Monday 18 September 2023

“ Choose This Life: You Cannot Have Joy Without Suffering

Last Sunday 10th September I told the congregations I serve that it was exactly one year since I collected Molly. I had picked her as a kind of birthday present to myself. A friend had persuaded me to make the move, as I had been procrastinating. Bossy friends have their plusses. They are blessings and they are curses. This friend had gone the extra mile to persuade me to pick her, although truth be told she picked me. I had gone to collect one of her sisters, but Molly insisted I take her instead. She has been a wonderful blessing.

What I didn’t tell them last week is that it was the also the 1st anniversary of the death of our youngest cousin Cheryl. I had received the heartbreaking news just as I was about to set off to pick Molly up. So, I drove for 3 or more hours with tears streaming down my face. Composed myself and had a lovely hour with the puppies and then drove home with this little ball of fluff in a cage on my back seat crying all the way home. I didn’t cry on the way home, as I was more concerned with her tears. September 10th 2022 was definitely an example of the blessings and curses of choosing life, to misquote good old Moses.

This last year has been one packed with life. So much has happened. There has been some deep joys, but also many sufferings. We lost another cousin our Charlton and there have been many other family troubles, as well as those involving dear friends, and the communities I belong to. This is life, you cannot have joy without suffering.

It was my birthday on Thursday, I have received some lovely cards, gifts and blessings. Thank you. As I thought of the last year I was reminded of a visit to my grandad, just two years before he died. It was his 89th birthday. It was always such a joy to sit with him, I always felt safe and dearly loved. He talked about how we can never predict the future. How as a young man he and his best friend Percy had gone to sea together, to serve in the war. My granddad came back, but Percy did not. They both chose that same path, not that they had too much say in it, but only one of them carried on through this physical journey. My granddad lived a long life and experienced so much. He respected the privilege and opportunity that his life had been, something denied to so many others. I know that every night before he went to bed, he would pray and vow to live two lives, his and Percy’s. My grandad never talked about his personal beliefs, they were private, but he clearly had a faith. Life truly is the greatest gift of all, it is the ultimate grace. It is a privilege that we did nothing to deserve.

Do we always make the most of it. How often do we turn from life?

Of course “Choosing Life”, means all of life. We cannot negotiate with reality. In my view we don’t get to choose the life that happens to us, but we can respond to what happens to us, to paraphrase Viktor Frankl, this is the ultimate freedom. To choose life of course it to choose the journey, the whole journey, to continue on and on.

This brings to my mind the journey that the Israelites took to the Promised Land. It also brings to mind Moses final birthday, his 120th and the sermon he delivered that day, just as they were about to step out of the wilderness after 40 years. God had just informed him that he would not enter the Promised Land with the people he had led out of exile.

As they reach the Promised Land the people gathered to receive Moses’ final blessing. And what does he say? (Deutronomy Ch 30 v 19) This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” He tells them that they must “choose life.” Of course choosing life means all life, not just the bits you want. It also means you don’t get to choose what happens, but you must learn to not only accept, but love the life you have been gifted.

Life and death, blessings and curses. Monday was certainly one of those days. Two friends had sadly just lost their dad’s, we had the sad news of dear Penny Johnsons death and another friend whose lovely pet dog was in a critical condition. Not the day I expected to wake up to. This is the life I have chosen and people come to me, because this is my life. I also witnessed something beautiful whilst out in the park. A couple with two French bulldogs.I have seen them several times over the past few months. One is transported round in a dog pram. It has none functioning back legs. These last few months they have been working, lovingly and caringly getting this dog to walk again. Well, this week I saw them with both dogs, one being led around by a giant ball. It is walking again. It is inspirational to see how they have used their time, their lives in dedication and love. This to me is a beautiful example of choosing life. Something else I have witnessed in friends who have lost their dads and how they are there for their loved ones. This is not always easy when consumed by grief.

