Monday 15 April 2024

Do unto future generations as we would have had past generations do unto us: How to become good ancestors

I enjoyed my time at the minister’s conference and Annual General Meetings. I came back inspired and uplifted and hope for the future of what Unitarian ministry might become.

As I had set off to the annual meetings I noticed that the cherry blossom trees were close to flowering. I was only gone 5 days and yet when I returned I was greeted by them in full bloom. What a beautiful sight to behold. Now I know that they do not last and no doubt if they were always there they would lose some of their beauty. That said while they are around they touch my heart. I love to share pictures of them with friends and encourage them to do like wise. It is a lovely game and I find it beautifully connective. A friend even sent me a video of him in Japan surrounded by falling cherry blossom. In Japan cherry blossom is worshipped.

While I was away another friend came and planted Sunflowers in the chapel garden. He has done so every year, ever since Covid. You may remember me telling you this story last year. He plants in remembrance of his father who died from Covid, right at the beginning of the pandemic, four years ago. He plants the flowers on the anniversary of his dad’s death. His father loved gardening and my friend Rob has now become a keen gardener. He also tends to his father’s grave lovingly almost daily. It is as beautiful a grave as you will see at Southern Cemetery. He told me he was flying out to Zambia with his partner, the home of his father. Since his father died he has felt a deeper connection to his ancestors, whilst also taking a greater responsibility for those that follow. Like his dad he wants to be remembered as a good ancestor, to carry on the legacy of his father for future generations.

I have been thinking a lot about ancestors of late. I even did an ancestry test, inspired by friends who want to find out who their father’s are. Now I have no doubt who mine is. I saw clearly on an old video. I sound just like him and look a lot like him too. I have many of his features, as I also have some from the maternal side of the family. I can see myself in my mum and my maternal grandad. There are other legacies too. I carry these people in me as I do from past generations. My mum is an expert in genealogy and loves to help people research their family history.

So many people have a fascination with the past. I do wonder though why we don’t have the same emotional attachment to those who will follow, those who will look at us. We will be good ancestors to them?

Now the modern gurus tell us we should not focus too much on the past and certainly not the future, that only the “Now” really exists. I have noticed that an over obsession with the now can lead to certain level of self centredness, self focus. I have discovered that it’s not just about living in the moment, but how we live in the time and space we find ourselves and to truly see that this time and space is connected to all that has ever been and will ever be. That we and the way we inhabit time and space really does matter, for it affects everything. It’s not that we live passively in the moment, but bring it to life, and thus create a legacy for all that follows. We need to bring the moments we live alive.

Our ancestors are alive in us, still speaking to us as we live. They left their mark. Our task is to become good ancestors, it matters, the mark we leave for it will impact on those who follow. It matters how we live now, a moment in the history of life. A vital part in the chain of existence.

At the recent “General Assembly Annual Meetings the key note speech, the John Reilley Beard lecture was delivered by Roman Krznaric, an author and speaker, what you might call a modern day public philosopher. He is the author of, amongst other books, of “The Good Ancestor”. His talk was on this subject.

His book “The Good Ancestor” is a critique of short term thinking and the problems caused by only thinking about our immediate time and place. This is the case on a personal level, but also in the public sphere. He suggests that our attention spans are shrinking at exactly the moment in world history when our actions and decisions will have the most profound imaginable impacts on future generations of people and potentially all of life on earth. This is not good, to vastly understate the situation. We are like people who are eating seeds that we should be planting, not because we are starving but because we are bored, anxious, and utterly addicted to instant gratification. We want what we want and we want it now, patience is a virtue that has gone the way of the Dodo. Our obsession with our time and place has fed our self centredness and shrunk our lives.

Krznaric suggests that our troubles both personal and collective are due to short time thinking; that we need to be guided into long-term thinking; that our time horizon needs to be lengthened. That we need to be thinking about the consequences not only within our lifetimes or our children’s lifetimes, but centuries out. This is the call that is issued by the Seventh Generation principle, a philosophy developed by the Iroquois people that says decisions we make today should be beneficial and sustainable for seven generations. The way Roman Krznaric puts it is that we need a modified Golden Rule: “Do unto future generations as you would have had past generations do unto you.”

This is perfectly exemplified in the question that he puts to the world, a provocative quote from the immunologist, Jonas Salk, inventor of the vaccine for polio. “The most important question we must ask ourselves is, ‘Are we being good ancestors?’”

Roman believes that we can return to “Long Term” living, that it requires a change of mindset, saying we once did. Pointing out examples of “legacy mindset” projects, that often didn’t pay off for generations. Such as the 135-year-old Sagrada Familia church still being built in Barcelona, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway, and the Long Now Foundation’s 10,00 year clock.

I love the concept of the ”Long Now Clock”, something I have spoken of in the past. It is the creation of Danny Hills of the “Long Now Foundation”. He has been working on creating a long time clock as a kind of practical symbol of the of “Long Now” living. The idea is to create a clock that will last 10,000 years. Human society has existed for 10.000 years and the idea is to put our current place at the half way point of this. On the face of it this seems like a crazy idea, how can a machine last this long? It's purpose is to get us to think of the future, to consider our place in the chain of ancestors. It may just help us transcend the selfish thinking that keeps us enslaved in our time and space. Such short term thinking can be so destructive.

When we think of ancestors, we think about those who have gone before us, those who made our lives what they are today. There is something self centred in this type of thinking, like it was all done for we who live today. This kind of thinking leads to us not thinking of the legacy that we will leave behind. I believe that it is better to think of ancestors in a continuum of time that includes both the past and the future. Because, we live in a continuum of generations. One generation builds on the next and on the next and so-on. In a very real way, we are the ancestors of the future. This is not a romantic notion. It’s a fact. Whether we are conscious of it or not, the lives we are now living are laying down cultural and ecological tracks that will define the lives of future generations. How will future generations look back on us? Will they say we were good ancestors?

Being a good ancestor and thinking of ourselves as a part of the chain of life brings me back to a verse I shared earlier from Luke’s Gospel, from what is often named “The Sermon on the Plain”, which shares parallels with the better known “Sermon on the Mount” from Matthews Gospel, although with a different emphasis. It is the following verse Ch6 v 23 that I would like us to consider. It has something to say about being a “Good Ancestor”.

"Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets.

The word “rejoice” here is a form of the word “Hedi”, which carries the images of being poked or pricked by something, of being led or guided somewhere. The words translated 'leap for joy' are from the Aramaic datz, which means to live in abundance, or to be transported with joy by abundant energy. The word for 'reward' is from the Aramaic agra which refers to wages, a fee for service or hire. Its roots show a movement that is continued, that brings a being back to itself. This presents a beautiful image of the real 'reward,' suggested in the Gospels, which is the knowledge and realization of our original divine image or reflection, created by the Holy One at the first Beginning described in the first book of Genesis. What I have come to know as “Original Blessing”. This links all generations together, from the beginning to the end of time. I see parallels here with “The Long Now Clock”. In living this story, of being part of creation, is the story described throughout the first three Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, as well as the none canonical Gospel of Thomas.

The word for prophet in Aramaic (nabiya) does not mean one who foretells the future, but rather a person who listens to the divine voice within and acts upon it. Thus to be a good prophet is to be a good ancestor, one who lives as a part of creation. One who listens to the Divine voice within and acts on it as part of the ongoing creation. This is being a good ancestor. Connected to the past, living fully alive in the present and creating a legacy for the future. This is prophetic living.

To be a good ancestor is to see yourself as a part of the creation of life, to see your future self as yourself, to be an ancestor of your future self. Or as Roman Krsnaric puts it “Do unto future generations as you would have had past generations do unto you.”

To be a good ancestor is to live fully alive in this life now, to love this time and place, yes to be fully present in it, to love honour and respect it, to cherish it, to be a bride or bridegroom to it. In so doing we might just become the good ancestors we would like to be. In so doing we become the ancestor of our own future. We create our present at the same time writing our legacy with each feeling, with each thought, with each action, with each word, with each breath. The legacy we leave is the one we live now. In so doing we become good ancestors.

Everything matters, how we live now matters, just as how those who lived before us mattered. All life is connected and interconnected, past present and future. So how we live today will affect what is yet to come. Let us do unto future generations as we would have had past generations do unto us.

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

Monday 8 April 2024

What is your question? Maybe by asking it one another we can live our way in answers

A friend recently asked me a tricky question. He asked me how he should answer a difficult question posed by his son. His son wanted to know what happens to us when we die. A difficult question to answer, an impossible one perhaps. One I cannot answer honestly. I think it is important not to just to pretend that you can answer a question, if you cannot do so honesty. Sometimes silence is the only truly honest answer.

