Sunday, 22 January 2017

Become what you are

"Do I Matter? "

Standing before the One who is all the world,
can it be that I matter?
Can it be that such a small thing as me
has a place in such a grand scheme?
And yet it is so.

I am empty of permanence.
I don't endure.
My days are limited and too few to fulfill the desires of my heart.
I am so small and temporary. And yet so important.

This pile of dust speaks!
This bag of skin thinks!
This frail body acts and makes a difference!

I am the only me that has ever been.
I am shaken by the knowledge that
I never existed before and will not again.

The Source rebirths, but never repeats.
Infinite possibility demands infinite diversity.

Whatever I must do I must do here and now.
Whatever gift I am to give I must give it here and now.
Whatever purpose I am to fulfill I must fulfill it here and now.

I am what I am here and now.
I am what I do with who I am.

By Rami Shapiro

I like to talk with people, to be with people to listen to people. Generally I don’t do much of the talking. I was like this as a child in the company of family. Mostly I watched and listened. I paid attention. In many ways I suspect this is my natural state, the way I like to be. Now don’t get me wrong I like to talk, I love to be listened to. But the majority of the time I watch and listen. Maybe that is why ministry suits me, it’s mostly about listening and observing, opening all your senses, absorbing it all, digesting it and then bringing something from all of this. It’s almost as if all that I experience in the week feeds into those times when I share with those I serve whether physically or virtually. I offer thanks to those who read and listen. Thank you for listening and reading, but most importantly thank you and all the other people who have spoken with me this week. Thank you to all that I have listened to.

I was listening to someone the other day who was talking to me about identity and how your upbringing shapes who you are, good or bad. He told me something rather wonderful, which I hope is true, but I have not yet been able to verify. He told me that there is a tradition amongst some of the Bantu people of Southern Africa. He told me “that it is said that the Bantu people sneak into the rooms of their children at night, as they sleep, and whisper in their ears, 'Become what you are.'

“Become what you are.” Not become who you are, but what you are. I thought to myself how wonderful it must be to have that song singing in your soul as you grow and develop. It got me thinking about who or what I am? Who or what I have been and who or what I might yet become?…The truth is throughout our lives we never stop becoming or maybe un-becoming…I try not to be too un-becoming these days.

I was out visiting the other day, I again spent most of the day sitting and listening with people. I then drove home and spent another hour or so on the phone catching up with family. Oh I wish I had more time and energy to do more of this. I was on the phone with my brother, someone who has known me from the first day of my life. My big brother. We talked about many things. The state of our lives and what his kids were up to. They actually let him speak, which is not always the case. We talked about music, the world, faith and cricket…mainly cricket (We are good Yorkshire exiles). He then asked me what I was going to be doing that evening. I said I was going to relax and eat and watch the Chelsea v Leicester City game and then watch an Italian football game on BT Sport. He then said something I found a little strange “Where did you get your love of football from? I was never that into it. Our dad certainly wasn’t interested and Dave (our stepfather when we were children) wasn’t into it either.” I remember feeling a little defensive at the time and thinking not everything I did in my life was following you or the other older males in the family. I thought even “Our Allen our older step-brother who was mr super sportsman was more into rugby and cricket than football and even my grandad was more into rugby league than football. That said we talked about football a lot in the last few years of his life, I remember just a couple of days before he died, when he was very weak, one of the first questions he asked me was how “We” were getting on? “We” being Leeds United of course.

I paused for a few moments and considered my brother’s question and retraced where the love for football came from. The truth is though I do not know. It has always been there. It is just something I love and have always done so. As a young boy I was obsessed. As I told him all we ever did at school was play football at break time and dinner time. I was never any good but I loved to play. Interestingly many people these days are surprised when they discover this about me as I don’t go on about it. I love it though. It’s not really very strange either. It is hardly a minority sport…(Muttley laugh)

Now I think what really got to me about the conversation and the questioning of my love is the assumption that I only love and like what I do due to the influence of others. That who I am and who each of us are is based on the influences of the elders in our communities etc. That who we are uniquely is shaped by external influences. That to be who and what we are is based primarily on the senior influences in our lives. It got me thinking and feeling and watching and most of all listening…It awakened my homiletic consciousness. Hence this "BlogSpot"

It got me thinking about who are we, what are we? What shapes us? Is it our environment? Our ancestry? Our culture? How do we become who or what we are? As time went by someone or something kept on whispering in my ear “Become what you are.”

The first thought was from one of my ministerial influences Forrest Church and his little mantra for life “Want what you have, do what you can, be who you are.” It was the last bit “be who you are, or what you are” that was singing in my ears, my song for the week. It brought to mind Rev Peter Friedrich’s reflection on “Be who you are”. He suggested that most of what we learn to be comes from childhood emulation, that despite being rational discerning people we learn most of what we know by copying the elders in our lives like a giant game of “follow my leader”. In many ways our whole culture is based upon this that to be successful we have to look and be a certain way. Just think about the whole advertising industry that is driven by this sense of dissatisfaction because we are not living up to what we’re supposed to be. This is supposedly a good thing, that by seeing what is wrong with us we will somehow become better. We are visually bombarded and our ears are sound blasted by this ideal of what we ought to be. We all of us follow to some degree or another. If only someone or something was whispering in our ears, as we slept at night “Become what you are.” Never mind who you are.

“Become what you are.”

