Monday 24 April 2023

Salvation here and now: It’s not about being saved from life, but to be saved by life, in life, for life

I have a friend named Neil. We have known each other for twenty years now. I think it is fair to say when we first met we didn’t see eye to eye, we had lived very different lives. We got to know one another though because we suffered from a common problem. This though is not what led to us becoming friends. That just happened over time. We have been on a spiritual journey along side one another, some of that time we have been very close and others not so much, there have been many parallels and crossings over. We were members at Cross Street chapel together. These days Neil has returned to his Catholic faith; yes he is Catholic, but he is certainly one with an open mind, heart, spirit and soul.

I conducted Neil’s wedding to Rosemary at Dunham Road, I think it was the second wedding I ever conducted. I did not introduce them to each other, although I did meet her before he did. When I was a student minister at King Edward Street Chapel, the home of Macclesfield Unitarians, Rosemary was attending. They met not long after I left there and realised that they had a common acquaintance in me, it is a small world. Rosemary has her health troubles and Neil has been a loving and devoted husband throughout this time, she has even survived his terrible jokes and puns. Neil retired many years and since then returned to education, a few years ago he completed his History PHD on the Irish in Manchester.

Like I said earlier at different times Neil and I have drifted apart and then reconnected. We have reconnected in the last couple of years and he has been a good supportive friend to me, during a few personally difficult times. We see each other, along with other friends most Fridays. We met last Friday and he told me that he was meeting his brother a little later. This was wonderful to hear as I know that they had fallen out a few years ago, they had had their differences about life and the world, the kind of things that seem to cause so much division in society these days. Neil though wanted to make things right, his brother had been his best man at his wedding. So, Neil plucked up the courage to contact his brother’s son and offered the hand of friendship, between two brothers. That afternoon his brother Ged, had agreed to meet him.

A little later I saw them having coffee together. I cannot begin to tell you how much seeing the beaming smile of Ged’s face meant to me. It was so wonderful seeing two brothers reconciled with each other. Neil told me later “When I met him I hugged him and said ‘I love you Ged’. After that it was as it should be with brothers.” It touched my heart. I had already seen two men levelling their pride earlier that day and reconciling with one another and then there was Neil and Ged. If only the rest of the world could behave that way. One thing I am grateful for in life is that I have never fallen out with any of my siblings, nore they me, despite the many troubles and fallings out there have been and still are in our large and complicated family. This includes all the half siblings and step siblings and ex step siblings too. There have been tough times, but we have all vowed never to let these things destroy our relationships with each other. I hope we keep it that way.

Neil and Ged reminded of a verse from chapter 5 in Matthews Gospel, from the “Sermon on the Mount”, which for me is the essence of the teachings of Jesus, something regardless of whether you are a Christian or not seem as good a code as any to live by. I know that Gandhi, a Hindu, believed so. The verse is as follows:

23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25

It is no use proclaiming faith etc, showing your piety, if your human relationships are a mess. Unhealthy pride can be destructive in human relationships. So often it is the levelling of pride that leads to reconciliation. It takes faith and love and courage to build the bridges of reconciliation, it takes someone to make the first move to bring healing for their relationship but also the wider relationship. You see if two people are in conflict, it is not only those two individuals who are damaged by it, all who are connected to them are damaged too. Reconciliation can bring healing to so many. I see this every day, just as I see the damage done by disputes and resentment.

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. 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. 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.” I know how precious my relationship with others is to my well-being.

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 is we believe is at the core of all life, to truly become completely ourselves, to touch perfection. 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 me back to “The Sermon on the Mount”, this time verse 48 of the 5th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, the final verse of that chapter. “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 the purpose of spiritual community; this is the purpose of our free religious faith.

But how do we become whole, complete, perfect? How do we become at one with ourselves, one another, life, with God? Well it begins by being truly present in what we are doing; it begins by not being caught up in worry and fear, our own and others. It’s about not going into things hard, but rather by softly melting into what we are doing, by being who we are in what we are doing, by almost not focusing too hard, by looking through soft eyes. By being natural, who we are, by becoming what we are doing.

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 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, what we are doing here today. 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 them self. 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.”

This begins with reconciliation. By putting things right with our relationships with ourselves, our God, those important people in our lives, in our families and our communities and of course putting things right in our relationships with life.

This is salvation here and now. It’s not about being saved from life, but to be saved by life, in life, for life.