It brought to my mind the rather wonderful poem “The Afterlife” by Billy Collins that was shared at both Angela Fowler’s funeral and the scattering of her ashes last week. Here it is:

“The Afterlife” by Billy Collins

While you are preparing for sleep, brushing your teeth,
or riffling through a magazine in bed,
the dead of the day are setting out on their journey.

They’re moving off in all imaginable directions,
each according to his own private belief,
and this is the secret that silent Lazarus would not reveal:
that everyone is right, as it turns out.
you go to the place you always thought you would go,
The place you kept lit in an alcove in your head.

Some are being shot into a funnel of flashing colours
into a zone of light, white as a January sun.
Others are standing naked before a forbidding judge who sits
with a golden ladder on one side, a coal chute on the other.

Some have already joined the celestial choir
and are singing as if they have been doing this forever,
while the less inventive find themselves stuck
in a big air conditioned room full of food and chorus girls.

Some are approaching the apartment of the female God,
a woman in her forties with short wiry hair
and glasses hanging from her neck by a string.
With one eye she regards the dead through a hole in her door.

There are those who are squeezing into the bodies
of animals–eagles and leopards–and one trying on
the skin of a monkey like a tight suit,
ready to begin another life in a more simple key,

while others float off into some benign vagueness,
little units of energy heading for the ultimate elsewhere.

There are even a few classicists being led to an underworld
by a mythological creature with a beard and hooves.
He will bring them to the mouth of the furious cave
guarded over by Edith Hamilton and her three-headed dog.

The rest just lie on their backs in their coffins
wishing they could return so they could learn Italian
or see the pyramids, or play some golf in a light rain.
They wish they could wake in the morning like you
and stand at a window examining the winter trees,
every branch traced with the ghost writing of snow.

(And some just smile, forever on)

The honest answer to my friends son is I don’t know. My honest answer is that I prefer to focus on this life and learning to live fully alive before I die. I can come to answers to the question how should we love, but I will pretend to have answers to questions I do not have. Silence is sometimes the only answer. Or perhaps more honestly, I don’t know.

This brings to mind a story I once heard about a medieval saint. Every day, people came to ask the saint questions about life, the world, faith, the heart, the path, politics, and more.

One person came and asked a question about the law. The saint simply answered, “I don’t know.” Another had a philosophical question. The saint, again answered, “I don’t know.” All in all, 29 people came and asked questions. To each and every one the saint answered, “I don’t know.” It was when the 30th person asked a question that the saint said: “Oh, I have something to answer about this one.”

One out of 30. The rest of the time, the saint realized that silence was an improvement over words.

Now I don’t think this would work in our age, “when I don’t know” seems an unacceptable answer. Certainly not for public, figures, politicians etc. A humble honest I don’t know seems to be unacceptable in our time and place. There seems little room for humility in our modern age.

“I don’t know” is surely the starting to seeking answers to any questions. “I don’t know” and maybe we could begin to explore together, perhaps more so. It wouldn’t work the public spear though sadly. It might not work for ministers of religions or dads of 9 year olds, but it is honest and humble though. A humble honest “I don’t know” would opens us to the possibility though. But hey, what do I know?

Now as I said what happens when we die is not the question I am most interested in asking. My questions are more focused on how better to live in this life. I have found so often we end up asking the questions that others ask of us, instead of our own questions. In order to truly live alive in this world you have to begin with your own question, the one that comes to you, you need to begin there. This is beautifully portrayed in David Whyte’s beautiful poem “Start Close In”

“Start Close In” by David Whyte

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way to begin
the conversation.

Start with your own
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something

To hear
another’s voice,
your own voice,
wait until
that voice
becomes an
private ear
that can
really listen
to another.

Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don’t follow
someone else’s
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don’t mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don’t take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

There are questions we ask ourselves, there are questions we ask one another and there are questions we ask of life. There are many questions and numerous ways to ask them. I suspect that in order to live fully alive begins with seeking our own questions.

The word question is a fascination in and of itself. It dates back to the thirteenth century meaning "philosophical or theological problem;" becoming an "utterance meant to elicit an answer or discussion," also as "a difficulty, a doubt," it is rooted in the Anglo-French questiun, Old French question"question, difficulty, problem; legal inquest, interrogation, torture," from Latin quaestionem(nominative quaestio) "a seeking, a questioning, inquiry, examining, judicial investigation,"

I find this fascinating. Even in its roots there are examples of good or bad questions. In one form it is meant to elicit an answer or discussion and another it suggests that a question is a form of interrogation or even torture.

It brought back memories of watching Monty Python as a child and the “Spanish Inquisition” sketch. “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.”

A question can be an invitation or it can become some form of interrogation. It matters how me ask a question and how we respond to any question asked. It matters in what spirit we ask, whether the question is of ourselves, of others and or of life.

There is an art to asking questions.

David Whyte has said that “there is an art to asking the beautiful question.”

The beautiful question is one that has the power to shift our thinking, to be the catalyst to inner change and open us to new possibilities aligned with our deepest longings and truth. As he explained in an interview with Krista Tippet for “On Being”

“The ability to ask beautiful questions, often in very unbeautiful moments, is one of the great disciplines of a human life. And a beautiful question starts to shape your identity as much by asking it, as it does by having it answered. You just have to keep asking. And before you know it, you will find yourself actually shaping a different life, meeting different people, finding conversations that are leading you in those directions that you wouldn’t even have seen before.”

The beautiful question ignites curiosity and encourages meaningful inquiry. As he has said “what would my life look like if I was to drink from a deeper source” and “what would it be like to start a conversation with myself that my future self would thank me for – what would it be like to become the saintly ancestor of my future happiness”.

Whyte’s point is that the conversations we are having with ourselves, both consciously and unconsciously, are the foundation of our future. By asking ourselves “beautiful questions” we can begin new inner conversations, expand what is possible, and open up new interior frontiers that align with our deepest purpose in the world.

e.e. cummings said “Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question."

In the Gospel accounts you find Jesus over and over engaging people with questions, he had a question for everyone he met. Such questions were an invitation to follow him. Blind Batimaeus being an example, the Samaritan woman at the well another, and the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Asking beautiful questions is not about opening a dialogue on equal terms. For example Jesus didn’t tell Bartimaeus what he thought he wanted he didn’t diagnose his problem for him, instead he asked’ Instead he asked, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’” It is a humble invitation, based around the principle of love and service.

What are the beautiful questions that you need to ask yourself, those you encounter and life itself? They will open you up to new and wonderful experiences. Be curious about and in an open way.

A beautiful question is open in nature. Parker J Palmer asked the following question “When was the last time someone asked you an honest, open question — one that invited you to reflect more deeply on your own life, asked by a person who did not want to advise you or “fix” you but “hear you into speech,” deeper and deeper speech?”

When was the last time you were invited by an open question, invited to quest with the other? An open question is a beautiful question and it is a wonderful gift that we can offer to others. This is beautifully exemplified in Denise Levertov’s poem “The Gift”

Just when you seem to yourself
nothing but a flimsy web
of questions, you are given
the questions of others to hold
in the emptiness of your hands,
songbird eggs that can still hatch
if you keep them warm,
butterflies opening and closing themselves
in your cupped palms, trusting you not to injure
their scintillant fur, their dust.
You are given the questions of others
as if they were answers
to all you ask. Yes, perhaps
this gift is your answer.

An open question, the beautiful question is a wonderful gift we can offer to ourselves, to one another and to life. It is a beautiful invitation to journey on to something new, to quest together. Of course it is not enough to merely ask the question, to truly invite the other requires us to walk with them and truly listen to their answer, to join with them in their struggles with the answers they uncover.

It seems to me that a good, beautiful and open question is an invitation to the other to journey and quest together. In many ways this is how I beleive a good sermon ought to be. It is an invitation to go on a quest. It is not so much an offering of a definite answer, but instead it is an invitation to journey, to quest together with others. It is an aspect of the creative interchange whose impact may not be felt immediately and hopefully will lead to more beautiful questions along the way. As Fran Peavy has observed “A very powerful question may not have an answer at the moment it is asked…It will sit rattling in the mind for days or weeks as the person works on an answer. If the seed is planted, the answer will grow. Questions are alive.”

The key is to be alive, awake and involved with the beautiful and open questing and questions. The key is to keep on inviting one another to journey on the beautiful journey, with the beautiful questions.