There are two very different ways that most folk seem to view life, either everything matters or nothing really matters. I was once one of those folk who believed, for a long time, that nothing really mattered, that there was no meaning to life. Now I no longer see life this way. In so doing I have become something else. I believe that this is what I’ve become. You see to live in such a way that everything matter is to become what I am. This is the voice I hear speaking to me through all life, whether awake or asleep, that everything matters. That every single one of us matters, as does everything out there. That everything is sacred, every feeling, every thought, every word, every deed matters.

It matters what you are, it matters what you are, it matters what you are…

Each of us belong here, we each have a place here, we each have gifts to offer life, we each have a bliss that we must follow…to me this is becoming what you are, following your bliss…

While we are all part of a greater whole and we all make this greater whole at the same time we are each of us sacred and unique and in order to truly serve life we need to truly become who and what we are. We need to fully embrace what we are exactly as we are. This is not easy and it is certainly not painless, but it is absolutely vital both to ourselves and all life.

We need to truly become what we are; to truly become what we are is to take our place fully in life. You see we never take this journey of becoming what we are alone. We do need others to accompany us, to whisper in our ears, especially when we are asleep “Become what you are”, just as they need us to keep on whispering in their ears “Become what you are”. We do not sail the ship of life alone, we are relational beings we are co-created and we a part of the on-going co-creation which continues way behind our life spans as it began way before we were here. We are all a part of this amazing thing called life, a tiny but vital aspect and the whole of life keeps on whispering to us “Become what you are”, we are needed and wanted and loved by life itself. Life needs us to become what we are. To dance the dance of life, to take our turn in leading and following.

Life needs us to become what we are and put our whole selves into becoming what we are. For in so doing the very ordinariness of our daily living will become truly extraordinary.

Now I’m going to end this chip of a "blogspot"with a short tale from the wisdom of Anthony DeMello, it goes by the title “Most Wonderful Hash”

" 'What's so original about this man?' asked a visitor. 'All he gives you is a hash of stories, proverbs, and sayings from other masters.'

"A woman disciple smiled. She once had a cook, she said, who made the most wonderful hash in the world.

" 'How on earth do you make it, my dear? You must give me the recipe.'

"The cook's face glowed with pride. She said, 'Well, ma'am, I'll tell yer: beef's nothin'; pepper's nothin'; onion's nothin'; but when I throws myself into the hash — that's what makes it what it is.' "

So let’s throw our whole selves in, our whole selves out, in out, in out and shake it all…for if we do we will make something extraordinary…Let’s become what we are…

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Called to care

This "blogspot" explores "care" it begins with a story, versions of which can be found in many cultures and traditions. Following this is a reflection by Henri Nouwen...And finally a reflection, inspired by so many and so much, but written by myself...

Once upon a time...long long Japan, a woman prayed that God would show her the difference between heaven and hell. She wanted to know whether there were fires in hell, and whether the people in heaven sat around on clouds all day playing harps. She didn’t fancy going to either place if that was all they had to offer.

She prayed so hard that God decided to answer her prayer, and he sent an angel to give her a guided tour of both places...angels are good like that...first she went to hell. It wasn’t hot at all; in fact it looked quite pleasant. There were long tables laden with food of all kinds – cooked meats, vegetables, fruit, delicious pies, and exotic desserts. “This can’t be hell,” she thought. Then she looked at the people. They were sitting some distance from the tables, and they were all miserable – emaciated, pale, angry. Each of them had chopsticks fastened to their hands, but the chopsticks were about three feet long and no matter how hard they tried, the people just couldn’t get the food into their own mouths. They were groaning with hunger, and frustration, and anger. “I’ve seen enough of this,” said the woman. “May I see heaven now?”

The angel took the woman to heaven. They didn’t have far to go. It was just next door. It was almost the same as hell. There were the same kind of tables, the same kind of food, and here too, the people were sitting a little distance away from the tables with three-foot long chopsticks fastened to their hands. But these people seemed happy. They were rosy cheeked, and looked well fed. They were smiling and chatting merrily to each other. They couldn’t put the food into their mouths either, but they had discovered how to be fed and happy: they were feeding each other.

The animation below is another telling of the story...from another tradition...

Henri Nouwn on "Care"

"...Real care is not ambiguous. Real care excludes indifference and is the opposite of apathy. The word “care” finds its roots in the Gothic “Kara” which means lament. The basic meaning of care is: to grieve, to experience sorrow, to cry out with. I am very much struck by this background of the word care because we tend to look at caring as an attitude of the strong toward the weak, of the powerful toward the powerless, of the ‘haves’ toward the ‘have-nots. And, in fact, we feel quite uncomfortable with an invitation to enter into someone’s pain before doing something about it.

Still, when we honestly ask ourselves which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not-knowing, not-curing, not-healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is the friend who cares.

You might remember moments in which you were called to be with a friend who had lost a wife or husband, child or parent. What can you say, do, or propose at such a moment? There is a strong inclination to say: “Don’t cry; the one you loved is in the hands of God.” “Don’t be sad because there are so many good things left worth living for.” But are we ready to really experience our powerlessness in the face of death and say: “I do not understand. I do not know what to do but I am here with you.” Are we willing to not run away from the pain, to not get busy when there is nothing to do and instead stand rather in the face of death together with those who grieve? . . ."

...We are all called to care...

I think one of the saddest words you will ever hear in the English language is “I don’t care” Who amongst us can say that they have never uttered them? If not out loud, so that others could hear them, at least inwardly to themselves. I’ve said it. I said it many years ago and later denied doing so. I said it though and have regretted it ever since. It was at a moment in my life when I had sunk so far into the pain of my lost little self that I did not care anymore. I was in hell and the uttering of those words proved it at that moment in time.

