Monday 8 July 2024

The Language of Love Embodies Love: The Language of War Embodies War

“What’s Up?!” I was asked this the other day. I was a bit taken back by it. I replied. Well nothing much, I feel quite good actually. A bit tired as it was Sunday evening. I had had a heavy week and had just gone through the emotion of the England game. So I was feeling a bit tired, but generally ok. That said there was nothing the matter and I told her so. Now she was a bit taken aback by this, because she wasn’t asking me a question about my well being. She was asking “What’s up!” as in what I had been up to. A bit like the old “Coca Cola” advert, “What’s Up”. It was an hilarious moment and revealed something rather interesting and amusing to me. It isn’t always the words that we use, but the meaning behind the words we use. As we all know words change in meaning over time. In fact some words can almost mean the exact opposite of what they originally meant.

Like the word awful. Which originally meant to be filled with awe, in a powerful and overwhelming sense. Like awesome means now, but 100 fold. These days awful means a terrible thing, like the worst thing that could happen to a person. So nowadays having a little awe, awesome, is a good thing; but to be overwhelmed with awe, awful, is the worst thing imaginable.

Language, words, connect us, but they can also separate us; words are incredibly powerful things, spoken or written. Words can begin to bring deep healing or can be deeply destructive. What matters is the intention behind them. What seems to matter is the condition of our heart and soul as we speak what we must speak. It is the meaning behind the words that seems to matter the most.

Words are powerful they can be either destructive or creative. Perhaps an example of their creative power comes at the beginning of John’s Gospel and the following lines:

'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.'

According to John the spoken word can literally create life, in fact all life. Now of course in the original Greek, which these opening words were written in the word for “Word” was originally “Logos” which roughly translated actually does not mean merely “word,” but also “speech,” “principle,” “meaning” or “thought.” In Greek philosophy, it is also referred to as Divine Reason or the Mind of God. So, it could mean God speaking life into being, linking it to the first verses from Genesis when God is said to have breathed life into being, remembering always that he saw this creation as “Good”. So “word” here means, in my view, that life is the meaning coming into being and Jesus is the example of this in human form. An example we can all aspire to. For we can all incarnate Love, we can all be a part of the Divine creation. It begins in our words and how we say these words for they are an expression of our meaning. It also begins in how we listen to others. Our ability for each to share, an open loving invitation. This Divine activity. This space between us is the Kin-dom of Love.

When we speak we are not merely flapping our lips, vibrating air we are engaged in Divine activity we are creating or destroying life. It is the same with listening. If we listen with ears of heart we are creating sacred space, this Kin-dom of Love.

So, it is not just about what we say, the words we us, but the meaning behind them. This brings a whole deeper meaning to the phrase “The word (Logos, meaning the Meaning”, became flesh and dwelt amongst us. We embody our meaning through the words we use and how we use words.

Last Sunday afternoon I read a wonderful article in the “i” online newspaper. It was written by Susie Dent of Countdown fame. Susie is my favourite social commentator on social media, she has a gift of commentating on things by the use of language, old and new. She expresses her meaning through words. The article was reflecting on negative language towards the General Election and the England football team, particularly towards Gareth Southgate and the candidates for Prime Minister. Susie suggests this is nothing new and that the English language generally skews towards negativity. A favourite subject for Susie, as I have highlighted before.

As she writes:

“Take the word “happy”, which didn’t appear in English until the 14th century. Until then, you would simply be “glad”. When it did come, happiness leant heavily upon chance. “Hap” meant “fortune” or “fate”, so that “perhaps” means “if fate allows”, a “happening” was a chance occurrence, and “hapless” became a description for someone who never has much luck at all.

The message seems to be that happiness has always been precarious, if not entirely random. In fact, a riffle through a historical thesaurus offers just 12 synonyms for “happy”, and over 50 for the opposite. Just like us, our words seem wired for pessimism.”

She then goes on a journey re words and language for those seeking approval. Stating: “Of course, approval, or the lack of it, is the theme of the moment, whether it involves the England football team or the party leaders seeking our votes. It is also a word with expectation built in: “proof” and “approve” are close relations, meaning that, linguistically at least, approval won’t be given without proof that it is deserved. Without it, many of us stick to the pessimism corner.”

Finally she turns to language and particularly testimony, with reference to the political class, ending with a little humour. She stated:

“Given the chance, our language veers instinctively to the dark side. Perhaps we need more proof and fewer promises to guarantee our approval. Truthful testimony can be hard to find amongst the fakery – on which note, it’s worth saying that “testimony”, from the Latin “testis”, “witness”, and “testicles” are all etymologically one and the same. A man’s testicles were believed to be “witnesses” to his virility. Perhaps talking bollocks has always been part of the deal.”