Choosing life and journeying is not a straight line. The ancient Israelites didn’t travel in a straight line. Their journey should have taken 6 months not 40 years. Life is not a straight line and time is not experienced exactly in a linear fashion.

The forty years wandering is purely symbolic. Time is not chronological as we experience day by day, not in this kind of mythos. It is not Chronos time, more Kairos time. Chronos time moves on day by day. The last 365 days so much has happened in my life, for good and for bad. It has certainly been “thick time” or what the ancients names Kairos time. Kairos time is not limited, through it we can indeed alter how we live out our time. We cannot lengthen such time but we can deepen or thicken the experience of this time. Kairos time is qualitative. It is measured by the depth of the moment and not the length, how many seconds it lasts. It’s what Blake described as infinity in an hour. In such moments it feels like the whole world takes a breath; in such moments our whole lives can change and yet in terms of measured “chronos” time it lasted no longer than any other second. This last 12 months I have experienced many such moments, These are the blessings and curses of choosing life.

As I mentioned earlier it was my birthday this week. I have received so many gifts and cards and greetings from people who mean so much to me and of course who I mean so much to. The wonderful thing about birthdays is that they allow us to celebrate the people in our lives. I love to sing happy birthday to people, it is one of my greatest pleasures. My brother Otis even attempted an impression of me. It was a good effort. It lacked the vibrato and a little in the bottom notes. It was wonderful to receive. As Henri Nouwen said: “We should never forget our birthdays or the birthdays of those who are close to us. Birthdays keep us childlike. They remind us that what is important is not what we do or accomplish, not what we have or who we know, but that we are, here and now. On birthdays let us be grateful for the gift of life.”

Each moment, each day is always the birth of new life.

This weekend marks the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah. The 10 days of Awe begins from sunset on Friday 15 September. This continues until the end of Yom Kippur at sunset on Monday 25th. This is The Day of Atonement, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.

According to Jewish tradition, God inscribes each person's fate for the coming year into the Book of Life on Rosh Hashanah and waits until Yom Kippur to "seal" the verdict. During the Days of Awe, a Jewish person tries to amend their behaviour and seek forgiveness for wrongs done against God and against other human beings. The evening and day of Yom Kippur are set aside for public and private petitions and confessions of guilt. At the end of Yom Kippur, one considers oneself absolved by God and therefore can then be placed in the book of life for another year.

What is significant about this concept of atonement for me is that the wrong doer must first of all seek forgiveness from those they have wronged before they then turn to God and ask that they be returned to the book of life. Only after the transgressor has been forgiven by the transgressed can God’s forgiveness be obtained. It’s about being in right relationship with the world and humanity, before God.

As I look back at a year of changes, of the blessings and curses and living life. I see how much I have experienced. I can also see how much I could do better, especially in my relationships with those in my life. I want to live better with others. I want to live more effectively in this world.

This brings to mind this fascinating poem “The Birthday of the World” by Marge Piercy

“The Birthday of the World” by Marge Piercy

On the birthday of the world
I begin to contemplate
what I have done and left
undone, but this year
not so much rebuilding

of my perennially damaged
psyche, shoring up eroding
friendships, digging out
stumps of old resentments
that refuse to rot on their own.

No, this year I want to call
myself to task for what
I have done and not done
for peace. How much have
I dared in opposition?

How much have I put
on the line for freedom?
For mine and others?
As these freedoms are pared,
sliced and diced, where

have I spoken out? Who
have I tried to move? In
this holy season, I stand
self-convicted of sloth
in a time when lies choke

the mind and rhetoric
bends reason to slithering
choking pythons. Here
I stand before the gates
opening, the fire dazzling

my eyes, and as I approach
what judges me, I judge
myself. Give me weapons
of minute destruction. Let
my words turn into sparks.