Thankfully, although at times I do feel weariness towards life it has been many years since I did not care; it has been many years since I experienced the pain and loneliness of indifference.

There’s another phrase along this theme, which I often hear spoken “I don’t care what people think of me.” Now while I think I understand what people mean by this, that they are no longer ruled by the views of others, what matters is how they see themselves, there is something in this phrase that still bothers me. I never want to reach the point where I do not care at all what people think of me. I never want to, once again, experience indifference. While I am not ruled by the views of others, it matters to me what they believe about me, about life, about one another and about themselves. I care a lot.

As a child I was considered overly sensitive, that I felt too much and that I took things personally. While it was thought of as a likable quality I know it was seen as a serious handicap too. I remember my step father telling me I needed to toughen up and he certainly tried to in ways that were not healthy. All this really led to was me closing part of my humanity down. This did lead to a sense of indifference at some later stages of my life which led to some horrific feelings of loneliness, isolation and disconnection. Thankfully I eventually saw the truth of this and through love I began to connect and care again. This seeming blight became an asset as I was able to care once more. It wasn’t so much that I lost the sensitivity, that I felt less, it was more that I recognised that these feelings were not about me. I basically took things less personally and it was this that allowed me to begin to serve, to minister.

To minister is to serve and to serve is to care. It is about connection it is about relationship it’s about bringing that loving space alive. I learnt this through the example given to me by John Midgley when he came and tried to be with both myself and others during an horrific time in our lives. John couldn’t heal or change anything. He was as powerless as we were, but he was able to be with us in our shared powerlessness and somehow in this space the healing power held us together.

This is heaven, this is love, this is what it means to care. This is what it means to turn to as opposed to turn away despite the pain, fear and confusion. This is courage. To care takes courage, it comes from the heart, it is the heart alive and on fire. To not care is the way of the coward; to not care is a frozen state, indifference requires a frozen heart.

I have heard hell described in many ways, what it means to be living in a state of hell. I think the most accurate experience of hell is that it is indifference. It is a sense of disconnection from the feelings and concerns of others. Hell is indifference. To live in hell is to be indifferent to sufferings of others. Dante’s Inferno described it thus.

Extract from Dante Alighieri’s “The Divine Comedy” Inferno (Hell), Canto III

"ARGUMENT.—Dante, following Virgil, comes to the gate of Hell; where, after having read the dreadful words that are written thereon, they both enter. Here, as he understands from Virgil, those were punished who had passed their time (for living it could not be called) in a state of apathy and indifference both to good and evil. Then, pursuing their way, they arrive at the river Acheron; and there find the old ferryman Charon, who takes the spirits over to the opposite shore; which, as soon as Dante reaches, he is seized with terror, and falls into a trance."

Hell is indifference. Hell is not fire but in actual fact a frozen state, a state where a person no longer cares and has grown cold towards, others, towards life itself.

In the story that began this "blogspot" “Heaven and Hell” appear exactly the same and yet they are experienced oh so differently. In Hell all go hungry because everyone tries to feed themselves only, they are purely self focused and fail to recognise the hunger in their neighbour sat opposite them. And yet in heaven they attempt to feed one another and are therefore fed in abundance. To me this is as much about the relationships as the food going into one another’s mouths. I believe that we all possess an innate need to serve one another that if we do not do this part of our natural humanity withers away and dies off. By not serving one another we starve our souls.

By living with indifference towards others we live frozen, unfeeling lives…Yes hell is not a firey place, but a frozen state of being…One where nothing touches. Where one is cut off from others, from life itself…Yes hell is indifference, but it is also dis-connection…Hell is a place where nothing connects.

You see something similar to the "chopsticks" story happening in the feeding stories told in the Gospels. Accounts that are more about the relationships between Jesus, his disciples and the people in the crowds, not whether a few loaves and fish could feed so many. There is a deep truth being revealed in the universal mythos found in these stories. They are talking about abundant love being poured out in these deeply connective and connecting relationships. The key phrase in the account found in Mark (Ch 8 vv 1-9) are the words “They ate and were filled”. In this account the crowds hunger is acknowledged, compassion is recognised and care shown. The crowd are invited to stay and sit and the disciples are asked to feed them face to face. Thus they are truly cared for, their common humanity is cared for, they eat and they are filled. They mattered, every single one of them.

This is what it means to truly care…To recognise one another face to face, this is just like heaven in the story that began this "blogspot"…Heaven is to care and Hell is to be indifferent. Heaven is connection and Hell is disconnection. It is heaven that is the warm place and hell that is frozen over.

Following the "Heaven and Hell story" is a reflection by Henri Nouwen on the word “care”. He highlights it’s origin from the old English word “caru” meaning “sorrow, anxiety, grief” as well as "burdens of mind; serious mental attention," from the Proto-Germanic word “karo” meaning "lament; grief, care". To really care is to truly feel another’s sorrow to cry out with them and to truly be with them. To care is to truly empathies and not merely sympathies. To truly care is to be with another, it is about meeting another in common human relationship. This is why indifference, to not care, is hell as it is about breaking that sense of relationship, it is emptiness it is loneliness. It hurts to care, which is why so often we turn away. No one likes to feel powerless and to care is about recognizing our singular powerlessness at times. It’s also about recognising the healing power that can begin to grow from this powerless state, as the common grief is recognised and shared and the healing comes in that very space. This is the power of love. This is the miracle of healing that is recounted again and again in the gospel accounts and it is the same love that comes alive once again when we recognise one another and truly care. We make heaven. We create the kin-dom, the one-ness of love right here, right now. For heaven is a place where everything connects

Many people say they feel lonely, that they experience a sense of disconnection. This can become even stronger at this time of the year, early January. The weeks, in the deepest part of winter, following the Christmas festivities. These are cold, frozen days. Sometimes these frozen feelings are not caused by the temperature of the air.