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

Monday 17 April 2023

I walk with beauty all around me

We walk in beauty every day, even when things seem ugly around us. The Navajo people have a prayer that recognise this. This a version I came across in recently, thank to Matthew Fox. He says it deserves to be sung daily by all persons:

"I walk with beauty before me
I walk with beauty behind me
I walk with beauty above me
I walk with beauty below me
I walk with beauty all around me
Your world is so beautiful, Oh God.

As is often the case I woke up on Monday morning feeling tired. It had been a busy week away at the annual meetings and of course the Easter weekend. I could see a busy week ahead. On top of that I was wondering what to explore this week. I was wandering around the gardens at the chapel with Molly. The sun had just come up and Molly was sniffing around before “Going to the toilet”. As I was standing around wondering how long she would sniff before she went, I looked up and noticed that the cherry blossom trees were in full bloom. They were a beautiful rich deep pink. As always they made me smile, they are so beautiful. Their beauty in many ways comes from how short lived their blooming is. In fact, the cherry blossom is probably at it’s most beautiful a week or so later as it has half fallen. When the chapel gardens will be filled with pink snow and half are still on the trees. Their beauty is in both their impermanence and imperfection. They are at their most beautiful when their season is half complete, or at least in the eye of this beholder. I wondered if it will last until the next full moon on 5th May. As I enjoyed the cherry blossom in full bloom I remembered something I once heard about beauty and imperfection. A friend said that they loved looking at the full moon on a clear night. Although they preferred a not quite perfectly clear night as the moon seemed to look even more beautiful when framed by a couple of clouds. I smiled as I remembered this and looked up at the cherry blossom and thought I will enjoy your impermanent and imperfect beauty while it lasts, I will let it fill my imperfect heart and will hopefully share it. I then went back into the house, Molly had finished enjoying the beauty of her nose. I replied to a few emails and then went out for a long walk and got on with my day. That day I walked in beauty. I noticed the beauty all around me. In the spring flowers, the daffodils and tulips, the cherry blossom, the dogs of the town and the people I met and talked with. I had some beautiful conversations last Monday. I walked and I talked in beauty.

It is important to recognise the beauty in the world, particularly in difficult times. There are many troubles that surround us, that weigh heavy on our hearts, but this is not all that is life. There is some much that is beautiful in this world, in this life, in each other and it is important to notice it and to share what you see. This is why I love poetry these days. I love the way that quality poets see what is beautiful, capture it with words and share in such a beautiful way that it awakens something in our hearts. I love the way William Stafford depicts that the world is more that the troubles we see, in the following poem; that there is a very real world of nature that stretches from the cells of all our bodies to all forms of life that surrounds us; that we are part of this incredible thing that is life.

“Time for Serenity, Anyone?” by William Stafford

I like to live in the sound of water,
in the feel of mountain air. A sharp
reminder hits me: this world still is alive;
it stretches out there shivering toward its own
creation, and I’m part of it. Even my breathing
enters into the elaborate give-and-take,
this bowing to sun and moon, day or night,
winter, summer, storm, still—this tranquil
chaos that seems to be going somewhere.
This wilderness with a great peacefulness in it.
This motionless turmoil, this everything dance.

As I continued to walk in beauty I kept taking in the natural world around. I was not ignoring the troubles that were also in my heart, or my work commitments, I was just remembering that “this world is still alive” and it was alive in me and I need to feel this aliveness, in order to live fully in this world. It is one way that I connect to the beautiful power that I call God, it is not the only way, but is one way. As I looked at the blooming flowers and the cherry blossom I was reminded of its impermanence, that it does not last for ever, but is part of the ever changing cycle of life and existence. Yes, this world can be difficult and painful at times, but that even these troubles do not last forever. I live in, by and through hope. I walk in hope as well as beauty. I know that the better world I dream of is possible, if I didn’t I wouldn’t be a minister of this faith. I may not always see the fruits, but I do from time to time. As I walked in beauty and hope I saw beauty and new life all around me. If lifted my heart and inspired my soul.

This seems to be the key of course, how beauty inspires us. What that is, is different for everyone. To walk in beauty is to be touched by beauty. To quote Matthew Fox: "I believe that beauty is better understood as an adjective than as a noun. Rather than pursuing the question, What is beauty? I believe it is more useful to ask the question, "What are beautiful experiences you have had? And how can we forge more beauty from our common sharing of this planet?”

To walk in beauty is to be touched and affected by it. Having been touched we touch in beauty in return and therefore contribute to the ongoing beautifying of the world. As we do hope lives and cynicism dies; as we do we walk in beauty.

