained anything. I do believe in the Lure of Divine Love, but that this is not controlled by some primal centre, but hey I could well be wrong. I do believe that this Love speaks to us in and through life, as well as in and through us. This is why I believe that everything matters. Life feeds us and we feed life. We are all a part of the Great Co-Creation. This is why it matters how we journey on in life. This is why it is so important that we keep on stepping out into the world, on this continuous journey, experience all that life offers to us in all its blessings and curses. Always remembering that we do not journey alone.

Now strange as this may sound a life time’s journey can only be taken in one day. Did you know that the word journey is derived from the Latin word "diarnum" meaning daily portion from which the old French word "jornee" which meant a day’s work or a day's travel, is derived. I love this truth, it makes me smile broadly. We all live one day at a time, this is the beautiful journey of life; beautiful but sometimes heartbreakingly painful.

We all have this day, just 24 little hours of precious time. It matters how we spend this time, this daily portion, this beautiful journey, what we do in a day. I wonder how much your daily portion is worth?

Here’s a little tale that addresses this very question.

With a timid voice and idolizing eyes, the little boy greeted his dad as he returned from work, "Daddy, how much do you earn an hour?"

Greatly surprised, but giving his boy a glaring look, the father said,
"Look, son, not even your mother knows that. Don't bother me now, I'm tired."

"But Daddy, just tell me please! How much do you earn an hour," the boy insisted.

So the dad, finally giving up, replied: "£20 an hour."

"Okay, Daddy? Could you loan me £10?" the boy asked.

Showing his restlessness and positively disturbed, the dad shouted, "So that was the reason you asked how much I earn, right? Go to sleep and don't bother me anymore!"

It was already dark and the dad was thinking over what he said and was feeling guilty. He thought to himself maybe the boy wanted to buy something.

Finally, trying to ease his mind, the dad went to his son's room.
"Are you asleep, son?" asked the dad.

"No, Daddy. Why?" replied the boy, partially asleep.

"Here's the money you asked for earlier," the dad said.

"Thanks, Daddy!" rejoiced the son, while putting his hand under his pillow and removing some money. "Now I have enough!! Now I have £ 20!" the boy said to his dad, who was gazing at his son, confused at what the boy had just said.

And then the son asked his dad.

"Daddy, could you sell me one hour of your time?"

How much is your time worth? We say we need more time, but maybe what we really need is to find better ways to spend our time.

I need more time!!!

Time is a precious commodity, perhaps a priceless one. We get just 24 hours in each day and it is important how we choose to spend this commodity. How are you going to spend your journey, your daily portion?

I love the following piece I found a few years ago.

Imagine if you had a bank that credited your account each morning with £86,000 that carried over no balance from day to day...Allowed you to keep no cash in your account, and every evening cancelled whatever part of the amount you failed to use during the day, what would you do? Draw out every pound every day, of course, and use it to your advantage! Well, you have such a bank, and its name is TIME! Every morning it credits you with 86,400 seconds. Every night it rules off as lost whatever of this you failed to invest to good purpose. It carries over no balances, it allows no overdrafts. Each day it opens a new account with you. If you fail to use the day's deposits, the loss is yours. There is no going back. There is no drawing against tomorrow.

So how are you going to spend your daily portion, how are you going to live your journey?

Time truly is a precious commodity and how we use it maybe our only real freedom; How we live out our journey, our daily portion is our greatest freedom. Now of course we all have commitments, things that we have to do each day. That said we all still have so much time and I wonder how much of it we waste, worrying about the time left or with ill feeling about the time that has already gone and will not come back. How much of our day do we waste on either worry or resentment. Such feelings block us from experiencing the precious joy of the moment and none of us know just exactly how many of those we have left.

I need more time! Really is that true?

Now while each passing moment last as long as the next, it is not always experienced this way. I have noticed this powerfully these last few days. I have been living in thick time, some of it painful and some of joyful, all of it deep in emotion and experience.

I need more time! Really is that true?