So how do we overcome this? How do we warm our own hearts and those who we share this world of ours with. Well it begins in and through care. It begins by recognising what we have in common. It comes in recognising our shared sense of powerlessness at times, for here is where the power comes alive, in this deep relationship of care.

It begins by reconnecting in and through care…Let’s not become frozen people, indifferent people, let us live in and through care…For in so doing we will bring warmth to our lives and those we share our lives we…

Let’s care a lot…

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Well-Being, Health & Humour

I had a bit of a lie in on Monday morning. I needed it, I was following doctor’s orders actually, as Aled Jones (retired doctor) commanded me to do so. The last four weeks of Advent, Christmas and New Year have been the busiest I have ever known. I have loved them for their fullness, but they have taken their toll physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. So I went to bed on Sunday night and decided not to set my alarm. I awoke naturally the next morning at 9am, and I felt great for it. I showered and ate a good hearty breakfast. As I did I turned on my computer and instantly read a post on Facebook pointing to an article in Daily Mirror featuring myself and the other Slimming World Awards winners and our top tips on weight loss. Top Tips from Weight Loss Champions It is obviously aimed at those attempting to be healthier for the New Year, following the over indulgence of Christmas. I then received a text message from my personal trainer saying he was back working following his back injury and asking if I wanted to book a session. I did and booked in for the next morning. By 11am I wandered down to the gym to get started back into fitness. Well when I arrived I was utterly overwhelmed, I’ve never seen the place so full. I felt this strange first day at school feeling, very uncomfortable. I tried to get going but couldn’t really and left before too long. Thankfully I felt different the next day and soon got back into things. I also know that very soon attendance at the gym will return to its normal levels.

At the beginning of the year so many of us resolve to live healthier lives, gym membership sores at this time of the year. As does attendance at slimming groups and their like. General physical well-being is often on our minds during the winter months, especially early January. We all seem more vulnerable to ill health at this time of year. I remember well two winters back when I, along with many others, suffered a severe bout of illness, gastric flu in my case, which took over a month to fully recover from, I have never felt so ill. So yes physical well-being is definitely on my mind as it is on so many of our minds at this time of the year.

Now while there is a great deal of talk of improving our physical well-being, which is of course vital, there seems to be less talk of taking care of our spiritual well-being, which actually may well be more important. If I have learnt anything in life I know that my emotional, mental and physical well-being rests on my spiritual health. I discovered that if I take care of my spiritual well-being, as a result, the rest just seems to take care of itself. I never forget the importance of first things first.

Now this might sound a little funny to some, but one of the many measures of my spiritual well-being is my sense of humour. I know that during the most barren periods of my life I was almost completely devoid of humour, I was utterly self - absorbed and took myself far too seriously. I was weighed down by life, by myself, everything just seemed so heavy going. Improving my spiritual well-being has enabled me to lighten up or maybe lightening up has helped me to become spiritually healthier. As Forrest Church stated “"Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly," wrote the English author G. K. Chesterton. By the same token, surely the devil fell on account of his gravity. What works for angels can’t help but be good for us. Levity addresses worry’s tendency to obsess; scoffs at the demon of perfectionism; and exposes (as our enemy, not our friend) the self-absorption that lies at the root of insecurity and unhappiness. When we laugh—especially at ourselves—we fill the present with instant joy.”

Life is far too serious a business to be taken too seriously. I remember at school an old biology teacher telling me that a man who cannot laugh at himself will always struggle. It is something I have never forgotten. I hated him for it at the time, because I knew I took myself far too seriously and just couldn’t free myself from this blight. I just took everything so personally. Thankfully I learnt a long time ago that if ever I want a good laugh I just have to listen to myself.
More and more I see clearly that one of the key barometers of my spiritual well-being is the health of my humour. When I am in good humour I find that I am in good health.

It seems I am not alone. To be in good humour is to enjoy good health or at least this is once what “good humour” literally meant. The very word “Humour” is actually derived from a medieval medical term for fluids of the human body. It has its roots in the ‘old’ French word ‘humor’, derived from the Latin ‘umere’. Physicians of the day believed that we had four different types of internal fluids that they called ‘humors’ and it was these that determined our physical and mental health. Therefore if a person became ill it was believed that their humors were out of balance. So to be in good humour is to literally be in good health, or at least that’s what it used to mean.

Now I’m not someone who is very good at poker. Why? You may well ask. Well because I don’t have a very good poker face. How I am feeling and experiencing life is written all over my face. You can tell just by looking at me if I’m a bit too lost in myself and my seriousness and whether I’m living openly and in life, in the joy of life, in good humour, good health. I know I aint much fun to be around when I’m not in very good humour.

I love the human face, especially when it is caught up in laughter in humour. There is something beautiful about the comedic face. It seems I’m not alone in this. John O’Donohue, who died this very week in January 4th 2008, loved the human face, he saw in it a Divine quality and loved it when it was caught up in laughter.