We need not quest alone. We gain so much more than the sum of our individual parts if we join with fellow travelers. We may not discover the same answers, we may not even have the same questions, but if we invite one another to join in the beautiful quest we will uncover incredible treasures in our own lives, beautiful gifts. Together we can support one another joyfully as we seek together. We can become companions to one another as we share our experiences in the beautiful quest.

So what is your beautiful question of yourself, of this life. Asking and maybe together we can find a beautiful way to live our way into it and find a way to live more beautifully in this world. In so doing whatever follows will take care of itself.

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

Monday 1 April 2024

May We Rise from Our Sleep and Not Die an Unlived Life: An Easter Reflection

“A poem on Easter” by Wendell Berry

The little stream sings
in the crease of the hill.
It is the water of life. It knows
nothing of death, nothing.
And this is the morning
of Christ’s resurrection.
The tomb is empty. There is
no death. Death is our illusion,
our wish to belong only
to ourselves, which is our freedom
to kill one another.
From this sleep may we too
rise, as out of the dark grave.

from Wendell Berry’s Given: Poems

Today is Easter, let us rejoice and be glad; let us celebrate the joy that is this day whatever it may mean to us. For no matter the conditions of our lives, the state of our hearts. The lives of those dear to us and the struggles in this our shared world, the spirit of Easter can be born again and anew, in our hearts and lives. Life continues. Spring is here, the new life cannot be denied. Easter is here, let us rejoice and sing Hallelujah!!!

And what is Easter? Well it is different, perhaps unique for each and every one of us. What makes you want to rise up and sing Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah?

Easter is seen through many lenses, some are very clear and precise, they are certain of what Easter means, what Easter is about. Others though see Easter through a kaleidoscope of ever changing colours and shapes. What comes to your heart and mind when you think of Easter?

In my eyes it is a deeply universal festival, I see layers to this mythos, that if we allow it to can touch all of us. In order to be touched by the heart of Easter you do not have to believe in the actual bodily resurrection of Jesus, you can believe in Easter without having to accept that this actually happened. In fact perhaps it loses some of its power if we focus purely on this. Maybe actually if we view Easter through this very clear lens we will miss much of what it can teach us. Maybe it is better to view Easter through a kaleidoscope or at least partially clouded glass, maybe we see more through the mystery than the seeming clarity.

What is clear to me is that Easter is about the Power of Love that grew from that empty tomb. Whatever we may think about bodily resurrection, something definitely lived on beyond the physical death of Jesus. While his body may no longer have remained in the empty tomb, some beautiful aspect of his life certainly remained.

Easter for me is about being born to this life. Not being saved for the next life, or another life, but this life. Its about rejoicing in this gift we are given and living it to best of my ability. It is about that love in each of us being truly born. It’s about being saved to this life and not the next, whatever that may be.

To repeat Nathan C. Walker “Today’s question is not “What happens when we die?” it is “What happens when we stop living?” Let us live one day, this day”

Easter for me is not about some distant utopia but for we who live right here right now. It’s not so much hope for some heaven, or nirvana or even Oz in some place beyond our time and space, but about creating the commonwealth of love right here right now. Easter for me is about proclaiming that we each and every one of us have our part play in how the story unfolds, if we are just willing to wake up to all we can be, to find the courage to be all that we can be. All we have to do is listen, to pay attention to our world, to hear that still small voice, that sound that can be heard through silence and when we hear it call out our name to answer it and to bring that spirit of Easter into all that we are and we can be, to bring renewal and rebirth to life. This is our responsibility, our purpose, God will not do it for us, it is we who must build the New Jerusalem, right here, right now. God is with us, but will not do it for us.

To repeat Wendell Berry “The tomb is empty. There is no death. Death is our illusion,
our wish to belong only to ourselves, which is our freedom to kill one another. From this sleep may we too rise, as out of the dark grave.

Is this what resurrection truly is, to rise out of this dark grave, to finally live this life in love, to stop the harm, the hurt, the brutality, the killing.

Resurrection is love born from death, a love that transforms, that brings us to life, to new life perhaps. Hope born from despair, new hope, fresh hope, respair. Sometimes this is actual grief, born from literal loss. That deep aching hole, when we lose someone we love deeply. Such loss can break us. I am sure we have all felt such loss, some very recently. There are other deaths too, smaller deaths perhaps. The loss of a friendship, a job, a way of life, a marriage, a love, a physical or mental ability. The death of a long held dream. All these griefs are barren places in our lives, we feel we are losing our lives, places of sorrow, suffering and lamentation.

Yet from the empty tomb love is born again, from despair is born hope. Like waking on this first day of summer time. Eyes blinking as if for the first time. When downcast eyes are suddenly looking skyward in new Hope, fresh Hope “Respair”. Like those immortal words of e. e. cummings 'i thank You God for most this amazing day,', resurrection means “that they who have died are alive again in 'the gay, great happening illimitably earth.' Like a new spring day the earth is alive it is again illimitable. Isn’t this what resurrection meant 2,000 years ago and isn’t it what it means for we who live today. Let us all be alive again.

This is Easter

“Today’s question is not “What happens when we die?” it is “What happens when we stop living?” Let us live one day, this day” to once again paraphrase Nathan C. Walker

Let us live before we die, let us not live an lived life.

I remember hearing the following tale about Dawna Markova wrote a wonderful, moving and beautiful poem following the death of her father. I believe it illustrates precisely what is meant by resurrection by being born once again to this life, following a deep loss, the death of her father.

Dawna’s father had been a powerful CEO, a driven and successful man, who slowly slipped away, due to Alzheimer’s. As she visited him at the end of his life he was a shadow of the powerful figure he had been throughout his life. When Dawna was a child, her father never told her he loved her, believing in some weird way that it might weaken her. But that last day as she was leaving he finally told her, for the first and last time in her life, “I love you too, sweetheart.”

Dawna had struggled with her relationship with her father all her life. When she received the news that her father had died, something changed inside her, a new love was born in the tomb of her heart. That night the love she felt for him poured through her, turning into a torrent of tears. She wept herself to sleep that night, an outpouring of love. At three in the morning she awoke and felt moved to get up and write. Words flowed through her, almost as if they were a final message from her father. She wrote the following:

I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
more accessible,
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance,
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom,
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.

As I look at the blossom around me, as I watched the guys in the gardens planting seeds on Tuesday morning I thought of this poem and thought to myself how I hope to live my life so that whatever comes to me as seed goes to the next as blossom and that which comes to me as blossom goes on as fruit. For isn’t this transformation the message of love that was born again from those who fled the empty tomb that first Easter morning.

The message of Easter is the power of love coming back to life, transforming in new and wonderful ways. It can happen at any time in our lives. Easter implores us to live, to allow the renewal and resurrection of our souls, to risk living life alive, fully alive, to love abundantly. To risk our hearts in love. To take the seeds that are planted in us, water and nurture them until they blossom and can be handed to another. To take the gift of blossoms and warm them with the sunshine of our souls and the rain of our energy, until they bring forth fruit.

May we all rise from our sleep and not die an unlived life.

Happy Easter, Alleluis, Alleluia.


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

Monday 25 March 2024

It takes love, it takes courage, to open our hearts, to continue to rise: A reflection for Palm Sunday

This last week has been one of those weeks, that has been filled with conversations. Yes, the eyes of my heart have been awakening to the beautiful Spring all around me. Meanwhile the ears of my heart have been opening as I have walked and sat and listened to so many. The conversations have been filled with those blessings and curses that come with “Choosing Life”. I was talking with a friend the other day about a woman I had met when I was a student minister at Macclesfield who she had recently met herself. A little later I got a phone call from another woman I had met during my time in Macclesfield. I had not spoken to her for over 15 years. She had traced me down as she needed to talk about a difficult family situation. She talked and I listened I couldn’t change anything, but I was able to accompany her as she came to her own conclusions. She just needed an ear. A little later I was talking to another friend, who I know baby Eileen through, who I told you about recently about. I was talking a dear friend also named Eileen who had died during Covid, she was friends with both the Macclesfield women. I have been thinking a lot of Eileen recently for many reasons. Her example to me as a person and many the struggles that she had been through in life, yet she remained a woman of faith and dignity. No matter how many times she fell in life, she always seemed to get back up again. No matter what happened, still she would rise.