Beauty of course is not perfect. Like the falling cherry blossom or the slightly covered full moon, on an almost clear sky. Perfection is not beautiful, despite our attempt to make it so. Beauty is the “dappled things.” Something Gerald Manley Hopkins captured so beautifully. Hopkins wrote in such beautiful language. Like the most beautiful writers he was even bold enough to create his own language at times. As Parker J Palmer has said “Some of his poems celebrate and give thanks for the beauty of the world — and they open my eyes to it, even when I do not understand his every word!”

I am not sure that beauty is meant to be understood, more enjoyed. In so doing you get to experience more deeply and then somehow begin to understand through experience.

Parker continues, when reflecting on the following poem by Hopkins “Pied Beauty”

“At a time when some are so threatened by diversity that they become fearful, hateful, and violent, what could be more important than giving thanks for “dappled things” — human as well as natural — and for the harmony and joy we feel when we learn to do the “dance of differences”?”

“Pied Beauty” by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

Well, I offer praise by walking in beauty and beauty walks in me.

Beauty is in imperfection. For the Japanese who worship the Cherry Blossom’s imperfect beauty, imperfection is often seen as the highest form of beauty. This is beautifully illustrated in the following story shared by psychoanalyst Kawai Hayao in “Dreams, Myths and Fairy Tales in Japan”

"There is a famous story about a Zen master who shows what beauty is for him. A young monk is sweeping a garden. He tries to do his best at the job. He cleans the garden perfectly so that no dust is left in it. Contrary to his expectation the old master is not happy about his work. The young monk thinks for a while and shakes a tree so that several dead leaves fall down here and there in the garden. The master smiles when he sees this.”

This is a beautiful example of the concept of “Wabi-Sabi” The simplest definition of wabi sabi is that it is a kind of beauty whose highest form is expressed through imperfection. This is why the cherry blossom is so loved. As it is at it most beautiful when it is just past its peak, when the petals begin to drip-drop onto the ground.

Beauty is imperfect and it is impermanent. You can not hold it, but you can walk in it. You can live by it, but you do need to recognise it, inhale it, embody it and share it. This is why I love Mary Oliver so much, even though she is sadly no longer with us. This does not mean we cannot share her beauty. I do constantly. I am going to end this address with a little bit of Mary, for if anyone walked in beauty, in a very real sense, it was she. She reminds me that if I look and listen all the time for whatever is beautiful in life, it will fill me with delight and it will instruct me in joy and acclamation, it will help me grow wise, and it will inspire me to walk in beauty.

Anyone can walk around pointing out what is wrong and ugly in the world; anyone can walk around pointing what is life denying. That is easy, it takes no effort. That said to become keenly and consistently aware of what is good, true and beautiful demands effort, consistent effort, it takes work. To do so we must open our hearts, our senses and our souls and we must keep them open. Sometimes all you have to do is look up at the blossom above you, or the little dog below you who is more interested is sniffing at things than going to the toilet. It worked for me early Monday morning, it inspired me to walk in beauty, to absorb it, to let it fill my soul and to share what it did to me.

When you recognise the beauty in life, you will recognise it in yourself and the people in this world. Yes there is much wrong in this world, but there is much that is right. If you recognise this you will walk in beauty.

I am going to end this morning with some Mary Oliver. Here is “Mindful”

“Mindful” by Mary Oliver

Every day
I see or hear
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for --
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world --
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant --
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these --
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean's shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

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

Saturday 8 April 2023

Easter: To look or not to look? To become the keeper of the secret or the discoverer of truth?

To look or not to look? To become the keeper of secrets or the discoverer of truths? To preserve our sight or to look and therefore choose life? Dilemma’s we face every day in our lives. How often do we look? How often do we refuse to look at life?

Often this is a decision we face many times each and every day. To look or not to look, to turn away not only from the darkness, but also the light? Just think about the last week of your life. How often have you looked when perhaps you shouldn’t have looked? How often have you stared for just a little too long? Also how often have you refused to look, when you really should have looked? How often have you turned away from life, because it seemed too much?

“To look or not to look? To become the keeper of the secret or the discover of truth?” to quote Mark Nepo when reflecting on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurdyce. He wrote:

“There is an ancient Greek myth that carries within it, like a message in a bottle, one of the most crucial struggles we face as living beings. It is the story of a gifted musician, Orpheus, whose Lover, Eurydice is taken by Hades, the god of the underworld. Orpheus is so grief-stricken that he travels to the land of the dead to plead with Hades to give Eurydice back. After a cold and deliberate consideration, Hades says, "You can have her. It will take you three days to bring her back to the land of the living. There is one condition. You must carry her and you must not look upon her face until you reach the light. If you do, she will return to me forever."