He said that:

“There’s something really subversive in laughter and in the smile on the human face. It’s lovely and infectious to be in the company of someone who can smile deeply.

I think a smile comes from the soul. And I also love its transitive kind of nature—that if you’re in the presence of someone who has a happiness and a laughter about them, it’ll affect you and it’ll call that out in you as well.

Your body relaxes completely when you’re having fun. I think one of the things that religion has often prevented us from doing is having really great fun. To be here, in a way—despite the sadness and difficulty and awkwardness of individual identity—is to be permanently invited to the festival of great laughter."

Like John I see a quality of the Divine in humour and laughter. I believe that this is because it is a quality of being fully alive. It is an expression of unguarded abandonment and it is infectious in a healthy and loving way. It encourages this aliveness in others too. Laughter comes from that eternal spirit that is a part of our common humanity.

Humour can not only brings healing but it can also bring people can be infectious...Here are a couple of wonderful examples...One from Test Match Special


I have heard it said that God is the greatest comedian of them all and that if you truly want to experience God it is through laughter. I’m sure that you’ve all heard the expression “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”

This brings to mind that old Depeche Mode song “Blasphemous Rumours”, “I don’t want to start any blasphemous rumours, but I think that god’s got a sick sense of humour”. Many see God as a creative mishevious artist and that it is through such activity that we ourselves can become intune with the Divine. As Sara Maitland wrote in “A Big-Enough God”

“God is not careful. Theology is careful, and it ought to be; but God is not careful, is not bound by rules. This double-dealing magic-weaving careless God, this God of strange codes and complex twistings of imagery and power, this God whose sense of humour so often seems to outweigh any sense of ethical propriety, this playful God: this is the God of the artists.”

This brings to mind a Meme I recently saw posted on facebook, which mischievously asked the question: “How enlightened are you?”


If you can live without caffeine,
If you can be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains,
If you can resist complaining,
If you can understand when your loved ones are too busy to give you any time,
If you can take criticism and blame without resentment,
If you can ignore a friend's limited education and never correct him or her,
If you can resist treating a rich friend better than a poor friend,
If you can face the world without lies and deceit,
If you can conquer tension without medical help,
If you can relax without liquor,
If you can sleep without the aid of drugs,
If you can honestly say that deep in your heart you have no prejudice against creed, color, religion, gender preference, or politics,
Then you have almost reached the same level of spiritual development as your dog!

How many of us can honestly say we are as enlightened as our dogs, as spiritually healthy? There is something humbling and beautifully amusing about this little bit of wisdom. Made me laugh too…It came at a perfect time when I was getting a little too serious and lost in my own and the underwear of others…It doesn’t help getting lost in such things…
It;s a bit messy and not very pleasant...

Humour is so vital, remember it means to be in good health and it is healing too…It’s amazing what healing comes when I’m in good humour or maybe actually when I’m in good humour it is surely a sign of good health…

Voltaire wrote “The art of medicine consists of keeping the patient amused while nature heals the disease.”

He recognised, as my biology teacher did, that humour and laughter are good for your health. We all feel better after a good old laugh, it must be because those humours are really flowing. The problem is though that our sense of humour can abandon us often when we need it the most.

If only we could get our “humours” flowing again. If we could our bodily health would improve immeasurably. To quote Josh Billings "There ain’t much fun in medicine, but there’s a heck of a lot of medicine in fun." We would relax more and as a result our stress levels would lessen and as a result it would seem that our immune systems improve. Research has revealed that laughter has a positive influence on our immunoglobin levels and immune system in general. As I look back at my last bout if real ill health, two January’s back it was at a time when I’d lost my sense of humour somewhat, I’d gotten a little too serious and self absorbed and had worn myself out with “stress of it all”. I became really ill and once again had to surrender to it all. This did eventually lead to positive things as I began to look after myself better. Included in this was to play a little more and spend a little more time doing activities that bring me joy, that make me happy.  This helped me on my general getting physically fit and healthy journey. I know I would not have been able to sustain it with out first of all getting spiritually fit.

I have discovered that spiritual freedom brings with it the ability to laugh and not to take yourself too seriously, or is it laughter that helps bring about spiritual freedom? Life is a very serious business, far too serious a business to be taken too seriously in fact. Now please don’t get me wrong I’m not suggesting that we ignore the troubles present in life, my word I certainly do not. What I’m actually saying is that we must be careful not to get too caught up in them or weighed down by them. In order to be of service to life and others requires us to be in good health and good humour. We need to take care of ourselves wholly, body, mind and spirit. It begins with spirit I have learnt. To enjoy good mental and physical health requires good spiritual health and a healthy spirit requires air to breath. It enjoys freedom and aliveness and it often begins with laughter.

I’m going to end this little chip of a "blogspot" with a story…I hope it leaves you in good spirit, in good health, in good humour…

A burglar broke into a house one night. He shined his torch around, looking for valuables, and when he picked up a CD player to place in his sack, a strange disembodied voice echoed from the dark saying, "Jesus is watching you."

He nearly jumped out of his skin, clicked his torch off, and froze. When he heard nothing more after a bit, he shook his head, promised himself a holiday after the next big job, then clicked the torch back on and began searching for more valuables. Just as he pulled the stereo out so he could disconnect the wires, clear as a bell he heard, "Jesus is watching you."

Freaked out, he shined the torch around frantically, looking for the source of the voice. Finally, in the corner of the room, his torch beam came to rest on a parrot. "Did you say that?" he hissed at the parrot.