I received some wonderful gifts from my auntie this week. Some old family photographs and data stick that contained a video shot by my dad’s partner Alan when we were small children. It is something that has brought back so many memories this week, memories that have brought many emotions alive in me. I talked a little about this during the Urmston “Common Search for Meaning” group. Where we shared a wonderful hour and half exploring and sharing about the things and people that have brought solace and comfort to our lives during times of challenge and struggle, fear and disappointment, times when life seemed to have let us down or it seemed too much. It was a beautiful conversation to be a part of.

Yes, the awakening Spring has opened the eyes of my heart this week, but I have also been blessed by so many beautiful conversations too; conversations that have awakened so much in my heart.

Now of course this is nothing new, happens all the time and yet things feel even more alive this spring, it feels like there is something new in the air. I thought this is I have watched the flowers appear and the first cherry blossom too, so beautiful.

One of blessings of my work is that people tell you things, they really tell you things; things that they perhaps cannot tell other people. They open their hearts to you and somehow find the ability to expose their all too real and vulnerable humanity. I’m not just talking about the people I serve, but people I meet in general. Now I say it is a blessing of my work but actually this has happened all my life. People, for whatever reason talk to me.

Now there was a time in my life when this bothered me somewhat, I did not see it as a blessing. I would take on board and absorb the pain of others and it would weigh me down. There was a time when I wished above all things to be freed from this sensitivity, it was too much. I saw it as a serious handicap and one I wished I didn’t have.

Thankfully this is no longer the case. I am as sensitive as I have always been. if not more so. I feel more today than I ever done. The difference is that I no longer carry the burden of the suffering of others around with me. This for me is one of the great gifts of faith and living openly. Life passes through me as I believe it is meant to. It is this, I have come to believe, which allows me to truly be of service to others. I am not a machine though, I have been quite emotional this week.

Most of us carry much pain around with us, many disappointments, so many experiences of betrayal. Yes we all know joy and love and acceptance, but we also know betrayal both by others and of course by ourselves. Stories I have heard again this week.

What I love about the conversations, as hard as they can be at times, is that what I witness in so many people is true courage, as they continue on living and loving despite the many struggles, worries and disappointments. Something we don’t always recognise in ourselves.

What I see in the people I meet and share life with is something I fully recognise in myself. I recognise our full and complex humanity. That we are all made up of many things, we have all fallen short and fallen down many times but still we rise oh still we rise.

Brings to mind this beautiful poem by Maya Angelou, who is sadly no longer with us.

“Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise
I rise
I rise.

Now of course I am not an African American woman, I have not walked in her shoes but I identify, as so many of us can I am sure, despite the struggles and sufferings that happen in our lives and our shared world we continue to rise.

Today “Palm Sunday” marks the beginning of “Holy Week”, regarded as the most important in the whole Christian calendar. It begins with Jesus entering Jerusalem riding on the back of a humble donkey or Colt. He 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 true Easter mythos. A love that can live on and once again incarnate in the lives of all people. On Easter morning once more we see the love rise.

There is though more to the Holy week narrative than the 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. People looking for joy, looking for meaning, looking for love. 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.

How many times have we fallen short, messed up and wished we could live up to our ideals? Well we can. Earlier I shared a wonderful poem, “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou. I’d like to share with you now some other words by her, words that strike deep into my soul, on forgiveness:

I don't know if I continue, even today, always liking myself. But what I learned to do many years ago was to forgive myself. It is very important for every human being to forgive herself or himself because if you live, you will make mistakes – it is inevitable. But once you do and you see the mistake, then you forgive yourself and say, ‘well, if I’d known better I’d have done better,’ that’s all. So you say to people who you think you may have injured, ‘I’m sorry,’ and then you say to yourself, ‘I’m sorry.’ If we all hold on to the mistake, we can’t see our own glory in the mirror because we have the mistake between our faces and the mirror; we can’t see what we’re capable of being. You can ask forgiveness of others, but in the end the real forgiveness is in one’s own self. I think that young men and women are so caught by the way they see themselves. Now mind you, when a larger society sees them as unattractive, as threats, as too black or too white, or too poor, or too fat or too thin, or too sexual or too asexual, that’s rough. But you can overcome that. The real difficulty is to overcome how you think about yourself. If we don’t have that we never grow, we never learn, and sure as hell we should never teach.”

This is so key I believe, this sense of forgiveness and wholeness this sense that we are ok, they are so essential if we wish to keep on rising. We all fall down at times, we all give in at times what we need is a sense of true forgiveness to come if we want to start over again.

What I sense so often when I listen to people is that they are not just wanting to unburden themselves but are looking for a real sense of forgiveness and acceptance to be able to start again, to be redeemed from all those things that hold them back from being the loving people we are all capable of being.

Here lays the essence of the story of Palm Sunday and the week that follows that leads to the new beginning that is Easter. We can begin again we can start anew, we can forgive and be forgiven for our very human mistakes and shortcomings, for our betrayals of love however it manifests in this our imperfect world. It means that we will get things wrong sometimes, lots of times, but that, if we pay attention, maybe next time, we’ll do better. If we work at it, we can see our own glory in the mirror; we can begin to see what we’re capable of being; we can begin to recognise that we truly are children of love; we can begin again in love. No matter how many times we fall we can rise again.

This week begins in glory and celebration, before moving onto to betrayal, denial, torture and brutal death. Love and compassion is destroyed by the end of it, only to rise again and far more powerfully than ever before.

For love will always rise again.

Still Love will rise, still love will rise, still love will rise

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

Monday 18 March 2024

Get the Balance Right: See Saw Margery Daw

I recently had the pleasure of meeting a new born baby, Eileen. Yes I did sing the song. In fact I sang a few songs. I have sang several since, you know the usual nursery rhymes, like “rockabye baby”, “all the pretty little horses”, “Frerer Jaques”, “Twinkle, twinkle”, “The cradle song”. I Spent a bit of time this week recording them on voice notes, I have enjoyed it immensely. I have also bumped into Eloise Williamson, who grew up at Dunham Road, a few times these last couple of weeks, out and about with her twin daughters. She tells me they are 6 months old now. They have already developed unique personalities. She pushes them around in a double pram, one on top of the other, like a mobile bunk bed. I have noticed that the top child is always happy and smiling, while the baby below always seems to be crying. I have also noticed that as soon as I talk to her she seems happy again, especially if I sing. I have always been a bit of a baby whisperer, apparently my voice is calming, soporific some say, I hope you manage to stay away during this sermon. It is fascinating to see these two personalities developing, I wonder what their lives will be like. They seem an interesting balance of a happy jolly child and another that always seems to be crying. Why this is it is hard to know, I don’t think it is anything do with the position in the pram. I suspect that it is just that some of us need more soothing than others. I am told I cried a lot as a baby.

It all got me pondering as life always does.

On Tuesday morning I was out with Molly in the park. I was enjoying Molly’s joy, although I was interrupted many times by phone calls. As I walked passed the play area I noticed the see-saw which brought me back to those children’s songs. I found myself singing the classic “See saw”, I have been singing all week.

See Saw Margery Daw,
Johnny shall have a new master;
He shall earn but a penny a day,
Because he can't work any faster,

I thought about the joy of the see saw. It’s a game that you can’t play alone. You need someone else to play the game. It’s a game that is about moving constantly from one side to another. It’s a game in which equilibrium, perfect balance, is never reached. It’s a game of energy, weight and motion. When was the last time you played on one?

It is a strange kind of nursery rhyme, when you think about it. It is thought that the rhyme has its origins as a sawyer’s work song, as they would work in pairs and would therefore encourage the other to work faster, thus mimicking the see-saw. It is thought that “daw” was a lazy person, think of the “Daw Mouse”, always sleeping in Alice in Wonderland. So it wasn’t really a nursery rhyme at all, more a kind of work song. Instilling the classic protestant work ethic.

Of course being stuck in anything is no way to live, there is something wonderful and beautiful in rhythmical movement, in it we flow with life. Also there is something in moving with another. We awaken something in each other, like singing to a baby, there is such joy in it for the singer and the baby too, as the baby responds to the song.

Movement enables balance it seems, it brings us to life, that said there is also time for rest, for joy, to be dormant. There is something that can be corrosive to our humanity in just working. As the old saying goes, “All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy.” This is why I love singing to folk so much, it is playful to me, but also encouraging. It is hard to get the balance right though in any aspect of life.

I wonder if there is ever perfect balance, equilibrium in life? It seems to me that everything is always moving, perfect balance is never achieved. Perhaps it is better that way. You can never “get the balance right”, to quote another 80’s pop song. They are great lyrics by the way, by good old “Depeche Mode”.