What we say and the meaning behind our language really matters. Our words are our meaning. It is not just about the words we use, but the meaning behind them. It can be deeply creative or destructive.

Ursula K Le Guin the great 20th century novelist wrote:

“Words are events, they do things, change things. They transform both speaker and hearer; they feed energy back and forth and amplify it. They feed understanding or emotion back and forth and amplify it,”

Words express our meaning and they amplify the meaning of our society and culture. This is why the meaning of words change over time. Remember Logos meant both word and meaning and yet in English translation of the Bible it is always translated as word and not meaning. We need to understand the meaning behind the words we use.

I was admonished the other day for saying something that was considered unkind. It was not meant that way. I was asked a direct question and I gave an honest and thoughtful response, I was actually agreeing with the questioner. That said someone overhearing what I said, replied with the thought that what I said was unkind. On reflection it probably was, although it was not the meaning behind what I said, it was not my intention.

There is a song on the latest New Model Army album “Unbroken” it is called “Language”. The chorus goes something like this.

The language of love will bring us love
The language of war will bring us war
The way that all the words become true
The way that all the words become true
The language of love will bring us love
The language of war will surely bring us war
We choose it, we own it, we choose it, we own it
We choose it, and we own it.

We have to be responsible for the words we use and the meaning behind them. Are they words of love, that play a role in the creation of life. Or are they words of war that play a part in the destruction. Words express our meaning. This something that has disturbed me these last few weeks of the general election and public life in general. We need to be careful with the language we use and what we mean by what we say. No one wins in war, its just that one side loses a little more. I hope that the public discourse will improve now that the electioneering is over.

Now of course language is subtle and complex and often not direct. Metaphor is important, this is particularly true when speaking of the great religious stories. To me they are trying to teach deep truth, but should not be taken as historical fact. Remember mythos originally meant universal truth, not fact.

We all of us, whether we are aware of it or not, use metaphor to name our own experience of life. Such metaphors express our “meaning”. Our personal metaphors, the language we use express our meaning, who we are. I was thinking of this as I thought about the language of war. Such as “Life is like a game of chance — some win, some lose.” Or “Life is like a battlefield — you get the enemy, or the enemy gets you. ”Such metaphors see life as conflict. They are very much Hobbesian world views. Very much the language of the last few weeks.

The metaphor that speaks to me personally, that expresses my logos, my meaning is the weather, or perhaps more accurately the changing seasons of life. I see life as neither strictly one thing or another, this allows a richness of language too. Life is an eternal cycle, ever changing and transforming. You can experience four seasons in one single day. There is joy, there is pain, there is loss and there is gain. There is darkness and there is light. It is important to me to become light in the dark, so that the dark does not overcome the light.

I wonder what are the metaphors of your live?. What is the language you use to speak of yourselves and of life? What is your meaning and how do you bring the meaning to life? Do you speak the language of love or the language of war?

It matters the words we use and the meaning behind them. Are they part of the creation or the destruction of life. Do we speak the language of love, or the language of war?

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

Monday 1 July 2024

Radical Amazement: Walking Your Path in Service and Joy

I am often amused by people’s responses to what I do as a vocation. I’m even more amused by what they call me. A couple whose wedding I recently conducted called me Father and others assume I am a vicar. Alex the flower man in Altrincham often refers to me as father and a friends sister introduced me to her boyfriend as a priest the other. I made it very clear I am not. I have heard of someone else calling me Pastor Dan. I’m sure I’m called many other things too, which I won’t repeat. Now while my title is reverend, I am a minister and this is an entirely appropriate title for what I do. To minister literally means to serve and I believe this is what I do, I serve people, I serve life and I serve God. I am a minister and to minister is to serve. I often wonder when I listen to our political leaders if they are truly aware of this, that they are there purely to serve “we the people” and not the other way round. The Prime Minister ought to see them self as the number one servant in the land. Sadly power can go to anyone’s head. If I was to appear on Question time or to question the current candidates at the general election this is what I would put to them. As Prime Minister how do plan to serve we the people? Can you explain to me what it means to be the number servant in the land, the Prime Minister. That said enough of that. I am a minister of religion.

To minister is to serve. Now some say I am an unorthodox minister. I remember a congregant once saying that “I was like no minister she had ever met before.” I remember Rev Bill Darlison’s response to this comment. He quipped “Danny you are unlike any minister that anyone has ever met before.”