Time is peculiar. Time can stop and time can fly by. The passing of time brings with it the experience of aging, if we are offered that privilege, but that same passing of time can also rejuvenate, if we spend it wisely. We can kill time, but in so doing we do not damage it, only ourselves. We can spend time until it runs but, but we can also invest in it, spend it wisely and in so doing receive a rich dividends.

One thing we humans do, whether religious or secular, is mark the passing of time. We say “It’s time for this and it’s time for that.” In so doing we mark a certain day and in so doing we separate what has been and what is yet to come. Our ancient ancestors looked into the night sky and observed that the celestial events above them kept on repeating themselves, but not in exactly the same way, at varying intervals, that today we call a day, or a month, or a year, and so on. Such time is a measured period that extends from one event until it is repeated again. This is linear time, the ancient Greeks called it “Chronos”.

We place such a high value on this kind time because we are given a limited supply of it. We cannot earn more of this kind of time. We mark off and we continue to mark off such time so that we could keep a track of its passing. Each morning, as the sun rises, we begin our journey, our daily portion, we begin a period of time called a day. The moon moves through a moonth or monthly cycle which lasts twenty nine and a half days. It’s the same with the passing spring equinox which follow a cycle of what we call a year, or actually 365 and a quarter days, which is why we have a leap year every fourth year. This is “Chronos” time

There is though another form time that we all experience, a time without measure. Such time is called eternity. Now the ancients believed that this is the time that God inhabits. As Peter wrote in his third letter “A thousand years is as a day to God and one day is as a thousand years.“ The Greeks called such time Kairos”. It cannot be measured in a linear sense and thus we often miss its value.

Kairos time is not limited, through we can indeed alter how we live out our time. We cannot lengthen such time but we can deepen or thicken the experience of this time, or more often than not it just happens to us. Kairos time is qualitative. It is measured by the depth of the moment and not the length how many seconds it lasts. It’s what Blake described as infinity in an hour. In such moments it feels like the whole world takes a breath; in such moments our whole lives can change and yet in terms of measured “chronos” time it lasted no longer than any other second.

I have been experiencing some deeply powerful, thick moments recently, time has felt like it has stood still. It has been deeply beautiful and sometimes painful too, you cannot have one without the other. Of course in reality each moment has been no longer than any other, but some just sink deeper. No matter what the clock keeps on ticking on.

This brings to my heart that wonderful poem by Wendell Berry, that describes the journey (the daily task) or more accurately the spiritual journey which is one of depth rather than distance. This is Kairos time which last no longer but is experienced in a much “thicker” sense. He wrote:

"A Spiritual Journey"

And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles,
no matter how long,
but only by a spiritual journey,
a journey of one inch,
very arduous and humbling and joyful,
by which we arrive at the ground at our feet,
and learn to be at home.

by Wendell Berry

I need more time!

You cannot lengthen time, we are finite creatures we humans. This is what makes our lives so precious, so valuable, so meaningful if we would but learn to deepen our time and thicken our experiences. But how do we do this. Well in many ways this is what I try to do each Sunday and in my other activities with the folk I serve, or through these devotions. I try to guide you into ways in which you can live your lives in deeper and more fulfilling ways.

I need more time!

We cannot really lengthen the time we have been given, the “Chronos” time. Well at least not beyond a few extra years. Instead of three score and ten, perhaps the norm is four score and ten now. We can though deepen and thicken this time, there is no limit to “Kairos” time. It does not operate in a linear sense, it has no limit, except our own imaginations and we will never reach the limits of these, well not in our lifetime.

The key it seems is not the length of time we have and or have left but what we do with the time. I invite you to make the most of it. To continue on journeying (joining in the daily task) in the ship of love that is life, to expand the limits of what we think we know, to not be held back by what we think we know. Let’s journey on enjoying ever more thickening time.

We need to stop crying out “I need more time!”

