Monday 31 October 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today is the 31st of October All Hallows Eve or Hallo’ween, Halloween. Tomorrow is All Saints Day or All Hallows Day which is followed on the 2nd November by All Souls Day, a time in the Christian Calendar to remember all souls who have departed this life.

Like other Christian festivals, including Christmas, Easter and Whitsuntide, these three autumn days are a fascinating mixture of pre-Christian, Christian and even post-Christian tradition and mythos. I am fairly certain that the children going door at Halloween are probably not aware that they have created a modern day variant on the pre-Christian festival of Samhain; a festival that not only celebrated harvest, but was also a time to commune with the spirits of ancestors. There are similar traditions throughout most culture's, autumnal and winter festivals. Autumn is a time of reflection, a time to take stock before the harsh realities of winter come.

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

Psalm 139:7-12

King James Version

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

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

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

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

Clarissa Pinkola Est├ęs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday 24 October 2022

Welcome to the House of Belonging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The House of Belonging” by David Whyte

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

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

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

Brene Brown has said

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They key is to cultivate the pleasure of belonging.

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

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

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

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

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

“For Belonging” by John O'Donohue

May you listen to your longing to be free.

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

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

May you find a harmony between your soul and

your life.

May the sanctuary of your soul never become haunted.

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

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

May you never place walls between the light and yourself.

May you allow the wild beauty of the invisible world

to gather you, mind you, and embrace you in


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

Monday 17 October 2022

Finding Your Voice in the Silence

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

“The Silence” by Wendell Berry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is it kind?

Is it true?

Is it necessary?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please find below a video devotion based

 on the material in this "blogspot"

Monday 3 October 2022

From Paralysing Worry to Creative Concern

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

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

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

“I Worried” by Mary Oliver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To quote David:

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry

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

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