So it appears true that I am an unorthodox minister and yet to me I simply do my best to fulfil my role, to simply serve life through love. To show others the way of love and service and hope in the midst of suffering. I cannot take away anybody’s suffering, but I can walk with them and by doing so meaning emerges and despair is dispelled.

To quote Micah (Ch8 v 6), the inspiration to the second hymn we sang earlier.

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Will you come and walk with me?

I do not think that there is any doubt that we have lived through some difficult days, some challenging years. Most of us have had some difficult personal challenges in our lives and the lives of those we love. This has always been thus, there is always challenges in life. That said this does not mean we cannot find joy. Something that was so beautifully explored in the wonderful conversation John Poskitt led at Urmston last week. We all experienced Joy as we remembered and shared about past pleasures. It is vital to remember and to share our joy, just as much as it is to share our suffering

I was out with some friends on Monday. We were supposed to be walking Molly and Ronnie. Not that they needed us, they just enjoyed one another. One of my friends was suffering as his grandmother had just died. Two others talked of the struggles with siblings in their family and how they can help them. In sharing together some of the struggle was lifted. In fact, the conversations soon turned to joy. The dogs wrestling in utter bliss also helped. This is not to make light of the real suffering, we walked and we talked and we shared together. There is real faith and healing in this. In so many ways this is what gives birth to joy.

It is easy to feel powerless against this tide of suffering. How do we keep our heads up and our eyes and hearts open to one another and life, how do we find Hope in the midst of all of this? How do we transcend despair?

Well I believe it begins in being together; I believe it begins in ministering together; I believe it begins in and through service. Rabindranath Tagore said “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.” It begins by bearing witness to the love and service and the coming together, holding and inspiring one another. People walking together in their suffering, in love. I see it in the little things as well as the bigger things. It doesn’t take away the suffering but it brings to life the love present in each of us, a power that will always overcome the powers that divide us. To quote those words that Jo Cox left us with “There is more that unites us than divides us.” or in the words of Harry Stack Sullivan “ We are all much more simply human than otherwise, be we happy and successful, contented and detached, miserable and mentally disordered, or whatever.” We all live with the same struggles, we are all born from the same earth, live under the same sun and I believe have the same spirit running through us all.

As we serve one another meaning emerges and we discover our own true hearts. It does not end the suffering but it creates Hope and meaning from the suffering and in so doing we build a legacy of the heart for those who follow. As we serve one another we develop our own hearts and souls, in serving one another we are working on ourselves, on our own souls; every act, every word, every gesture of genuine compassion naturally nourishes our own hearts and minds and souls. Service is soul work, it is the heart in action and it brings us fully to life. In so doing we transcend the very real suffering that is an aspect of all life; in so doing we transcend despair.

Through faith in life itself, by giving ourselves fully to life, we know joy. Joy is an attribute of a full, rich and deeply meaningful life. It is radically different to fun, pleasure and happiness, these are merely emotional qualities. Joy is a spiritual quality that is present within us, despite life’s circumstances. Joy is about connection, intimate connection. When I know joy I am at one with life and with myself. Through love and service we can begin to once again awaken to the amazement of life and know joy.

Joy for life itself can be known even during life’s troubles and difficulties. The people Jesus spoke to 2,000 years ago were not living easy and comfortable lives. Those people knew about conflict, oppression, tragedy and almost constant grief. He told them that all that was wonderful, life-giving, life affirming, all that is meaningful was theirs. He said to them “Enter into my kingdom with joy.” And “This is my commandment, that you love one another.”

The kingdom he spoke of can be with us right here right now, we can know and experience the commonwealth of love right here, right now. And how can we know it? Well by fulfilling the commandment to love one another. Love though is not some mushy sentiment, it is an act, it is a way of being. The commonwealth of love comes into being by giving ourselves fully to life, to one another; through giving ourselves fully to life and to one another we truly realise the joy of living. In so doing we will be awakened to the true amazement of what it means to actually be alive.

I witnessed a beautiful example of this the other day as I walked with my grieving friend. He told me he had spent two hours the previous evening listing to his auntie. His auntie had spent the final few hours with her mother, his grandma and she simply shared about the experience as he listened. He said little, all he did was bare witness, he helped bare her pain and suffering. It seems she hadn’t really spoken of this with anyone else. It brought him close to his aunt and of course to his beloved grandmother. He also allowed his auntie to share her suffering too. She had since the death been too caught up in practicalities, to speak of her own grief. As I listened to my friend I thought to myself. This is what Jesus was speaking of on the “Sermon on the Mount” This the Kingdom of Love” right here right now. Not some mysterious state in another dimension, but this walking side in this spirit, in the kin-dom of love, this commonwealth of love, coming alive through our humble human being.