If we make good use of our time, the 86,400 seconds we have today, we will make an impact on every moment that follows into eternity. We have enough time to pause and contemplate the magnificence of life in its glorious ordinariness and we have time to listen to one another, to share deeply, to experience the depth and weight of each moment, the thickness of time.

May you spend your time wisely. The 86.400 seconds that is your daily portion, your beautiful journey.

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

Monday 4 July 2022

What's in a name?

An occasional visitor to the area asked me the other day “if I knew Cornelius?”. My answer was no I don’t know anyone by that name. He told me that Cornelius knew me really well. I wracked my brain, surely I would remember someone called Cornelius. He described him and where I knew him from, but still I could not place him. I began to wonder if I was losing my mind. The next day I was talking with the visitor again and Cornelius arrived, he introduced himself to folk, “hi my name is Bernard”. I have known Bernard for many years. Apparently, Cornelius is his middle name, but that was the part that the occasional visitor could remember, not his actual name.

It has had me chuckling to myself ever since, it also got me thinking.

What’s in a name? Names are important it seems. There is a power in naming people, places and things; a power that should never be under estimated. There is a power in naming anything, not just our personal names but our lives, who and what we are.

My older brother was named after our dad and his dad, our grandad. He was named Billy (short for William) at birth. I am told I was to be called David, although my paternal grandfather wanted to name me Harry after his beloved brother who had died as a young boy, my mum didn’t like the name though. We could have been William and Harry, I am glad we are not. In the end I was called Danny, because it went with Billy apparently and David didn’t. My full name is of course Daniel David, although I have never been called this, certainly never within the family. Interestingly my brother renamed himself some 20 odd years ago and is now called Otis Wolstenholme; Wolstenholme being my mum’s maiden name.

Many people do not go by the name on their birth certificates, not just musicians like our Otis. I remember many years ago attempting to visit Molly Clarke at Wythenshawe hospital and being told there was no one by that name there. I had to think quickly and remembered somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind that Molly was not Molly at all, but had another name. Sadly I couldn’t remember it. Her birth name was Enid Mary, she had though always been called Molly.

Naming can be a tricky business. Names describe things, but never fully a person or situation or thing. As Paul Tillich said, “That which reveals, also hides”. I suspect it is true with naming of things. As Justin Sullivan sang “Trouble always begins in the naming of things. Like Gods and desires, lines in the sand.” People change their names for a variety of reasons. Folk adopt stage names. Sometimes in naming things, we close and seal them. I have been known by other names like “Dan Denver” and even “Mr Jolly” (although in truth that was the name of the band, not me) a friend use to call me “Danny Darko”. In the Christian tradition people often take on conformation names. There are many other reasons too. Company’s, political parties, even places and sports teams change their names for a variety reasons, often in an attempt to rebrand something.

As Daniel C. Matt wrote in “God and the Big Bang”

“We need names to navigate through life, but those very names obscure the flowing continuum. Behind each handy name is a teeming reality that resists our neat definitions. If this is true of the names we assign to the hundreds of thousands of things of this world, how much more so with our names for God, for the Oneness of it all.”

It seems we are nothing without a name. Well actually not always it seems. Some of the most memorable characters in cinema history had no name. Such as Clint Eastwood’s character in the Serge Leone’s Spaghetti Western Trilogy, “The Man With No name”, or Sam Elliott’s character in “The Big Lebowski”, who was simply known as “The Stranger”, or Charlie Chaplin’s “The Little Tramp”, he had no name. Or “The Doctor” in Dr Who, Who is not the Dr’s name, Dr Who is the name of the series, he and now she is simply named “The Doctor”, the character though remains unnamed. Or “Fleabag”, in the series by Sophie Waller-Bridge who is not named, she is just known as “Fleabag”.

Most of us have a name though, we are known by our names. When we introduce ourselves we usually say, “hello my name is …” Our names are one way of connecting to others face to face.

We hopefully remember the persons name, although not always. I sometimes find myself wracking my brain trying to remember people’s names. I am not quite as bad as the guy who kept on referring to Bernard as Cornelius, but I am not great.