"Yep," the parrot confessed then squawked, "I'm trying to warn you."

The burglar relaxed. "Warn me huh? Who are you?"

"Moses," replied the parrot.

"Moses?" the burglar laughed. "What kind of stupid people would name a parrot 'Moses'?"

The bird answered, "Probably the same kind of people that would name a Rotweiller 'Jesus'."

I wish you good health and good humour.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

New Years Day

Happy New Year. 

Today is the first of January, the beginning of a new year, New Years Day.It is a day on which traditionally we are meant to pause and evaluate our lives, the state of our own being, and perhaps the state of the world in which we live. A day when we are meant to assess what can be done better and also perhaps what needs to change, what needs to be let go of. Perhaps today, more than any other day, we are meant to practice discernment, to sift through our lives, like prospectors panning for gold, we are meant to separate what is of use and what is not. We are meant to sort the wheat from the chaff. In so doing we may well find the most precious gem stones of our lives.

On this day, as we sift through our lives, we may note the size of our waistlines or other measures of our physical well-being? We may well assess our bank balances, how expensive has Christmas been this year? We may well take a look at our wardrobes. Perhaps we will look at the state of our relationships, with lovers and spouses, with families and with friends. We may also look at the state of our employment.

This time of year is often one when people commit to make changes. I know my gym will be over populated this week, no doubt groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Slimming World and other organisations I know intimately, will have much higher attendance rates over the next few weeks. I also know that by February things will have returned back to their normal rate.

Yes this time of year, for so many of us, is a time of assessment, a time when people often feel dissatisfied with aspects of their lives and as a result commit to change, believing that if they change certain aspects of their lives, their troubles will come to an end and everything will suddenly magically be different.

For better or for worse today is a day of measurement; today is a day where we assess where we have been and perhaps where we are going. In Ancient Rome it was the day of worship of the God Janus, the God with two faces, one looking into the future and the other into the past. The God of gateways, of thresholds of the space of change. Today is meant to be the one when we make decisions about what needs to change. The truth is though, that it is a day just like any other day and every day, just like every in moment, everything changes and yet somehow everything stays the same.

Life has taught me many lessons One of the most important being that the only thing permanent in life is change. “Nothing ever lasts for ever” as Echo and the Bunnymen once sang. Life is impermanent. We are all guests in life. We cannot cling to anything. Whatever we are feeling or experiencing right now, “This too shall pass”.

Impermanence is the beauty and the energy of life. Life is forever changing and transforming and turning into something new. Nothing ever stays exactly the same and nothing is ever repeated in exactly the same way again. This was wonderfully expressed by the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus some 2,500 years ago. Who said, among many other things, “Everything flows, nothing stands still.” “No one ever steps into the same river twice.” And “Nothing endures but change.” He was saying that the only constant in life was and is change, that life was constantly in flux and that everything is impermanent.

So often in life we try to cling to things, to hold on to things to maintain things exactly as they are. This seems to be going against life and the nature of things. Nothing stays exactly as it is in its current nature, everything changes from moment to moment and to resist this is to resist life. Yes everything changes but life goes on.

The mistake we often make is to try to cling onto things, whatever that might be, in fear. In so doing we fail to experience life itself. We resist the beauty and the power of life.

 As I look back at the year, that has passed, so much seems different and yet if truth be told much is still the same. Much has changed in regard to my own experiences of my personal life. 2016 may well, on a personal level, have been the greatest of my life. If you had told me what was to come at the beginning of last year I would not have believed you. I’m not talking about my personal awards and achievements either, what I’m really talking about is my own experience of my own physical being and how this has opened me up to new and exciting experiences I would never have dreamed possible. I have been set free from so many shame filled chains that for so many years had bound me. So personally speaking 2016 was one of unimagined wonder. I could not be more grateful. I also know if I continue the way I have lived for the last 13 or more years that greater personal freedom will come. Many years ago I learnt the power of living by faith and hope and love and I will continue to do so; I will continue to follow this simple and beautiful way of living.

That is not to say that 2016 was all beautiful and wonderful. As I look around at the world in which I live I witness much that disturbs me. Division and fear does seem to be on the increase as does instability. The political landscape has changed these last 12 months and has left an increasing sense of fear for many of us. And yet as I walk around the town in which I live everyday, life is much the same. People are much the same as they have always been. Yes everything changes and yet somehow everything still seems much the same. People are the same as they have always, let us not become victims of our own bad dreams.

Life is constantly changing, nothing ever stays exactly the same and no moment is exactly like any other. We all experience these moments differently too; we each bring our pasts with us into each moment and this always impacts on the present.

That said despite the changing nature of our material lives there are things that do seem permanent, that do not change. There are some things that hold us and sustain us despite the constant changing nature of life. The last thirteen years of my life has proven this to me, there have been three unchanging things that have held and sustained me and kept me open to life despite its uncertainty. Things that have held me even during some deeply painful experiences. The three are faith, hope and love.

It was Paul of Tarsus, in the 13th Chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians who named these three that have held me and led me these last thirteen years. I have seen many others held by them too, through many storms in their lives. There is something eternal about them, something universal and they were at work long before he wrote about them. We can rely upon these three, but only if we nurture and strengthen them. We can depend upon these three faith, hope and love. But what do these three mean?