I’m with Marge, “give me weapons of minute destruction. Let my words turn into sparks.” As I mark the passing year I wonder how I can journey on in better ways. Maybe this is something we can all think about as we continue on, reflecting as those of the Jewish faith will do in the coming days. What do we need to do to improve our relationships. What loose ends need tying up? What regrets are we living with? No one knows where the journey will lead, no one knows when it will end. We have before us life, it will be a mixture of blessings and curses. We are stepping forward into a new adventure with Janine, as she begins her own journey of ministry training. May our time together be fruitful. I am sure we and she will gain so much from the experience. So lets move forward in faith and hope and above all love. Before us is life, blessings and curses, let us choose life.

I would like to end this morning’s worship with some words by Wendell Berry

The Larger Circle, by Wendell Berry

We clasp the hands of those that go before us,
And the hands of those who come after us.
We enter the little circle of each other’s arms
And the larger circle of lovers,
Whose hands are joined in a dance
And the larger circle of all creatures
Passing in and out of life
Who move also in a dance
to a music so subtle and vast that no ear hears it
Except in fragments.

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

Monday 11 September 2023

Words Matter: They Can Create or Destroy Life

I am sure we have all said something we have instantly regretted. I have several times in the last couple of weeks. I have not always practised restraint of pen and tongue; a phrase that needs to be extended in our current age to include finger and thumb. How often have we regretted something we have posted on social media and through text message. Usually, people are understanding enough and forgive, but not always, sometimes it can take some time. I recently met someone who fell out with me many years, due to some careless words I said. For several years they were quite frosty towards me when me met in public, well this it seems is no longer the case, thank God. All was well and we got on really well the last time we met.

Careless words have been on my mind recently. Mainly because I have been pulled up by people on several occasions, due to something I have said in person or on social media. Interestingly the very things I have said that I have questioned about have had mainly positive responses, but one or two people were hurt or confused. It happened at Summer School. I listened of course intently to the person who felt hurt and took on board what they said. It also happened last week about something I said in response to a friends comment and something I posted on social media. Again, I listened and took on board what was said. I apologised for the hurt caused and reflected on what I said, or what was understood by what I said. I know last week I was affected by the funerals of two friends as well as some family situations and I wasn’t at my best, this obviously came out in my interactions with others. I hope I have learnt from this. Thankfully people understand and most importantly love me enough to say something; thankfully I am able to listen.

Mostly I practise restraint of pen, tongue, fingers and thumb these days. When I fail to do so I tend not to get too defensive and can admit so and do what I can to put things right. This, I have come to believe, is a sign of spiritual maturity. The spiritual immature cannot admit fault, they cannot appear weak, and they cannot lose face. We see examples of this constantly. It would appear that public figures these days see it as a sign of weakness and usually look for someone else to blame.

We live in a world today where we are constantly bombarded by all kinds of opinion, from many sources of media. It comes at us from all directions. Not just the radio, television and press, but many forms of social media too. That said not only are we bombarded by news outlets but also a million and one opinions. I think we could all do well to practice restraint of pen and tongue and fingers and thumb.

It matters what we say and how we say it. I have experienced some lovely examples of kind words both spoken and responded to, this last week. I saw one on Monday on social media. A friend posted on a local Facebook page, that she had been to Altrincham that day and had lost her favourite cardigan, it obviously means a lot to her. There were some lovely responses by people in the area. It wasn’t just kindness offered though. The cardigan was found and on Tuesday morning she picked it up from the portable coffee shop situated just below the market. It certainly made my friends day and in many ways inspired this service, it planted a seed in my mind. It was a lovely example of gossip in its most positive incarnation. Word of my friends loss spread and people responded to this. It was lovely to see the positive energy that spread from this.

I have heard several eulogies this last few days. Difficult ones to write and deliver as there was a lot of emotion at the funerals. The eulogies were beautiful though, as it should be. Afterall eulogy means offering words of high praise for the deceased.