This time of celestial and seasonal balance is a perfect one to check out the balance in our own lives. Where are the extremes in our own lives that need balancing out? How do we see ourselves and each other? Is this in balance? Do we have a balanced view of life? When looking at ourselves do we have a balanced and honest view? How are our “umeres”, as the ancient physicians used to call them, are all four of these fluids in balance? How is your health, your physical, your emotional, your mental and your spiritual health? These four could well be our present day “umeres”. Physicians no longer believe we have four fluids that need to be in balance, that said our well being still needs stability and balance.

“Get the balance right.”

A balanced life is considered a good life. We are told that we need to balance the books, in the home and in the community. A balanced diet is vital to healthy living. Power needs to be balanced in the public sphere, too much power in any individual or even groups hand is dangerous. Balance is vital to performing physical activities. Most athletes are admired for their balance as much as for their strength and speed.

Balance is seen as vital by virtually all spiritual and philosophical traditions, extremes in any sense lead to danger and destruction. As Robert Fulghum advises “Be aware of wonder. Live a balanced life - learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.” The philosopher John Locke wrote “An excellent man, like precious metal, is in every way invariable; A villain, like the beams of a balance, is always varying, upwards and downwards.”

This coming Wednesday 20th March is the Spring Equinox, the day when light and dark are in balance. This happens twice a year both in Autumn and Spring. Equinox means “equal night”

The March Equinox is known as the Vernal Equinox, meaning new, as it marks the beginning of spring. In the northern hemisphere as we tilt towards the sun the days grow longer and sunnier. The September Equinox is called the Autumn Equinox, marking the beginning of this season. In the southern hemisphere these seasons are at opposites ends of the year.

Now it is said that there are magical properties to the Equinox. Many stories, in a variety cultures, speak of this. One such comes from China. Does anyone know what it might be?

Well according to Chinese legend, for an hour before and after the Equinox on Li Chun (the day when Spring Begins), it becomes possible to balance things that otherwise it would not be possible to do so. On this day it said that for a short time you can even balance an egg, due to gravity balancing itself. Now apparently this mythos received a great deal of publicity in the 1940’s, even Einstein commented on it. It is said that in the city of Chongqing many such egg standings took place around this time. Now it seems that this wasn’t just a trick, an illusion. The truth is with the right egg on the right surface you can stand an egg on its end on any day of the year.

This time of year is about eggs, new life, fertility, new babies, new beginnings. I was talking about eggs on Tuesday morning. How much I love poached eggs. How do you like yours? The best I ever had was at the Ritz a few years ago, when I won a night in a suite there.

This got me thinking about yoke and balance, the image of eggs standing up and their life sustaining centres. References to Yoke (A different kind of yoke I know) in the Bible is about balance; about balance as we work through life; it is about teamwork, cooperation, discipleship. One of the meanings of the word yoke in yoga is union, derived from the Sanskrit word yuj, which means 'to yoke'. When oxen are yoked, they must work together for a common purpose. In contemporary yoga, the union is often described as “a process of integrating the body, mind and spirit. This reminds me of those “umeres “of medieval medicine and getting the balance right.

“Get the balance right”

Yoke also got me thinking about parenting qualities and new born babies and how equilibrium is so vital to this. When I think of the “Yoke of Jesus”, it is this that comes to mind. A love that is gentle and humble, it is close to the ground, the earth, the ground of being. Tender like the love of a mother for her child, a father with the babe in his arms, a grandparent or close friend. It’s a love that comes alive in relationship. A baby needs to find rest, comfort, care, protection and light-heartedness. Don’t we all though, not just babies.

A friend called me on Tuesday, while I was out with Molly, talking about the stresses of caring for his mother who is in her nineties. He said it was his turn as his mother had always been there for him. Particularly a time twenty years when she went to great lengths travelling half way down the country to keep him alive. She was the light in the dark of his life and now it was his time as she enters the twilight of hers. There is a beautiful balance here too. I wonder if he sings her songs around her hospital bed.

Life naturally balances itself out, but it requires us to play the see-saw game, to play our role in getting the balance right. Balance is hard to achieve, it is never perfect. It isn’t a constant, static, state of being. We live like a seesaw constantly moving from one end to the other, attempting to get the balance right.

Maybe this is something to think of as we enter spring and move towards Easter, to develop a new kind of equinox; perhaps this is what we need to be give birth to this Spring time. That would be the perfect Easter egg when the day of re-birth, of new beginnings comes. This time of celestial and seasonal balance is a perfect one to check out the balance in our own lives. Where are the extremes in our own lives that need balancing out? How are our “umeres”, as the ancient physicians use to call them, are all four in balance? How is your health, your physical, your emotional, your mental and your spiritual health? These four could well be our present day “umeres”. Have we got the balance right in our lives?

Aristotle proposed that the key to authentic happiness and not mere momentary satisfaction or pleasure arose from living a life of “Virtue” and that this could be achieved by the “Doctrine of the Golden Mean”, by living a life centred on a sort of dampened equilibrium. That virtue lays in avoiding excess. He saw courage as lying somewhere between cowardice and recklessness.

One of the great Greek myths illustrates this perfectly. Icarus was advised by Daedalus to fly somewhere between the sun and the sea, but he flew too close to the sun. Centuries later didn’t Goldilocks rejected the porridge that was too hot and too cold for the one that was just right, she chose the middle way, thus following the virtuous life.

The key to living in balance and harmony is about relationship with life, with each other, with ourselves and with God, another four modern day “Umeres” if you like.

Isn’t this what life is built upon, our relationships. I suspect above everything that this is the key. To ensure that our lives are in balance in these four aspects of our lives. That are relationship “Umeres” are inbalance. So how are your relationship “Umeres”? Are they imbalanced? Have you got the balance right?

Perhaps that is something to check, in this season of balance. How are you in relation to your inner self, the people you share your life with, life itself and your God, however you understand God? Have you got the balance right?

Relationships and trust are so vital to babies and the most vulnerable amongst us. We need to trust those who love and care for us. They need to feel that they can rest easy in our yoke. We need to trust in those who care for us too. Love and care needs to be in balance too. This is never static it is constantly moving back and forth. It needs to rock back and forth. A bit like another nursey rhyme I’ve been thinking of this week. I recorded it for Eileen the other day.

Rock a bye baby on the tree top,
When the wind blows the cradle will rock,
When the bough breaks the cradle will fall,
And down will come baby, cradle and all.

Lets step forward into Spring, gently and lovingly, caring and being cared for. With our love gentle and balanced, moving forward sustained by an ever loving yoke. Let us rest together in the yoke of life, that life sustaining love.

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

Monday 4 March 2024

The Three E’s Empathy, Ecstasy and Enthusiasm: Turning Self Consciousness into Consciousness

I was in the park with Molly on Monday morning. I was feeling tired and somewhat run down. I had woken up with a bad throat. Sunday had been a long day, three services and several other activities. There weren’t many dogs around for Molly to play with so she made her own fun. She is such a happy little dog, full of life and character, at ease with herself and life itself. After a while a woman appeared with her tiny dark cavalier spaniel. I have passed the woman in the street many times over the time I have had Molly. Her little dog was somewhat unfriendly towards Molly as a puppy, the woman said her dog didn’t like puppies, or men for that matter. Even as Molly became an adult the woman never stopped for them to get to know each other. It was different this time though. The woman came talking to me, she seemed upset. She told me her dog was unwell, in fact she had heart failure, she was only eight years old. It was her fifth Cavalier and two of her previous ones had died the same way. I told her I had seen her dog with a walker a few days before and I pointed out to the walker that there something wrong with her. The walker had informed the woman and she had taken the dog to the vet. The woman told me that she was trying to get her dog to go to the toilet, but didn’t want to walk. Then Molly brought her to life and she ran around and played for a little while, before they went off to the coffee shop. The poor woman has some big decisions to make over the next few days, as she doesn’t want her little dog to suffer. I felt for her.

As I walked away I was thinking about the three keys of the spiritual life that Forrest Church had identified, “Empathy”, “Ecstasy” and “Enthusiasm”. They are essential antitdotes to the blight of self-consciousness and lead to connection and consciousness. I was awake, I was conscious that day, despite feeling somewhat low and tired in mood. I had been a few days earlier when I noticed the little spaniel struggling. Molly had too, her empathy and enthusiasm had brought a few moments of ecstasy to that sweet little dog. We were at ease with ourselves, we knew ourselves and thus we were not slaves to ourselves, we were instead awake to the life around us.