Faith is about trusting in life itself; it is about living as openly and honestly as possible; it is about accepting that there is pain in life, but that there is also so much joy; it is realising that the mere fact that we exist at all is life’s greatest gift. This allows us to sing the joy of living, in all its mystery. It is also about seeing that we are all in this together, that we all live in the one lifeboat. We need to connect as much as possible to the boat of life in which we share. We need to ensure that our lifelines are secure and not worn or frayed at the edges. This is something we need to hold onto and not let go of. Why, you may well ask? Well because it sustains us through the vicissitudes of life. Life does not offer much certainty, but we need not despair at this, or at least not stay in despair.

Hope is the second of those eternal, universal truths. Hope is rooted in despair; it grows from the same place. To live in hope is to believe that if we live with conviction and compassion that we can effect positive change in our world, even if we ourselves do not get see to see its full fruition. Hope is about planting those seeds when and where ever we can.

To live with hope is to live with the attitude that the future is genuinely open. The God of my understanding works with us and guides us but leaves life open, it is not pre-ordained. “The Lure of Divine Love” draws us out of ourselves, but it also allows life to develop freely. I accept that the past does have power, I have a strong sense of history, this is very important. That said I do not believe that the past defines the future, not everything is inevitable. The future is unwritten.

Life is definitely a journey worth taking, even during its toughest moments. Yes we all despair at times and we all live with uncertainty, but the beacon of hope is always there. The writer of the book of proverbs reminds us “Where there is no vision (no hope) the people perish.” Hope is a vital lifeline it both holds and sustains us. It is an eternal and universal principle and one that also requires nurture.

What about love? How can it sustain us? By the way I am not talking of romance here, I am talking of spiritual love. Spiritual love is that power that connects us to our true selves, one another, the life we share and whatever it is that connects all life. What I myself call God; that power that is greater than all and yet present in each. It is love that powers the lifeboat, that puts wind in its sails. Love is about caring deeply and passionately about life itself. This of course requires attention; it is a life line that requires nurture. Love reminds me that we do not live for ourselves alone or by ourselves alone. “no man is an island” or as Kurt Vonnegut once put it “one human being is no human being”. The universal and eternal truth is that we need the love, the care, the companionship of others in order to fully experience what it is to be alive. By ourselves we are never fully alive.

If we live by these three faith, hope and love we will know what it means to truly live and experience the joy of living, even in the dark days.

Today, New Year’s Day, is a day of new beginnings; today is a day when if we want to commit to anything perhaps we ought to commit to beginning again in love.

New Years Day is a time for new beginnings, a time for hope of what might be and a time to reflect on what has been before us. And yet it is just a day, much like any other day really. The sun has risen, as it has always risen and in a few hours time it will set, as it has always set.

So let’s look forward with new eyes, with fresh eyes. Let’s look back and commit to learn from our pasts. Let’s learn to live with increased faith, hope and love.

Whatever this year brings us, let us resolve to build lives of faith, hope and love.

 Let’s begin again this day and every day in love.

I will end with some words of beginning by Edward Searl

Always there is a beginning —
a new day,
a new month,
a new season,
a new year.

Forever the old passes away 
and newness emerges
from the richness that was.

Nothing is ever lost
in the many changes
time brings.

What was, in some way,
will be,
though changed in form.

Know this:
This moment is a beginning;
and your lives,
individually and together,
are full of richness, of freshness,
of hope and of promise.

From “We Pledge Our Hearts” by Edward Searl

Sunday, 11 December 2016

The Strange Arithmetic of Christmas

The following reflection has been growing in my heart and soul for a couple of weeks now and has inspired my own little relfection that follows...

"The Strange Arithmetic of Christmas” by Jeremiah Jenkins

I deliberately requested your minister to allow me to write to you about Christmas. I was a teacher of arithmetic for fifteen years in a preparatory school, so I want to write about the inverted arithmetic of Christmas.

Christmas differs from figures and sums and dollars and crowds-at-a football game. You can add these together and get more. But with Christmas, you can add all the Santa Clauses on earth and there is still only one Santa Claus. Or all the trees and there is still only one Tree. Or perhaps all the births of children but there is still only one Bethlehem story. Or all the families, and there is still one family – yours!

It is when you start dividing Christmas that it begins to grow. It multiplies with division. It defies the rules. If you have six TV sets and give two or three away, you have less. But when it comes to the richness of love, the currency of gratitude or the document of faith, the more you give the more you possess. To teach is to learn. To encourage someone and give them your faith is to strengthen your own faith. To love is to know love.

Christmas is like a lot of things; it can be misused. I think it was never meant for raucous public displays. Its carols were not intended to be blared into the streets. Its colors probably were not meant to be emblazoned like advertising – or even associated with advertising. Christmas is the artistry of the world; it is the subtle touch, the gentle word, the endearing act, the loving gift. Share these qualities, divide them, and you will find miraculously that they have grown with division. This is the strange arithmetic of Christmas.

"The Strange Arithmetic of Christmas" I've been thinking about this for quite some time now, it has been growing, nay multiplying in my heart an soul...

Social media is full of quotations and Meme’s proclaiming little bits of wisdom. Some make sense to me, others do not. Many seem to contradict one another and depending on my mood, or the status of my soul, I can find myself agreeing and disagreeing with them. The one thing that is consistent about me is my very inconsistency. Or maybe the truth is that contradictions are true, depending on certain aspects of our humanity; two opposing truths can actually be true, depending on what parts of our our lives they are speaking of.

I recently came across the following quotation from that great medieval heretical mystic Meister Eckhart:

“God is not found in the soul by adding anything, but by a process of subtraction.”