I was offered some rather lovely words of kindness from friends and from the dog groomer on Tuesday. Molly had got into a bit of mess. It had happened while I was away. It was so bad that she had to have all her beautiful coat shaved off. The groomer could see how upset with myself and disappointed I was. Now while offering advice she did so in a kind and supportive way, as did many friends. Molly didn’t seem to mind, as she had a lovely time in the park.

The words we speak and how we speak them or post them on social media can be very powerful. The old cliché 'Sticks and stones may break my bones but names (words) will never hurt me.' Is an utter nonsense. The words we speak whether from our mouths or through social media can have a powerful impact. That said it is not just what is said that matters but how and in what spirit. I have come to believe that the words we speak are actually expressions of our spirit and where we are spiritually. They express whether we are part of the creation or the destruction of life. Words do become flesh and they do dwell amongst us.

Yehuda Berg an author on the Kabbalah a mystical form of Judaism said:

“Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.”

Words are very powerful, what we say and how we say them have power. We affect people and life just as we affect ourselves with our words. So are we speaking creatively or destructively? Or has Proverbs 18 v 12 put it (written words I know) “Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

Gary Chapman in his book, “Love as a Way of Life” uses a similar metaphor for words as being either ‘bullets or seeds’. When we use words as bullets or like sword thrusts we are playing a part in the destruction of life, we are building barriers of separation and or exclusion; where as if we speak from wisdom and love we become part of the creative process we are part of the love becoming flesh, we are building bridges of healing and restoration and holding out our hands in an inclusive and embracing way.

Be careful what you say and how you say it, in what spirit, for what you say and how you say it, will play a part in the creation or the destruction of life. It matters what you say and in what spirit you say it.

It matters how we speak about others and how we listen to what others say to us about people. Malicious gossip can be very destructive. That said sharing concern for others and singing their praises can add to the loving creation. My friends experience with her lost cardigan is wonderful example of healthy gossip, both in the sharing of the loss, but also the celebration in it being found. We need to spread more good news and not just the bad.

I recently spent a bit of time with family members. Gosh I wish I had more time for this. Family is a place for “gossip”. We connect by telling our stories of each other, keeping up to date with varied members. The stories are not just of the past, but also of the present. Family members gossip about each other. Now such “gossiping” can be hurtful and diminishing, I am sure all have bad experiences of this from our lives. That said healthy gossip is shared too. Now this is closer to “gossip” in its original meaning. The word “gossip” is derived from words for God and sibling. It originally meant “akin to God”. The word originally described a person you were connected to in spiritual kinship, either a sponsor or God parent. So when we share such stories we are connecting people together in shared concern. Sadly, gossip these days almost means the exact opposite to its original meaning. It seems more to be akin to separation than connection.

I think this applies to all speech, that they should be a part of the connection and shared concern and not separation and destruction.

How we speak about one another and to one another is so very important. Are we a part of the creation or destruction of life? This is why “Right Speech” is central to both Christian and Buddhist morality.

“Samma Vaca” is the third aspect of “The Noble Eightfold Path”, in Buddhism. It is basically abstinence from malicious gossip, slander, lying and hate speech. So to speak wisely or rightly is to do so truthfully with kindness, purpose and meaning.

There are many passage in both the Old and New Testament that refer to “Right Speech. Many preachers in the Christian tradition will offer the following words from Psalm 19 before preaching a sermon “Let the words of my mouth and meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O God. In the New Testament the book of James, which we heard from earlier, makes reference to how a person should use their mouth “With it we bless God, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.”

The Sufi, Christian and Buddhist traditions as well as other ancient and contemporary ones are saying similar things about how we ought to conduct ourselves with our brothers and sisters. They are saying how damaging wrong speech can be to both our neighbours and ourselves, you sense the essence of the “Golden Rule of Compassion” running through them all and teachings about right speech.