Socrates said that “The unexamined life is not worth living”. Now while not wishing to argue with the great philosopher I do wonder if the “over examined life” can prove just as worthless. It is so easy to get lost in ourselves, wrapped up in our own underwear, to such an extent that we do not live at all. We can become so self-conscious that we fail to become conscious of all that is and all that has ever been. It is so easy to become wrapped up in our own perceived needs that we fail to live in the world with others and then complain about feeling lonely. Yes it is important to examine ourselves, to understand who we are and what makes us tick, but that should not be an end in itself, a destination. It is a staging post in the spiritual adventure, but not an end in itself.

I remember at last year’s “Ministry in the Making” I was asked to speak on the purpose of ministry, which literally means to serve. The college principal was somewhat concerned that while the students had a great deal of self understanding this in itself was not all that the spiritual life is about. That it is not just about knowing and understand ourselves. Self awareness and spirituality is something that comes to life in the real world, that its purpose is to fit us to be of maximum usefulness in this life. I thought about my time in the park with Molly, I probably do as much ministry there as anywhere else in life. Monday morning proved that once again.

The spiritual life is about love. Yes love for ourselves, but also one another and life itself and of course whatever it is we believe is at the core of all, what I call God. Sadly sometimes spirituality can tend to be too inner focused and a turning away from life. Such approaches can make us even more self focused and instead of setting us free, enchains us even more.

So yes I agree with Socrates, that “the unexamined life is not worth living”. That said the “over examined life” can prove just as worthless. It can easily become inhibiting and can lead to a kind of self-consciousness that can become so consuming that it takes over our human interactions. I wonder how many of us suffer from this kind of commentary when we meet up with people. “What will they think of me?” “How do I look?” “If I say something, will they think I’m an idiot?” and then as it continues, “He gave me a funny look, he must have thought me a fool. Why on earth did I have to make that stupid remark? Gosh I’m such a freak, they all seem to be staring at me.”

I was talking with a friend on Tuesday morning who described some such interaction at a work event the other day. She found herself becoming consumed by such an inner dialogue. Thankfully she was able to step out of herself and begin to make contact with others, this helped them do the same thing.

This though is not always the case. This kind of self conscious inner dialogue can be so crippling. It can haunt us from the moment we wake and continue throughout our day, eating away at our every decision. Oh and of course because we doubt ourselves and every decision we make, we assume that everyone else must be doing exactly the same thing. This kind of self-consciousness can be so crippling and it blocks us off almost entirely from the world around us. We can become so consumed by this kind of self-consciousness that we see the world entirely from our own point of view, excluding all others.

One of my great frustrations with a lot of modern “so called 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. It seems to have become almost narcissistic in its nature. 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 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.

So what can we do about it? How do we wake up to a greater consciousness? How do we break free from this crippling self-consciousness? How do we become better inter-related.

According to the Gospel’s Jesus taught his followers that they must lose themselves in order to be found. That by emptying ourselves of our self-absorption we begin to be filled with the spirit of neighbourliness. So that when we look deeply into the still waters we are not drawn in by narcissistic self-consciousness and loathing at our own reflection, but rather into a deeper contemplation of our shared lives. We become conscious of all that is, all that has been and all that will ever be. By opening ourselves to and for others we begin to shed that debilitating skin of self-consciousness that is so easy to become imprisoned in.

Gandhi said “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service of others”

The Buddha talked of Nirvana, of being freed from the suffering that was the blight of humanity. He showed that we all suffered and that it was in seeing our suffering as individual that led to this sense of separation. He suggested that we needed to break through our suffering not only to serve others but to reach a higher state of being, true consciousness, to be awake to the life in which we live.

Now please don’t get me wrong this morning I am not suggesting that we do not need to know ourselves to understand how we tick, “The unexamined life is not worth living”. All I am saying is that we must not get stuck there, we must not get lost there and we must not see this as a destination, more a staging post on the journey. The adolescent stage I suspect. Sadly for many folk, me included, this adolescent stage often goes well into adulthood.

So how do we move from self-consciouness to consciousness. Well as I mentioned earlier Forrest Church in his wonderful book “Lifecraft” offered three simple suggestions, which he called the three “E’s”, “empathy”, “ecstasy” and “enthusiasm”. The key he claimed could be found in the literal understanding of these words. “Empathy”, to suffer or feel with another; “Ecstasy”, to stand outside ourselves; “Enthusiasm”, to manifest the god (theos) within us.

“Empathy” is a deep felt compassion. When we open our hearts empathically to another we are courageously refusing to allow self-consciousness to stand in the way of a higher consciousness that comes into being as we feel what another is going through. In so doing we serve both ourselves and the other person, as well as that higher consciousness beyond our singular selves.

Now “Ecstasy” has often been misunderstood as some kind of hedonistic state and therefore self- indulgent, it is far from this. In its truest sense what it actually does is takes us out of ourselves and lifts us beyond the confines of ourselves. In so doing we transcend our self-consciousness and enter a realm in which purpose begins to emerge and meaning is found.

“Enthusiasm” means to be filled with spirit, with holy energy. Enthusiasm allows us to be fully involved and engaged in whatever it is we are doing. It allows us to see beyond the confines we have created. Forrest himself states that “Here, once again, consciousness displaces self-consciousness. We escape from our mirrored room. Its mirrors turn into windows. Or the pond grows so still that we can see beyond our own reflection to the trees and clouds and birds and sun. There is, by the way, no higher form of spiritual practice. When we step out of our own shadow, consciousness replaces self-consciousness.”

In so doing we are set free to walk with others in our own faltering ways. Instead of being lost in what we believe is wrong with us we are set free to do what we can in this our shared world and in so doing we encourage others to do the same, as perfectly imperfect children of God.

For me the purpose of the spiritual life is to develop a deepening sense of connection. We all have our troubles and our worries either within ourselves, those around us or wider world. We need to see them for what they are, we need to acknowledge the truth, but we must not get stuck there, for that will paralyse us and stop us doing what we can. We cannot change the way the world is but that need not prevent us from doing what we can do and in doing so we will grow spiritually as we become integrated into all that has been, all that exists and all that will ever.

So much of modern spiritually gets it wrong because it is seeking the wrong thing. There is so much talk of finding ourselves, when in actual fact what we ought to be doing is losing ourselves. What we ought to be striving for, I believe, is integration and remove those aspects within ourselves that block this. We all ask the question “Who am I?” when really we ought to asking is “How am I doing? And if we are still feeling utterly dis-connected we need to ask why? And how can I integrate once again? You see if we can begin to integrate with all that is, all that has been and all that has ever been we begin to truly cohere. In doing so we transcend our self-consciousness and become conscious. We become spiritually mature. We wake up to the world in which live and breathe and share our being and we will know the joy of living, in all its mystery.

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

Monday 26 February 2024

I Offer You a Little Piece of my Heart: The Journey of The Wounded Healer

I will begin with this beautiful little story “A piece of my heart”. I have no idea who wrote it.

One day a young man was standing in the middle of the town proclaiming that he had the most beautiful heart in the whole valley. A large crowd gathered and they all admired his heart for it was perfect. There was not a mark or a flaw in it. Yes, they all agreed it truly was the most beautiful heart they had ever seen.

The young man was very proud and boasted more loudly about his beautiful heart. Suddenly, an old man appeared at the front of the crowd and said "Why, your heart is not nearly as beautiful as mine."

The crowd and the young man looked at the old man's heart. It was beating strongly, but it was full of scars. It had places where pieces had been removed and other pieces put in, but they didn't fit quite right and there were several jagged edges. In fact, in some places there were deep gouges where whole pieces were missing.

The people stared, how can he say his heart is more beautiful, they thought?

The young man looked at the old man's heart and saw its state and laughed.

"You must be joking," he said. "Compare your heart with mine. Mine is perfect and yours is a mess of scars and tears."

"Yes," said the old man, "yours is perfect looking but I would never trade with you. You see, every scar represents a person to whom I have given my love - I tear out a piece of my heart and give it to them, and often they give me a piece of their heart which fits into the empty place in my heart, but because the pieces aren't exact, I have some rough edges, which I cherish, because they remind me of the love we shared."

"Sometimes I have given pieces of my heart away, and the other person hasn't returned a piece of his heart to me. These are the empty gouges
giving love, is taking a chance. Although these gouges are painful, they stay open, reminding me of the love I have for these people too, and I hope someday they may return and fill the space I have waiting. So now do you see what true beauty is?"