There can be other types of calling people by one word names that are less than connecting and inviting, they can be quite the opposite. I am not going to name such names here, but I am sure we can all think of some. They are often powerful words used to exclude people and make them feel somehow less than welcome. Such words deny the inherent worth and dignity of people, they reduce them to lesser people, or they try to. I am sure we can all recall such words and name calling.

Everything is know or named after something. Our congregation is a member of the General Assembly of Unitarian of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches. Now many ask “Unitarian! What is that?” Cliff Reid even wrote a marvellous book about it.

Unitarian originally meant “One God” as opposed to the three headed God of the Trinity in mainstream Christianity. These days most Unitarians are not overly concerned about this, the word Unitarian has lost its literal meaning for most of us. As historian Earl Morse Wilber explains: “The word Unitarian means freedom in religious belief and a trust that reason must guide our religious thought and action, and a conviction that tolerance, the cherishing of difference of opinion, is a good thing.”

The be Unitarian to me is about being open and accepting of difference, at its core is a sense of humility that keeps us open to new truths, each of us can only know so much, further understanding is aided by coming together and sharing, by so doing each of us gain so much. Tolerance and love though must also be guiding principles, as others may come to other conclusions and understandings and love, in its many forms is what finally holds us together. Actually I am not sure that tolerance is quite enough, I have come to believe that we need to celebrate difference and not just merely tolerate it.

So we name things, as we understand them, but this is often where the trouble begins, as the naming can create barriers that separate us from one another. This is particularly true when it comes to matters of faith and belief. Our Unitarian tradition gives us complete freedom here. So please remember that when I speak of God, I may not be speaking of the Divine in exactly the same way that you understand. God for me is a very open and inviting word.

I love the way that Forrest Church addressed this in “The Cathedral of the World: A Universalist Thelogy”

“God language can tie people into knots, of course. In part, that is because ‘God’ is not God's name. Referring to the highest power we can imagine, ‘God’ is our name for that which is greater than all and yet present in each. For some the highest imaginable power will be a petty and angry tribal baron ensconced high above the clouds on a golden throne, visiting punishment on all who don't believe in him. But for others, the highest power is love, goodness, justice, or the spirit of life itself. Each of us projects our limited experience on a cosmic screen in letters as big as our minds can fashion. For those whose vision is constricted (illiberal, narrow-minded people), this can have horrific consequences. But others respond to the munificence of creation with broad imagination and sympathy. Answering to the highest and best within and beyond themselves, they draw lessons and fathom meaning so redemptive that surely it touches the divine.”

It can be difficult to speak of the Divine in any sense that keeps us open, trouble always begins in the naming of things. This brings to mind good old Moses in Exodus. The book depicts him fleeing Egypt to escape the consequences of killing a slave driver. He takes up the quiet life of a shepherd. One day he finds himself alone in the mountains, when a bush burst into flames. A voice tells him to shake off his shoes for he stands on holy ground, he realises he is in the presence of God. God had seen the sufferings of the Israelites and told Moses to go to Egypt and plead with the Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. Moses wondered why the Israelites would follow him, of all people, and so he asked for a sign, a name that would give him credibility with them. God responded, “I AM WHO I AM.” Here God has no name.

We are known by our names, everything is known by its name, but here God has no name, like the mysterious stranger in “The Big Lebowski”. This God is beyond limit and definition, beyond being named, beyond our limited understanding. We cannot confine God by our limited minds.

We can though find ourselves in a holy place, on holy ground and thus know the presence of the divine love. How do we do this, by blessing life with our holy presence, by being open to all that life is. In so doing we will surely know the love that is divine. We will surely be known by our true names.

So, what’s in a name? Well maybe this is something to think about as we enjoy this summer. Why are you called by your name? What other names, nouns and pro-nouns describe who you are? What does it mean to you to be a member of this congregation? What does it mean in a wider context? How do you live out who and what you are? How can we live as if all ground was holy ground? How do we bless one another and life with our holy presence?

What’s in a name indeed.

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