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"

Monday 12 February 2024

Attention without feeling is only a report

I have a friend who pays attention, who notices everything. It is a wonderful quality, although it can be somewhat exhausting for them at times. I empathise and am both blessed and cursed by this aspect of humanity. I notice things.

My friend hosted a dinner party at the weekend. It was a wonderful evening. I paid attention to them as they paid attention to the needs of those present. The food was incredible and the company equally so. Each persona needs were fed, each was served in a loving and attentive way and the conversations were listened to with an attentive ear. It was wonderful to observe someone giving their full attention to others. It was a person offering what they had to others in a deeply loving way, it was a joy to behold. It was deep devotion, prayer in action if I have ever witnessed it. My friend reminded me of both Mary and Martha in a passage from Luke’s Gospel.

I saw a similar example last Tuesday morning going for coffee with friends. It was my turn to pay and I was mesmerised by the young woman behind the counter, called Mars, who knew the orders of all 12 of us. Now we are regulars at this place, but I didn’t have a clue what each of us drink. Whereas Mars clearly pays attention to each of her customers, she is devoted to her work and those she dutifully serves. She also pays attention to us as individuals, she listens and shares as we listen to her. I often take time in conversation, I notice when something isn’t right with her and of course we talk. My gift it seems to many.

Mars told me a few days later that generally she has a terrible memory. She is diagnosed with “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder” (ADHD). So generally she can struggle with paying attention. Yet her love and dedication to her work seems to focus her attention.

Attention is about love. It is love in its most basic form. When we pay attention to one another, when we notice each other’s needs, we are living by love. By paying attention to another’s needs we are loving them and accepting them as they are. This to me is the love that is spoken of in the great spiritual traditions. It is more than passively observing in a mindful way. It is also more than empathy, feeling with another, true attention leads to devoted action. It is form of deep generous love. When we are generous we give our whole hearts to life and one another.

It is said that whenever the Buddha would teach he would always begin with lessons on generosity. He did this because it brings with it joy and self respect and therefore it is a platform from which to look at all our life experiences, including the very painful ones and thus not become overwhelmed by them. It is thought that the Buddha always began talking about generosity because he believed that we all have something to give. Our gifts might not be material in nature.

Giving begins with attention, in one form or another. It might be by offering a listening ear, enabling another to be comfortable in an uncomfortable situation, I have another friend who is wonderful at this. Generosity is a kind of hospitality it welcomes the other, the stranger as they are, exactly as they are. Attention is the ultimate welcome and act of generosity. Something I saw in my friend at the dinner party and Mars in the coffee shop, something I see in many others too. It brings me back also to the welcome of Mary and Martha.

The visit of Jesus to Mary and Martha’s is a fascination to me. It comes at the end of chapter 10 in Luke’s Gospel immediately after “The Parable of the Good Samaritan”, suggesting to me that it is teaching something about how we should offer loving hospitality. To me this is all about paying attention. Something I witnessed with my friend and in Mars at CafĂ© Nero, for example. They were both Mary and Martha it seems. Generally Mary’s Way, that of prayerful devotion is seen as the better way. Love though is also about service, both are acts of attention. Remember the visit follows the story of the Good Samaritan. A parable of loving attention and devoted service, a story of love wherever it is needed. Isn’t this the essence of the spiritual life, this is faith and works. The story of Mary and Martha seems to me to be an invitation; an invitation to everyone to decide how we use our attention; to explore how we pay attention and to whom. It is about love in its highest form. For what we give our attention to we love. Attention is true love; attention is the most basic form of love. When we give our attention to someone or something we bless and in turn we are blessed by our love. My friend and Mars both exemplified this love, they incarnated the Love spoken of throughout the Gospels.

It matters what we pay attention to in life. Yes it is vital to the spiritual life, but also the physical life too. Actually, I tend not to separate the two. Attention is the key to problem solving, creativity, and civilization in general. Our lives depend on what we pay attention to. This is why everything competes for our attention. We are so saturated by information these days, that it can be difficult just to pay attention to the life we inhabit. Yet our lives depend upon it. We need to pay attention; we need to pay attention to what really matters.

Unitarian Universalist minister Rev Victoria Safford in her sermon “An Ethics of Attention” said:

“Pay attention, say the mystics and the poets, and the little kids tugging on our legs. Pay attention, says the sunset and the ice-cold morning, and the person telling you their story. Pay attention, say the good friends at the barbecue, and the good food, and the voices in your head and heart. Only that day dawns to which we are awake.”

It matters what we pay attention to; it matters also how we pay attention; it matters not only what we look at, but how we look at life. Attention may well be our most precious resource we have. Remember it is how we love; remember it is how we both feel and express our love. The Stoic philosopher Epictetus is reported to have said “You become what you give your attention to. If you don’t choose what thoughts and images you expose yourself to, someone else will.” Attention is not a passive act, it is deliberate, an ethical act. For if we do not choose our attention will be put upon us by all this information that we are constantly drowned by. It matters what we pay attention to and how we pay attention, it shapes our very lives.