How we communicate is so important. We may not have control over what goes on in the world all around us, but how we act towards others really matters. We need to be mindful in how we speak because what we say and do and what we do not say and do not do has an impact on all around us. As the old saying goes, if you haven’t got anything good to say then its best to probably keep your mouth shut.

Words have the power to cause the utmost damage. That said they also have the power to heal. A word rightly spoken can also heal deep wounds, reconcile former enemies and save countless souls. It is amazing how a few words of kindness can lead to a tidal wave of love, another example of that chaos theory of compassion. I have seen it several time in the last few days in my little world.

The key is to give words their proper respect. They say a person ought to be judged by their deeds and not their words, but I see words as deeds myself. The action of our pens, tongues, fingers and thumbs can have a powerful and lasting impact on those we come into contact with, they can be a part of the creation or the destruction of life.

Everything matters, every thought, every feeling, every action and every word spoken, typed or written. What we say and how we say it is not the only power at work, of course not, but never ever let anyone tell you it does not matter. You have no idea the power that you are involved in with the words you speak. Your very next sentence maybe the beginning of something beautiful in the life of another, it may well play a part in changing or giving life to someone. Or on the other hand it may aid in their destruction.

So choose your words carefully, ensure they are spoken in the spirit of love as part of the creation and not the destruction of life.

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


Monday 4 September 2023

The spiritual life: It’s an imperfect ‘I-Thou’ relationship

I recently spent a week at Great Hucklow, participating in ‘Summer School’. The title for this year was ‘Real Life: Telling the Truth of Our Lived Experience’. It is the first in person Summer School that has been held, since the pandemic. I along with Rev Laura Dobson led an engagement group titled “A Life Less Ordinary”. A group exploring our experiences both of the ordinary material life and that that could described as beyond that. It was a fascinating journey. Laura and myself are very different people, but I feel that we complimented one another. During the week Louise Baumberg led a series of talks, which touched on theme of listening to the stories of others, especially the more marginalised. How vital it is that we see one another as fellow humans, how all life and one another are sacred. Exploring ways to live on a relational level with one another and all life. Her talks were challenging and she was unafraid to explore difficult themes. It was a great week; a week of what I would describe as spiritual intimacy. I feel I engaged with many folk in a way that is rare in life. I hope I can better carry these experiences into my life and ministry.

It is no easy task to engage with other people in a truly relational way. We all have our own quirks and peculiarities. On a wider scale so many of our troubles have been caused by not seeing other people as our brothers and sisters, that we share a common humanity. I suspect that this is the root cause of human barbarity. It still goes on today sadly. There are people close to home and other lands that are somehow seen as other. No one is immune from this by the way, including myself. An incident in the park this week as highlighted that for me.

Now while we share a common humanity, we are also unique. No two people are exactly alike and it is important to honour and celebrate this human diversity. None of us can do this perfectly, but we can aspire to it. The key is good will and intent, but also to accept that no one in life is perfect. Nothing in life is perfect.

One of the great plagues of humanity is perfectionism, in seeking perfection both within ourselves and others. How many times I wonder have I rejected either myself, others, or life itself because it did not offer perfection? How many times have I noticed others doing the same? It is a lot easier to see in others by the way than in myself.

Nothing in life is perfect, it is always imperfect. I am pretty much convinced that this is how it ought to be. Yes it is important to strive for improvement, but perfectionism can be deeply destructive.

Now imperfection is one of those interesting words that doesn’t mean exactly what it always meant. When today we say that something is imperfect we are usually making a judgement about something suggesting that there is something wrong with it. In so doing we are making an error. Imperfection comes from the Latin “imperfectus” which actually meant incomplete.

So when we say that we are imperfect, that others are imperfect, that life itself is imperfect we are correct, in the sense that nothing is ever complete.

The mistake we have made is that in saying that someone or something is imperfect we have suggested that they or it is somehow wrong, when in fact we couldn’t be more wrong. Imperfection itself is what makes life what it is, it is the fuel and energy of life as it is through imperfection that the energy to create relationship is fuelled.