.Tagore said: “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”

This is the purpose of the religious life to awaken joy through service to and for one another. Joy is about connection, intimate connection. When we give of ourselves to others and to life we know the joy that is truly living. That said when we live only for ourselves and live dis-connected from life, we quickly become joyless once again, we lose faith in God given life, our experience of life becomes dulled and meaningless.

Some people say “everything happens for a reason”, in so doing suggesting it is all part of God’s plan. I have never believed this and believe it simply opens the great theodicy question “How can an all-powerful and all loving God allow suffering? A question that comes into my consciousness constantly as a minister of religion.

My truth is that I do not believe that everything in life is pre-ordained or pre-determined, the future is unwritten. I do believe in the Lure of Divine Love, that all life is given free will and it is our task to bring love alive in life and to encourage others to do the same through our example, in this sense we are not powerless against the tide of despair. It is our responsibility to become beacons of hope to others in their suffering, to become the light of the world. Hope rises from the ashes of suffering and meaning emerges through our living and breathing. This is why everything matters, every thought, every breath, every feeling, every action, and every word. This is also one way in which joy can be found in life, through love and service for others, despite the very real turbulence all around us. I believe in life I am constantly in awe and amazement at it, despite the very real suffering present. I live with eyes, with all my senses including the sixth sense fully open. It is the only way I know how to live fully alive.

Some may ask how and why can I believe this? My simple answer to this is “This is what my 52 years of living breathing and waking up has taught me.” I believe in life, it constantly amazes me. It has done so again this week, as I have walked side by side with others.

Life amazes me, constantly. Despite all the darkness and destruction that is present, that can overwhelm it all, life and love always seems to find a way through. Like that little shoot that finds its way back to life every spring time, finding its way through all the obstacles in its way, insisting on reaching out beyond and finding life. That amazes me; I find that utterly amazing.

Abraham Joshua Heschel said that:

“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. ....get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

Through living in love and service I am awakened to the amazement of life. My senses are fully awake. But what is amazement you may well ask? What is radical amazement?

“Radical Amazement” captures those moments, those deeply human moments when we find ourselves intensely connected to the mystery and the majesty of existence. It is found not so much in the big moments, when we mark life’s achievements, it is more about what Heschell himself describes as “the common and the simple” those small things that reveal “the infinite significance” of existence. In many ways “radical amazement” is about paying attention and looking deeply at the routine moments of our lives and experiencing just how incredible they are. There are parallels to mindfulness here, but I think there is more to it than that, there is a sense of eye popping awe and wonder in looking through radically amazed eyes. It’s about seeing the miracle in existence. How many of us truly recognise and acknowledge just how amazing it is that we exist at all?

“Radical Amazement” is about looking into life with truly open eyes, it is an ethical act and an intentional decision, it is the ultimate spiritual practise and as such it is one that involves great risk. This is because it opens us up to all that is, as it truly is. This requires courage, because to see the beauty also requires us to see the horror too. This may seem too awful for some, but it is the awe that accompanies vulnerability that is required to be awakened to radical amazement.

To see the world with awakened eyes, fresh eyes, open eyes is look into life in “Radical Amazement”. It is life as it truly is in its awe filled beauty. It is to truly let life in and to fill us to the brim.

It seems to me that “Radical Amazement” is how to live and breathe our human spirituality. At its essence spirituality is about being amazed it is about cultivating greater openness and deeper awareness of the beauty, blessing and mystery of life.

Suffering is an aspect of living, it cannot be escaped. Everybody suffers. Life itself though is not suffering, love and joy are also an aspect of life too. How do we experience love and joy? Well it’s quite simple really. It comes through living with all our senses wide open. It begins by simply opening our eyes and our arms. It begins in love and service. It begins by simply walking humbly with one another and humbly giving thanks that we even exist at all. This is what it means to live in and through Hope and it is this that will lift us from despair despite the very real suffering in life. It begins by simply looking into the eyes of our neighbour and recognising the amazing thing that is their existence and continues as we walk out of this chapel, look at the world in which we live and by simply giving thanks for life, for it truly is amazing that life exists at all.

May love guides us in the weeks ahead, may it lead us to Hope and away from Despair in spite of the very real suffering present in life.

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