The twentieth century French philosopher Simone Weil viewed attention as a moral virtue, just like justice and courage. She differentiated it from concentration. It is not just about focussing on minutiae, it is more than mindfulness. As she observed: Concentration constricts. Attention expands — concentration tires. Attention rejuvenates. Concentration is focused thinking. Attention is thinking suspended.

For Weil attention ought to be seen as the rarest and purest form of generosity. She saw attention as the pathway to transformation, far superior to our human will. In “First and Last Notebooks” she wrote “We have to try to cure our faults by attention and not by will.” She believed that the will alone constricts the spirit while attention is about expanding it. Attention opens us up to so much more.

Weil equated attention to prayer. Love and service to me is highest form of prayer. It makes me think of the attention of my friend. Weil wrote “Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer. It presupposes faith and love.” This brings me back to both Mary and Martha, Mars in the coffee shop and my friend hosting that dinner party, with such love care and attention.

Simone Weil saw a deep connection between our capacity for paying attention and our capacity for prayer. “Prayer consists of attention,” she said, “It is the orientation of all the attention of which the soul is capable toward God. The quality of attention counts for much in the quality of the prayer.”

Now of course paying attention will affect us, it should affect us and deeply. As Mary Oliver wrote “Attention without feeling is only a report”. Everything touched Mary deeply, it affected her and she didn’t merely report what she saw. Her attention was the ultimate prayer and her poetry was devotion itself. As she said “Attention is the beginning of devotion” This is beautifully exemplified in the poem “Spring”, which I will end this morning’s service with. It is a poem about spring, which is on the horizon, but it is also a poem about how we should live our lives. We should live like the black bear coming down the mountain as it awakens from hibernation, showing her “perfect love”. Mary asked the question how should we live our lives? Well attentively, loving the world, living our lives like a prayer. As Mary wrote “There is only one question: how to love the world”. Loving the world means simply paying attention to the life that we are surrounded by, loving it by devoting our selves fully to it, being touched and affected by it. Just like my friend who hosted her dinner party and Mars in the coffee shop on Tuesday morning. They served from their hearts and they paid attention to everyone’s needs without discrimination. They showed me how to simply love the world, it is not that difficult. All you have to do is pay attention, but to do so with feeling.

Here's the poem, I invite you to pay attention to it.

"Spring" by Mary Oliver

a black bear
has just risen from sleep
and is staring

down the mountain.
All night
in the brisk and shallow restlessness
of early spring

I think of her,
her four black fists
flicking the gravel,
her tongue

like a red fire
touching the grass,
the cold water.
There is only one question:

how to love this world.
I think of her
like a black and leafy ledge

to sharpen her claws against
the silence
of the trees.
Whatever else

my life is
with its poems
and its music
and its glass cities,

it is also this dazzling darkness
down the mountain,
breathing and tasting;

all day I think of her—
her white teeth,
her wordlessness,
her perfect love.

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

Monday 5 February 2024

Sauntering Along Together: The Holiest of Holy walks

“Walking” by Henry David Thoreau

"I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks — who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering, which word is beautifully derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going a la Sainte Terre, to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a Sainte-Terrer,” a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander. They who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds; but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre, without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all; but the saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea."

One of my favourite things is to walk and talk side by side with folk, with Molly of course. I probably journey with several folk a week like this. It is always fascinating what comes, what is shared. I suspect I notice and experience far more in conversation with someone, than I do alone. The sum of our parts is far more than our individual units it seems. I was out with a friend and Molly the other day for several hours. We walked much further and longer than we had intended and to places we had not planned to go. We shared a great deal together as the three of us sauntered on, despite the wetness of the air. It was an absolute joy, filled with many blessing, including towards the end seeing the first snow drops of the year. Spring is near it feels and the snow drops are always a sign.

Friday just gone was traditionally considered the beginning of Spring; 2nd of February was traditionally the end of the Christmas Season marked with Candlemass and not Epiphany, the 12th day of Christmas. The snowdrops being a beautiful symbol of the new spring coming, a symbol of hope. Legend has it that they appeared as such symbols after Adam and Even were expelled from Eden. Eve was about to give up hope that the winter would never end, but an angel appeared and transformed some snowflakes into the flower snowdrop, showing that the winter will eventually come to an end. The flower is linked to the purification associated with “Candlemass” as the old rhyme goes:

“The Snowdrop, in purest white array, first rears her head in “Candlemass” day.

It felt this on that walk with a friend and Molly the other day. We stopped and paused and admired the snowdrop, that caught our eye. The first any of us had seen this year. Molly blessed them by sniffing and we sauntered off to find something to eat. I love to saunter with others. It matters not where we go, but how we go and it matters the company you keep on the journey. In some ways life is really about who you travel with, not where you travel too. I love to saunter along.