The young man stood silently with tears running down his cheeks. He walked up to the old man, reached into his perfect young and beautiful heart and ripped a piece out. He offered it to the old man with trembling hands. The old man took his offering, placed it in his heart and then took a piece from his old scarred heart and placed it in the wound in the young man's heart. It fit, but not perfectly, as there were some jagged edges.

The young man looked at his heart, not perfect anymore but more beautiful than ever, since love from the old man's heart flowed into his.

I love driving to events and occasions with a passenger at my side. Now there is of course the joy of travelling with another, but it is more than that. In many ways some of my most rewarding ministry takes place in this time and place. What I love the most is that as I drive I listen. It is a time that is primarily when my ears do most of the work. I don’t just mean these two lugs at either side of my head, but the inner ear, the ear of my heart. It is a time for deep attentive listening, and I’ve noticed that people sometimes open up, particularly about their woundedness in this time and space. I think it has something to do with the physical proximity as we are close but not face to face and somehow people find it easier to open a wound as they open the mouths of their hearts and I open the ears of mine.

Now I know it is not my task to heal other people’s wounds that is no one’s task. I cannot heal anyone or anything, I don’t even think I can heal myself, not completely at least. Yes, the wounds can be tended to, the emotional bleed can be stopped and the pain relieved but the scars remain and the past cannot be wiped away. I don’t believe they should be, our scars are marks of a life fully lived. They must not be hidden away they are a part of our lives. In fact, these scars can become our greatest assets as they help us to walk side by side with others, showing them that they are not alone in their suffering and that whatever they are going through that they can survive and grow; that love can rise again from that suffering and that meaning can emerge as something beautiful grows from that pain. In many ways my ministry is exactly this. It grew from my greatest sorrow and suffering. It has not completely healed what happened, it does not take away the pain. If I could change it I would, every second of my life I would, but I can’t. All I can do is create something beautiful from it. I can walk with others in their suffering and joy. I can live with courage. I can live from the heart. I can live with my wounded heart cracked open, undefended and in so doing I can know love; In so doing I can live in such a way that my life will prove worth dying for, by the love I leave behind, to paraphrase good old Forrest Church.

I was thinking of the journey that is life as I was driving a friend I have known for 20 years the other day. They have suffered much in their life. They were widowed over 40 years ago and have difficult relations with their sons. They are not the easiest company, as they live alone and are physically isolated due to health problems. They only leave the house if someone picks them up. I do what I can and journey with them from time to time. As I sat and listened to my friend I thought of the number of times I have taken this journey, someone talking and me listening over the years.

Rarely in life do we journey completely alone. We journey in the company of others. Some are there at the beginning and remain to the very end, some are there at the beginning but do not stay until the end, some come and join with us for a while but do not remain. Some are with us later in life and then journey on without us, when we are gone. We never journey alone, we always journey with others, although sometimes it doesn’t feel this way.

Now as they say life isn’t about the destination, but the journey itself. In many ways I’m not even sure it’s even about the journey itself, well not wholly, it’s more about who you journey with. We do not sail this ship alone.

Those we meet along the way have wounds in their hearts and souls, no one has the perfect heart. The most beautiful, as the story “A piece of my heart” illustrates, will have its jagged edges, it will not be smooth and the pieces will not fit together neatly. We are all wounded to some degree or other. Those wounds can be transformed into something beautiful, we can accompany others in their suffering. We can give them a little piece of our hearts and we can receive a piece of theirs. The most beautiful hearts carry their scars. If we live in love we can bring some healing, we can become wounded healers. It is our wounds that put us in a place where we can be of service to one another. We are all wounded to some degree we all have cracks within us. Nobody is perfect, complete, and who would want to be. In fact it is our wounds and imperfections that put us into a better position to help others come to terms with who they are. It is this that breeds empathy and understanding. Who amongst us is not wounded in some way? Who amongst us does not bear the scars of life? It is our very wounds and the scars formed from them that makes us better able to help others heal from their own wounds.

Some say that “Time heals all wounds. I have not found this to always be true, it depends on many others things. I heard someone say this to another recently. They didn’t know what to do and so they came out with this platitude. Martin Luther King suggested that “Time is morally neutral.” Things do not get better or worse in time alone. This applies to the wider society that we live in, which always needs healing and it is also true for our own heart and souls. Hearts do not get better or worse by themselves. Wounds do not heal simply with the passing of time. At least not for all wounds. Sometimes wounds fester as time passes by. We get better, we heal, if we are loved into healing. By being lovingly supported we can tap into that love that over time brings healing to the wounds and then meaning can emerge if as we heal we accompany others in their suffering. We become wounded healers ourselves. Time has a role to play, but time alone does not heal. I have accompanied many people who have touched me deeply by their capacity to become “wounded healers”, their suffering has made them better able to offer understanding and compassion to others and not in spite of their suffering, but because of it.

The ancient Greeks understood the power of the “Wounded Healer”. Ancient Greek mythology tells the story of Chiron, who was a wise and benevolent centaur and a master of healing.

During one of his adventures Heracles visited the cave of Chiron. He had been invited to a gathering there. Now as we all know it is impolite to attend a party without bringing something for other guests and so Heracles brought along a flask of strong wine. Now the smell of the wine attracted many of the other centaurs who began to fight over it, nothing much has changed over the centuries, during the melee Chiron was accidently wounded on the knee by an arrow shot by Heracles. This was no ordinary arrow, it was poison tipped. This was no ordinary poison either it had come from the Hydra a monster with many heads that was virtually impossible to slay. Now while Chiron could show Heracles how to heal the wound caused by the arrows tip, he could not treat the Hydra’s poison. As he was immortal it could not kill him but neither could he fully recover. He would have to live on into eternity with his wounded knee. Chiron the greatest of healers could show others how to heal, but he could never fully recover from this wound. His wound would always show. He walked on into eternity limping. Chiron is the archetype of the wounded healer.

“The Wounded Healer” was one of the most important archetypes identified by Carl Jung. For him the image of Chiron overcoming the pain of his own wounds by becoming the compassionate teacher of healing was a powerful example. The wounded healer is someone who has gone through great suffering and learnt from the experience. Through transcending their own suffering they are drawn towards the path of service leading them to help others. This process strips away the selfish ego-based feeling of being alone and isolated in their own suffering and woundedness. Instead through seeing the wound through different eyes they can see this suffering in others and they can therefore lead others to find ways to overcome their own suffering. Their wounds may never fully heal, as Chiron’s didn’t, but they can help heal the wider ailments of our shared life.

In his book “The Wounded Healer”, Henri Nouwen envisioned the religious community as a safe haven where people could be open and honest about their own woundedness, their suffering and loneliness, a safe haven where through recognising ones pain healing and recovery could begin. Nouwen wrote that people today are “Semitic nomads…(who) live in a desert with many lonely travellers who are looking for a moment of peace, for a fresh drink and for a sign of encouragement so that they can continue their mysterious search for freedom.”

This speaks to me, one of the reason I became a part of a Unitarian community was for this very reason. Spirituality on an individual level is fine, but it only really comes alive in community as we search for healing and understanding together. Everyone is wounded in one way or another and everyone is looking for healing and understanding at one level or another, even if they are not entirely sure what from. We are all looking for love, understanding, acceptance and meaning. We are the religious animal, to deny this is to deny an important aspect of our shared humanity. None of us though are the experts, at least not in our tradition, which is why we need one another. As the Buddhist Pema Chodron wrote in “The Places that Scare You”

“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”

So how do we begin to heal, to live whole lives? Well it begins by knowing and naming our own pain. our own darkness. and to not be afraid to show our scars. I always remember the scene from “Jaws” when the great white shark hunters are going out to face the man killer and they begin to drink and sing sea shanties and of course show one another their scars. The scars are marks of experience of having lived the lives of shark hunters.

Now I know that this is a very macho setting but I think there is something in it for everyone. Our scars, our wounds, are symbols of the lives we have lived and we ought not to be afraid to show them. Not is some form of vainglory but as symbol of our shared humanity. To show we have lived and found a degree of healing from our wounds, although no one escapes scar free. By understanding our own woundedness and not hiding our scars we can better serve one another and walk side by side with each other in our shared troubles. It is our very imperfectness that best fits us for the task of journeying together in the fellowship of love.

Henri Nouwen wrote “We do not know where we will be two, ten or twenty years from now. What we can know, however, is that human beings suffer and that a sharing of suffering can make us move forward.”