Unfortunately, unknown to Orpheus, Hades tells Eurydice the opposite, "He will carry you to the land of the living, and you must look upon him before you reach the light. If you do not, you will return to me forever." Their colossal struggle fails, and Eurydice is lost forever.

The struggle for us, though, is ongoing. For there is an Orpheus in each of us that believes, if I look, I will die. There is also a Eurydice in each of us that believes, if I don't look, I will die. And so, the great spiritual question, after "To be or not to be?" is to look or not to look. The personal balance we arrive at determines whether we make it out of hell or not.”

Isn’t this what was going through the hearts and minds of the followers of Jesus that Easter morning, according to the Gospel accounts, as they returned to the tomb that first Easter morning? Many wouldn’t go, for they could not bear what they might see. Isn’t this the story of those who found something in the tomb and those who saw nothing? Isn’t this the story of those who reacted faithfully and those who fled in fear? Isn’t this the story of those who looked and responded to the light and those who turned away? All very human responses to what they saw with the eyes, what they found in that empty tomb, well those who looked at least.

The account from John’s Gospel, revolves primarily around the experience of Mary Magdalene who rises before dawn on the third day to visit the tomb. She is a broken woman as her beloved teacher Jesus has died a horrible death. Due to the generosity of a wealthy man, he had been placed in a tomb, rather than a paupers grave. Mary is going to prepare Jesus body, following the teaching of her Jewish faith. When she arrives at the tomb, she sees that the stone blocking the entrance has already been rolled away and there is no body inside.

She enters broken, in despair, grieving for the loss of her beloved Jesus. Then suddenly out of the corner of her eye she catches something. She dares to look. The man asks “Why are you crying? Who are you looking for? She asks the man, thinking he may be a gardener "sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you've put him and I'll take care of it. I won't tell anyone. I'll just take his body and clean him up so he can rest in peace," At this moment the man calls out her name saying “Mary”. As she hears her name she sees that the man is Jesus. As he names her, she recognises him and calls him “Rabbi”, meaning “Teacher”.

What on earth does all this mean? How do we make sense of this? What about resurrection? What does this mean?

I for one find it impossible to believe in the literal bodily resurrection. That though does not mean I do not believe in a kind of spiritual resurrection, an awakening that can occur in our all too human finite lives. This I believe is what happens to Mary. When she heard her name called, suddenly her eyes were opened to a new reality, she began to see perhaps for the first time. In this moment, through finally seeing with her own eyes, she is called out from her blindness, caused by grief and despair. Her eyes are opened and she is able to see for the first time; in this moment she truly began to understand her purpose in life; on Easter morning her life began again. She experienced a spiritual resurrection.

Some that is open to all of us.

Easter is after all the day of new beginning. Easter calls us to open our eyes in a new way. To see not only what we expect to see, but something more, something new and unexpected. We need to look, to see, despite the pains and troubles of life and the temptation not to look. Look we must, we must always choose life, despite its very real troubles. We must awaken to life, to answer the call and to pour out the love we carry within us onto life.

Mary Magdalene is in utter despair, having lost her teacher, until she once again heard the voice of hope, born from that same place of total hopelessness. As she did she was able to see life through new eyes, new vision came and she was able to turn away from despair to hope. There in the tomb of despair, hope was born again. A new hope, a fresh hope, it was a moment of respair.

This is Easter for me, a story of hope for all of us, that whatever happens in our lives, if we keep on turning in faith, new vision will come, new hope will be born. We can give birth to respair, a new fresh hope. Easter time, in the midst of spring, truly is the turning season, it is the day of new beginnings. Easter teaches that we can begin again in love each and every day. This begins as we dare to look and see, in so doing we see new hope and by turning from whatever despair may keep us trapped in our empty tomb we are once again turned toward the light. We give birth to respair.

How we look at life and how we look at others is so important. How we respond to how we see matters too, everything matters every thought, every feeling, every action and every single look. It matters how we respond to what we see too. Do we turn away in fear or respond in love? Do we look or do we not look. There is much in this world that we may wish to avert our eyes from, but if we do we will also fail to see all that is wonderful and beautiful. For each act of violence there are 100 acts of love. Do we look with loving eyes or do we turn away into our own tombs of despair.

We need to look. We need to choose life, we need to become seekers of the truth and not keepers of the secret and we need to give our love away in our small, humble, human ways. The choice is our ours. “To look or not to look? To become the keeper of the secret or the discover of truth?”

