Monday 28 November 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…We must become the light of the world…

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

…We can become the light of the world

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

Monday 7 November 2022

The Hidden Wholeness in Life's Incompleteness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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