Now “Saunter” is one of those interesting words of disputed origin. There is a popular Meme floating around the internet. It is a quote, of disputed origin, on hiking or more accurately “sauntering” by John Muir. The quote cannot be found in his writing. It can be found in book written Albert Palmer “The Mountain Trail and its Message” and is reported as something Muir said while they were walking together, sauntering together perhaps.

Here is the quote:

by John Muir on hiking, titled “Sauntering”.

"Hiking - I don't like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains - not hike! Do you know the origin of that word 'saunter?' It's a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, "A la sainte terre,' 'To the Holy Land.' And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not 'hike' through them."

It seems that no one knows the exact origin of the word saunter but many have suggested it is connected to some kind of pilgrimage to the “Holy Land”. Henry David Thoreau regarded “Sauntering” as making any journey and true walk (from “Walking”) as a Holy Pilgrimage, where a person is at home wherever they find themselves and that the two walking together make the walk a holy pilgrimage, this is a true companion.

I’m with Thoreau, I love such walks, because when you return from them, you feel that you have been enhanced as a person and have enhanced who you have journeyed with, some spirit has come to life in this holy journey together. Now whether the true origin of the word “Saunter” is linked to travellers on a journey to the Holy land or not doesn’t matter to me. I certainly see a lot of truth in both Muir’s reported thoughts on it and that of Thoreau’s.

For Thoreau walking wasn’t a utilitarian activity. It wasn’t purely about exercise. He wasn’t trying to reach at least 10,000 steps in a day. No, he consider it primarily a spiritual activity. I have found this to be true whether walking alone, with Molly and or with those people who I connect with in those special ways. As he said:

“The walking of which I speak has nothing in it akin to taking exercise, as it is called, as the sick take medicine at stated hours — as the Swinging of dumb-bells or chairs; but is itself the enterprise and adventure of the day. If you would get exercise, go in search of the springs of life. Think of a man’s swinging dumbbells for his health, when those springs are bubbling up in far-off pastures unsought by him!”

I was out with another friend on Tuesday morning. It was short walk in distance, just an hour around the park and King George V pond. We got talking about spiritual matters. We talked about a lost Biblical word, found in John’s Gospel, the word Paraclete, which meant comforter, companion, advocate, but not in a human form, more a spiritual form. In Christianity, it is what is understood as the Holy Spirit. I suspect that if we walk with others in that spirit and understanding then we are truly living spiritually alive. Maybe this is what it means to truly saunter together.

Jean Varnier in “Drawn into The Mystery of Jesus” catches the meaning nearly perfectly:

The word "paraclete" is one of those rich Greek words
that are difficult to translate completely.
A paraclete is someone who defends and comforts,
and speaks up for and helps a weak person.
So the word "paraclete" can be translated as "advocate," as well as
"comforter," "consoler," or "helper."
Etymologically, the word "paraclete" means
"the one who answers the call."
What a beautiful name!
God is the one who answers the cry of the weak and those in need.
A mother is a "paraclete" for her child
when she answers the cry of her little one,
hold and loves him or her.
Every time we look after a person in need and answer their cry,
we become paracletes.
Jesus was a paraclete for his disciples.

The Paraclete is given
to those who are lonely and need the presence of a friend,
to those who are lost and poor in spirit
and who cry out for God.

Perhaps to saunter with another is what it truly means to be a friend, to truly live spiritually alive. Perhaps this is what we are truly here for. To be a Paraclete to one another.

To saunter together, is to be a true friend, a companion. To walk with a friend is to improve both your lives, to bring a greater spirit to life. Such friendship is a key component of Buddhism. Beautifully illustrated in the following tale.

One day while the Buddha was out walking with his attendant Ananda, who declared, “Teacher, to have companions and comrades on the great way is so amazing! I have come to realise that friendship is fully half of an authentic spiritual life.” They continued walking in silence when eventually the Buddha responded. “No, dear one. Without companions and comrades, no one can live into the deep, finding the true harmonies of life, to achieve authentic wisdom. To say it simply, friendship is the whole of the spiritual life.”

Could this be true? Is friendship the whole of the spiritual life?

Well I would say in such relationships, as we saunter together that greater spirit comes to life. This is the key. To be a good friend and companion, to journey on side by side together. To saunter on sharing yourself and in so doing a greater spirit comes to life which blesses your life and the lives of those you come into contact with.

I shared the picture of the snow drop with many people. I know it helped one in particular who finds January a real struggle. It showed them that Spring is nearly here, it lifted their spirit as so many friends have done with me at times.

Something so simple, but so easy to miss. It was by journeying together that we were able to notice those tiny snow drops in Dunham Massey as Molly, a friend and myself sauntered on together on our little Holy Journey together side by side.

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