Imperfection, incompleteness is the energy of life.

This brings to mind that rather lovely poem by Harold Kushner “Jigsaw”

There must have been a time when you entered a room and met someone and after a while you understood that unknown to either of you there was a reason you had met. You had changed the other and he had changed you. By some word or deed or just by your presence the errand had been completed. Then perhaps you were a little bewildered or humbled and grateful. And it was over.

Each lifetime is the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
For some there are more pieces.
For others the puzzle is more difficult to assemble.
Some seem to be born with a nearly completed puzzle.
And so it goes.
Souls going this way and that.
Trying to assemble the myriad parts.

But know this. No one has within themselves
All the pieces to their puzzle.
Like before the days when they used to seal
jigsaw puzzles in cellophane. Insuring that
All the pieces were there.

Everyone carries with them at least one and probably
Many pieces to someone else's puzzle.
Sometimes they know it.
Sometimes they don't.

And when you present your piece
Which is worthless to you,
To another, whether you know it or not,
Whether they know it or not,
You are a messenger from the Most High

I love the way Kushner explains why we are incomplete. That it is through our incompleteness that we draw closer together. This is so true we are relational beings. We do not live in separation and we do not live separate lives. We are constantly seeking unity, to be yoked beyond ourselves. The word “Yoga” actually means to join, to unite. It seems to me that all the great spiritual traditions, eastern and western, are in their own way pointing to this. That the spiritual life cannot exist in isolation. That in actual fact to live spiritually is to live in relation. That there is a yearning within us all to find that missing piece. In so attempting to do so, by the way, we enable others to do the same.

When we come together in love, we create the love we have all be searching for.

This brings to mind an extract from "Radical Hospitality: Benedict's Way of Love": By Father Daniel Homan and Lonni Collins Pratt. It is from the Chapter "Hospitality begins inside." (pg 33-34)

They wrote:

" We are caught up in what is probably the most immature attempt at spirituality humanity has ever seen. It is tragically and poignantly adolescent, with the deep emotion and angst that goes with adolescence. It is a spirituality that seeks improvement for life - a better me, a better relationship - but it does not seek God and it does not move us towards others. It just keeps us running on the treadmill of our little egocentric worlds.

We are accustomed to easy answers. Hospitality is not an easy answer. It requires that we take a chance and we change. It requires us to grow. The moment we engage with another person everything gets messy. Our time becomes not quite our own; we can count on others interrupting us. We become subject to a whole hoard of emotional dangers.

Because hospitality always involves giving something of ourselves to others, it is a spiritual practice. Spirituality is about relationship. When you and I become confused about the meaning of spirituality, remembering that spirituality is about relationship will bring us back to the basics. Relationships."

One of my great frustrations with some aspects of contemporary spirituality is that it does not seem to be about relationships at all. It seems to be all about the self, almost about protecting the self, from the so called “messiness” of living. Maybe that’s why it can seem so appealing. The truth is of course that all we ever achieve in blocking ourselves off from the messiness, from circling our spiritual wagons, is increase the loneliness and the emptiness.

The spiritual life is about relationship. We need to be in what I have often heard called right relationship, with ourselves, with others and with whatever it is we believe connects all of life, what is often called the Divine, to live spiritually alive.

I can usually get a good measure as to where I am at spiritually by simply checking where I am at relationally with myself, with others and with God, they are all interconnected and inter related. Do I see myself in others and do I see others in myself. My week at Summer School brought these feelings to my heart and mind, as have my interactions this week.