By sharing our suffering we can begin to move forward and it is this that can begin to bring about the healing and wholeness that we are all searching for, we are hoping for. This can grow from within each of us as we commune together, work together and do the works of compassion that our wounded world needs. We can begin it today, it begins in our own hearts. We are all “The wounded Healers.”

We can share pieces of imperfect beautiful hearts; sharing our perfectly imperfect wounded hearts.

I offer you a piece of my heart, treasure it and I will gratefully receive a piece of yours.

So let us journey together, side by side, let us tend to one another’s wounds let us become together, the wounded healers.

Below isa video devotion based on the material in this "blogpost"

Monday 19 February 2024

Songs of solace, songs of hope, songs of the heart

We have entered the season of Lent. It reminds me that there are journeys we all have to make in life. Physical journeys. Spiritual journeys. Some journeys we can share with others, but other journeys lead us into the wilderness alone.

Some people give something up during Lent, others take something on. Whatever we think about this season of Lent, may we know that ours is a journey of hope and a journey of redemption.

I am sure there have been times in our lives when we have felt lost and lonely, out in the wilderness alone. When we have sought out solace in all kinds of places. I know I have. I may not have felt physically alone, I have been surrounded by people and yet I have still felt like I was lost in the wilderness, so lsts and alone.

I was talking with a friend about this recently, someone sharing similar feelings. A little later I shared with them a little clip from Youtube from the Walt Disney film “The Jungle Book”, it is the song “The Bare Necessities” Do you remember it:

 “The Jungle Book” is a wonderful example of what Joseph Campbell called “ The Heroes Journey” and I see direct parallels with his tale and Moses and his journey with the Israelites and of course the ministry of Jesus as it is told in the Gospels, beginning with his Baptism by John in the Jordon and then being cast out into the wilderness for Forty days, “tested by Satan, and he was with the wild beasts, and the angels waited on him.” The Jungle Book to me, or at least the animation I loved as a child, seems to be a retelling of this story, actually all the great stories as Campbell taught.

I remember being taken to the pictures to see the film as a child and was immediately enchanted by it. So much so that we were bought an album, which told the story including the songs, there are many classics in it. I would listen to it constantly when I ever I went to my paternal grandparents, it brought me solace then and continued to do so even when they were not in my life. It still brings me solace today, especially the song “The Bare Necessities”. It is my ultimate “Redemption Song”. It brings hope, when hope is hard to find, to quote another favourite hymn. It has been such a joy to share this song again recently.

Now many people have songs, “Redemption Songs”, their songs, that they carry them with, through the wilderness times of life; songs they know by heart, songs that make them feel that they belong. I wonder what yours are, perhaps something to think of during this season of Lent.

David Blanchard in his wonderful piece “Listening for Our Song” wrote:

“It takes a while for many of us to figure out which is our song, and which is the song that others would like us to sing…Some of us are slow learners. I heard my song not necessarily from doing extraordinary things in exotic places…What came to astound me was not that the song appeared, but that it was always there.”

I believe that each of us have a song in our hearts, that will bring us hope when hope is hard to find. We need to find a way to learn it, sing it and share it and thus help one another through those wilderness times, to times of love and joy, so we can enjoy the milk and honey.

Music, whether heard, or just as importantly felt, brings us to life in the life we are in. You don’t have to physically hear these songs, you can feel the vibrations move through your body. You see all of us have the music in us, we have to bring it to life. The songs, the music help us to understand ourselves and our relationships, whether calming us, exciting us, entertaining us, explaining us, teaching us, inspiring us, grounding us, or sheltering us. Finding our song can help us know who we are in heart and soul. It could be a hymn of praise, or a romantic love song, some bubble gum pop, a Disney Classic, or a protest song to inspire us. The song is your song, it’s the one that touched your heart and soul; it is the one that still touches your heart and soul.

It is “Redemption Songs” though that I am thinking of, those that comfort us during wilderness times. I noticed that a biopic of Bob Marely “One Love” was released on Valentine’s Day, perhaps best known for “Redemption Song”. My favourite band, who I have loved since I was a teenager have just released a new album “Unbroken” by New Model Army. One of my ultimate redemption songs is “Poison Street” by them, it has come to my heart at significant moments in my life. So many songs have become redemption songs for me. Another would be “Don’t bang the drum” by The Waterboys. I recently heard a wonderful performance of Tracey Chapman’s “Fast Car”, another lovely redemption song. A friend was sharing with me recently that she and her sadly deceased brother used to listen to this when they were young, driving in his car. It’s a song she carries when hope is hard to find. Another I often share with friends when they are finding life somewhat difficult is “All Will Be Well” a folk song by Unitarian Universalist minister Meg Barnhouse, based words by Julian of Norwich “All be well, all will be well, all manner of things they will be well”. A song offering hope in the very real struggles of life.

Now of course hymns, singing together, whether classic ones or newer ones can bring solace, can bring hope when hope is hard to find. We sang one earlier, which has become much loved by so many. That is “Come sing a song with me” or “Rose in the Winter Time” It is chosen more than any other for rites of passage, whether Child blessings, weddings or funerals, particularly funerals it seems. It has taken over from “Spirit of Life” as a favourite. I wonder what your favourite hymn is, again something to think about.

Songs sing to our hearts and souls, they help us feel that we belong. We have songs sung to us from early in our lives. It is impossible not feel joy when singing happy birthday to child or someone dear to your heart. I love to sing “Happy Birthday to You”

We respond to singing from the beginning of our lives. It is vital to sing to babies. As Anita Collins states in “The Music Advantage: How Music Helps Your Child Develop, Learn, and Thrive”

“From an evolutionary perspective, music and singing have a very ancient human history, at least as old as language. Babies understand the world through their ears as rhythm, pitch, contour, and timbre and they use sound to identify the important things, like who are their primary caregivers, who is part of the family or tribes and, possibly most importantly, who they can trust. One of the most effective mechanisms humans have to convey that information is through song.”

We learn songs from a very early age, these childhood songs are basically mantras, a bit like Zolee the lizard in today’s story. Toddlers quickly become Zen masters. Just think of those nursery rhymes, that always stay with us, such as “Twinkle, twinkle, little star”.As Philip Toshio Sudo has highlighted in “Zen 25/7: All Zen: All the Time”

"As children we learn to sing,

Twinkle, twinkle, little star
How I wonder what you are

"Through generations, the song endures because it is simple, innocent, and true, evoking the eternal mystery of the universe. Where there is wonder, there is zen — like a diamond in the sky.

"May wonder never cease."

I suspect we connect through simple songs, just as we did as babies and little children throughout our lives, certainly I know I do. These songs of our heart help us feel that we belong and that we are loved and can carry us through the wilderness, can bring us hope, when hope is hard to find.

I love the idea that David Blanchard speaks of that we each have our own song and that we find this song in all aspects of our lives, whether in the seemingly sublime or mundane. He says that “Our songs sing back to us something of our essence, something of our truth, something of our uniqueness. When our songs are sung back to us, it is not about approval, but about recognizing our being and our belonging in the human family”...(he continues)...“They can be heard as songs of love or of longing, songs of encouragement or of comfort, songs of struggle or of security. But most of all, they are the songs of life, giving testimony to what has been, giving praise for all we’re given, giving hope for all we strive for, giving voice to the great mystery that carries each of us in and out of this world.”

He says that it is good to know our own songs and to learn them by heart. This is because there will be days when we do not feel like we belong and we will not perhaps hear life singing our songs back to us. So sometimes we will have to hum our own songs until we find our way back home to that place where we belong.

What are your songs? What is that you sing that makes you feel that you belong? Maybe that’s something you could think about in the coming weeks, as we journey on through Lent. The songs that bring us solace, when we feel a little lost in the wilds of life, our redemption songs. Mine is definitely “The Bare Necessities”

Maybe you’d like to sing them as we move forward as a community in song. Remember though that we don’t necessarily have to sing in unison. We are free to sing our own songs, but we need to sing them together and sometimes we need others to remind us what our songs are. We all forget from time to time. We need to hear our songs from the lips of others from time to time.

We need to hear every song by the way, not just one or two. Each voice has something to offer; each reveals something of the truth. We enjoy here a free religious community. This is a place where I hope that you feel like you belong.

A place where you can sing your own song and if you haven’t yet discovered it; a place where you can find your song and take your first tentative steps to begin singing it; a place where you can hear the songs of others and perhaps begin to blend or harmonise with them; a place where we can discover new songs together.

So let’s journey on singing our song, the songs that bring us hope, when hope is hard to find.

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