Happy Easter. Let’s begin again in love.

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

Monday 3 April 2023

Follow your bliss, become the hero: A Palm Sunday reflection

“Palm Sunday” marks the beginning of “Holy Week”, regarded as the most important in the whole Christian calendar. Now some will say what do these events, that seem impossible to believe in, have to do with we who live 2,000 years later? What relevance do they have to we who live today? How can we possibly believe in them? Well, I would say there is so much here to teach us about human living, about spiritual living actually. There is more to the Easter mythos than the historical accuracy or inaccuracy of the Biblical accounts. In fact to get lost in the detail of what did or didn’t actually happen is to miss the whole point of the mythos. “Mythos” isn’t about whether something is true in a historical sense; “Mythos” is more about deeper universal truth; “Mythos” is more about the human condition regardless of time or place. Another way to think of “Mythos” is to see them as a metaphor. Here Joseph Campbell explains what is meant by myth or metaphor:

“Half the people in the world think that the metaphors of their religious traditions, for example, are facts. And the other half contends that they are not facts at all. As a result we have people who consider themselves believers because they accept metaphors as facts, and we have others who classify themselves as atheists because they think religious metaphors are lies”…

Joseph Campbell taught that mythos are metaphors for human life. That they are eternal and universal tales that can teach us about our lives right here right now. He believed that by understanding these mysteries we can begin to understand who we truly are and what life is all about.

With this in mind I can find so much in the “Holy Week” narrative that does speak to me, but then again there is much in other traditions, both ancient, modern and post-modern that speak to me too. I am a Universalist in every sense of the word. That said “Holy Week” compels me to look more deeply at Jesus, his teachings as well has his passion and death and how that can bring meaning to mine and I hope your lives.

Central to the “Mythos” is this concept of love incarnating in human form. Now it seems clear that this occurred in the life of Jesus as it is told in the Gospels. My main argument with traditional Christian orthodoxy is the view that this occurred only in one form and at one point in human history. This I find impossible to accept. I only have to look at my life and I know I have experienced this love in the lives of so many other people. I believe that we all have the capacity to become channels of the divine in this life. We can all incarnate love through our very being. We can all become the light of the world. Sadly, all too often we fail to do so; all too often we fall short and we betray one another. This aspect of our humanity becomes all too clear in the narrative of Holy week.

On Palm Sunday, the beginning of “Holy Week”, Jesus enters Jerusalem riding on the back of a humble donkey or Colt and is received by the crowds waving palm branches and shouting “Hosanna, hosanna in the highest heaven” The crowds welcome Jesus who they believe will save them. This though does not happen and just a few days later he is betrayed, rejected, brutalised and killed. The body is killed, the figure dies, but the love that is left behind lives on. It is this love that I believe is the true Easter mythos. A love that can live on and once again incarnate in the lives of all people. This is the universal mythos found in the “Holy Week” narrative.

There is though something more that is universal about the “Palm Sunday” and “Holy Week” narrative, than this concept of universal love. It is not just a mythos about Jesus, it is also about the crowd and all the people around him. People just like you and me. Just like them we can all get caught up in the crowd mentality can we not? We can all identify with the crowd despite the world in which we live being very different today. We share a common humanity with them. We are all formed from the same breath of life, we all have the Divine spark within us; well at least I believe that we do. We are not God’s though, although we can become the light of the world if and when we live in love. We are fully human just like those folk on the side of the street waving their palms grateful for any reason to celebrate, looking out for a hero to follow. People are always looking for something to celebrate, doesn’t seem to matter what this is. People looking for joy, looking for meaning, looking for a bliss to follow. People who just like us are prone to disappointment, who fail to live up to the very ideals they would like to strive for. People who fall short, get ill, and become bogged down in little and bigger things, finite human beings. People who are looking for hope, to lift them out of their suffering. People looking for someone or something to lead them to better things, to give them another chance to live better lives. People just like us who want to not only find, but also follow their bliss. People looking for a meaning to their lives. People looking out for a hero.

Jesus though is the central figure. It is he who is following his bliss continuing on what Campbell called his “Hero’s Journey”. A phrase inspired by James Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake”. The week begins with the triumphant entry, but soon turns into what Campbell has described as the stage known as “The Ordeal” There are many ways to describe this stage. It can be seen as a trial, a fire walk, an opportunity to choose between the transient things of this world and the lasting things of “heaven.” Perhaps our individual call to let go of the personal ego, with all of its mind-made facts and truths, and to grab hold of the Divine Nature that is the essence of each of us. Again, this is something we all face in life, if we remain open to it. We can all be the hero we have been waiting for, but still we are always holding out for another hero, someone to save us, or at least inspire us. It reminds me of a song from a film that I remember from my childhood.