During the week of theme talks Louise Baumberg made reference to Martin Buber and his book “I-Thou”, first published in 1923 and translated from German into English in 1937. Buber taught that the most important moments in all of life are the moments we meet and communicate deeply with one another. He called these I-Thou moments; he taught that everything really good in human life, such as love, learning, the feeling of being appreciated, knowing that someone really cares for us, comes from these moments of meeting. This to me is the essence of the spiritual life, of living spiritually alive. Buber suggested that we have two basic orientations toward the world. I-it and I-thou. I-it is the way we relate to an object or thing that we experience. Something that is separate from us, that we use or don’t use; something that we see from a distance. These are empty relationships that have no spiritual charge. Buber labelled I-Thou encounters as genuine engagements with others. In such encounters we drop our defenses and open our whole being to their whole being. In so doing we recognize their inherent worth and dignity. To Buber, this authentic relationship is where meaning is found. He wrote, “When I encounter a …being as my Thou and speak the basic word I-Thou to him, then he is no thing among things nor does he consist of things. He is no longer He or She, a dot in the world grid of space and time, nor a condition to be experienced and described, a loose bundle of named qualities. Neighbourless and seamless, he is Thou and fills the firmament.”

When we see each other first and foremost as thou and do not objectify we bring that kin-dom of love alive, right here right now. In that space in that relationship is the love I call God alive. This is the spiritual life, it’s all about relationships.

There is one community that I have in the last 12 months become a member of that seems very much about I-thou, rather than how-it relationships. This is the community of dog owners and walkers. It is a community like no other except perhaps parent and infant communities. There is a special kind of intimacy that goes on between us. I collected Molly almost exactly a year ago. She has made an incredible difference to my life. Not only our relationship, but in those I have with folk in the wider community. She has enabled me to get closer to folk and folk get closer to me. I may not know details of people’s lives, but I do of their dogs and she has allowed people to approach and talk to me more frequently in the street. It is a lovely example of intimate relationships, rather than transactional ones. These are I-thou encounters, not I-it. They are not perfect though and mirror the difficulties and messiness of all other interactions.

Of course often in life we do not engage with others as we would always like. I know when I am tired or stressed or caught up in grief I do not interact with people as I would like. I am certainly not a perfect pastoral minister. Buber often spoke of a tragic incident that shaped his life. While still in his twenties, Buber was at home working on a scholarly manuscript when there was a knock on the door. The visitor seemed somewhat distraught, and Buber, sympathetic to the man but anxious to return to his work, answered the man's questions briefly, but, as Buber later expressed it, "I did not answer the questions that he did not ask." Buber subsequently learned that, just a few days after their brief encounter, the man died, an apparent suicide. From then on, Buber concluded, encounters with people must take precedence even over scholarship and mystical speculation.

I am sure we can all remember moments in our lives when we could have related to other people better, when we could have recognised their shared humanity better. I know I have. I have sadly attended the funeral of two friends this week, who died in tragic circumstances. They services were beautiful and so many friends and people who cared for them were present. That said I left both services with an overwhelming sense of sadness and some guilt. I wondered if I could have done more to help them. This is not the first time I have wondered this both with friends and family. Could I or others have made a difference, it is hard to know. It has certainly weighed heavy in my heart these last few days.

The week at summer school and recent events have certainly given me pause. Led me to consider how better I can relate to others and meet them where they are, recognising their sacred uniqueness. To build better relationships with others, myself, life and God, for this is the essence of the spiritual life. Whilst also remembering that I cannot do so perfectly, no one can. In many ways it is the imperfect aspects of ourselves that help us come closer together, to build relationships

It's all about relationships. This is the spiritual life in its entirety. To see the holy in each other, to bring about holy encounters. This is the kin-dom of love right here right now. It is about seeing ourselves in the other and the other in ourselves. This is not easy. None of us can achieve it perfectly. The key is to attempt, to make a beginning, to move toward a completeness, to love one another and to love life, to move toward the creation of the kin-dom of love. It has to begin somewhere, so let it begin here right here, right now.

So let’s bless one another with our beautiful and imperfect presence.

It begins with our next imperfect encounter with one another and with life. It begins when we see the I in thou, in me in you and you in me.

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