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"