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"