I have a friend who in recent times has been catching up with a load of films from her childhood, films she hasn’t seen, she is a similar age to me. She had never seen “Ghostbusters” or “The Goonies” and a whole load of others. By the way classic stories of groups of people being called out on their heroic journeys.

One film she had seen though was “Footloose”. Does anyone remember it?

It is story of a streetwise teenager Ren (played by Kevin Bacon) who moves to a small town in middle America, what would be called Trump country these days. The town is dominated by a fundamentalist preacher who has banned all forms of modern music and dancing. The town is deeply repressed and are “Holding Out for a Hero”, to liberate them. In fact the title song, performed by Bonnie Tyler depicts this perfectly

Where have all the good men gone
And where are all the gods?
Where's the streetwise Hercules to fight the rising odds?
Isn't there a white knight upon a fiery steed?
Late at night I toss and I turn
And I dream of what I need

I need a hero
I'm holding out for a hero 'til the end of the night
He's gotta be strong
And he's gotta be fast
And he's gotta be fresh from the fight
I need a hero
I'm holding out for a hero 'til the morning light
He's gotta be sure
And it's gotta be soon
And he's gotta be larger than life!
Larger than life

So many folk are looking out for such a figure? Well, this is the mistake. Our real task is to be called out on our own journey and become the hero we have all been waiting for. We have to slay our own dragons and bring back the treasure for all to share, just like the Goonies and the Ghost Busters. We have to follow our own bliss. Yes, be inspired by the examples of others, but not await rescue like some princess from a fairy tale. There are no white knights coming. We must become the heroes we have all been waiting for. We must be called out to follow our own bliss.

The “Triumphant Entry”, The “Palm Sunday” narrative and the whole “Holy Week” Mythos, is an archetype of “Following your Bliss.”

But what does it mean to “follow your bliss”? Well according to Joseph Campbell it is a sacred call to action. It is a call from your soul to light the fire within you to do what destiny asks of you, to bring yourself fully to life and therefore to become a light in the lives of others. Following your bliss is about doing the things that bring meaning and fulfilment despite the troubles that may accompany it. It is about meaningful living despite the very real suffering present in all life. As Campbell says by following our bliss doors will open up for us where we could only see barriers before.

Following our bliss is about saying yes to this call and beginning our own heroic journey. In doing so synchronicity will seemingly be abound and luck will follow. By following our bliss we seemingly become guided by something more than ourselves. This is what Campbell observed and it has certainly been my experience, at least for the last 20 years.

Following our bliss though is not an easy ride, quite the opposite actually. Yes there maybe moments of triumphal entry when all are for us and no one seems to be against us, but there will also be moments of suffering and betrayal when everyone and everything seems to be against us. As Campbell observed that like all heroic journeys there are tests and trials along the way. There are monsters and dragons to slay on the journey although most of these are the ones we carry with us. It is our fear of the adventure that is our greatest enemy. It is this that stops us taking the first vital step.

Human history is littered with figures who have been drawn out of themselves, have followed their bliss and begun their adventure thus inspiring others to do likewise. Some have done this on a mass scale, figures like Nelson Mandela, and many others have done so on a much smaller, but no less important scale. All have had to face their trials and tribulation and all brought so much light to our world. They were not special people though, they were ordinary people just like you and me; ordinary people who followed their bliss. Ordinary people who found the courage to be all that they were born to be.

The journey, is arduous at times and filled with fear, betrayal and all kinds of ordeals, there will be temptation to turn away. The key to the journey is to continue on, despite the very real fear. Just as Jesus carried on despite all the fear and doubt and all the barriers that built up ahead of him. He followed his bliss, what he saw as his destiny and in that “courage to be” this lived on as an example to us all of what we can be if we follow our bliss. We can become the “light of the world”. The one’s we and our world have been waiting for. We don’t wait for a hero on a white horse to come and save us, we need to find the hero inside ourselves and go on our own courageous journeys.

So as we stand on threshold of Easter, in this early spring on the days of new beginnings. Let us do so in trust; let us trust in life. That despite the many struggles, sorrows and grief’s, that despite the suffering present daily in life we can know love, beauty and deep meaning if we would but only find the courage to be and “follow our bliss”

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