It instantly brought to my mind “The Strange Arithmetic of Christmas.” Particularly the following sentences:

"It is when you start dividing Christmas that it begins to grow. It multiplies with division. It defies the rules. If you have six TV sets and give two or three away, you have less. But when it comes to the richness of love, the currency of gratitude or the document of faith, the more you give the more you possess. To teach is to learn. To encourage someone and give them your faith is to strengthen your own faith. To love is to know love…”

“…Christmas is the artistry of the world; it is the subtle touch, the gentle word, the endearing act, the loving gift. Share these qualities, divide them, and you will find miraculously that they have grown with division. This is the strange arithmetic of Christmas.”

Gosh I love this…What beautiful un-common sense!!! Makes sense to me…

Now before I continue an apology. I’m talking here about a subject I cannot claim to be an expert in, mathematics. I say this although I was a champion at mental arithmetic at primary school, my cousin told me it was because I was the most mental in my school. She may well be right. Arithmetic wasn’t a problem for me, it was mathematics I just couldn’t fathom, algebra and trigonometry etc. just made no sense at all to my brain.

So apologies if what I write is difficult to make sense of. This is because what I am attempting to share is un-commonsense. What I have come to believe is that what we lack today is not really common sense, we have perhaps too much of that. What I believe we need more of is the un-commonsense that lies at the heart of everything. What I’m attempting to share with you is, what I have come to believe, a beautiful and essential paradox. It is the true gift at the heart of the spirit of the season, the strange arithmetic of Christmas. How the spiritual life does indeed defy the perceived laws of nature as we understand them. How by giving away a particular commodity not only does the person receiving gain, but so does the giver and all who are caught up in this activity. You see what I have learnt, what the strange arithmetic of Christmas has taught me, is that the more love you give away the more love you experience. In fact if you want to fill the cup of love, that you hold in your heart, the first thing you must do is empty it and pour it out on all who you share this world with you.

Unfortunately many of us lack the courage, the heart, to empty our cups…

Through living spiritually I have leant that it is through the process of subtraction, rather than addition, that my soul grows and it is through division rather than multiplication that my heart is filled.

This to me is the heart of Christmas, this giving from the heart to others. This is the key message of Christianity as I see it, self-giving love. By the way I am not suggesting that it is unique to Christianity. I find it at the heart of all the faith traditions I have come to know too.

Self-giving love is a love that grows the more that we give it away. A love that is at the core of each and every one of us if we would but nurture it in the mangers of our own hearts and give birth to it in our living and breathing.

This is what Christmas means to me and why as the years have gone by I have come to believe in Christmas more and more.

I believe in Christmas, the soul of Christmas, the spirit of Christmas, the heart of Christmas the religion of Christmas more today than I ever did at any moment in my life. Today I believe everything about Christmas and a whole lot more than everything that we think we know.

Now don’t get me wrong here I am not suggesting that I believe that everything that the Gospel accounts recounted actually happened. I really can’t answer that, I wasn’t there. Were any of us who argue about it actually there? No of course not. What I mean when I say I believe in Christmas more today than I have ever done before is that I believe in the universal mythos that lies in the soul of the story. I believe in the story and what it has to teach humanity regardless of time and or space.

I also believe we need Christmas more today than at any other time before, for we mock the bells at Christmas time probably more today than we ever did before. The problem I suspect is that we do not hear the message at the heart of Christmas…Maybe we have forgotten how to listen or perhaps we have forgotten how to deliver the message.

So how do we hear the message of Christmas and perhaps most importantly how do we ourselves become Father Christmas, become Santa Claus, how do we deliver Christmas ourselves into everyone’s home?

Well here is where the contradiction comes in. We need both emptiness and fullness. We need clarity of mind and abundance of love. We need an empty mind and a full heart; we need both an empty cup and at the same time one that is full to overflowing. Now this probably doesn’t sound like sense to most, but then Christmas isn’t about common sense it is about un-common sense.

I will try to explain what I mean, beginning with the following story:

There is a story of a university professor who visited a Japanese master to inquire about Zen. The professor began to ask questions while the master just sat quietly, listening. After a while the master began to pour tea into the professor’s cup. The cup soon filled up, but the master did not stop pouring. The tea soon began to spill over on to the table. Initially the professor just sat there in stunned silence, he did not know what to do. Eventually he could take no more and shouted out “It’s overfull. No more will go in!” The master stopped pouring and simply said “Like this cup you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

To bring this spirit of Christmas to life in our lives requires a certain kind of emptiness. A certain kind of stillness. We need this to hear the still small voice, to hear the angels calling, to be like little children to learn all that this season has to offer us. You see the problem for so many of us is that we think that we know so much, we think we are so clever, but all we have done is killed the spirit of the season. Our so called common sense, our rejection of the spirit of the season, “our glad tidings of reason and fact, reason and fact, glad tidings of reason and fact” has filled our minds to overflowing and as a result there is no room for the spirit of the season.

We also live such busy and full lives, that paradoxically can feel so empty. We never seem to have a minute to simply be still and to feel the season. To truly know the spirit of the season we need time for silence and stillness, we need spiritual practice. We need time for prayer and meditation, a time to empty the mind so as to hear the cries of those in need and the songs of the angels and to let the love present in all of us to fill our hearts.

We need to empty our minds so that we can once again begin to fill our hearts.

And how do we fill our hearts? Well it’s quite simple really. We become like Father Christmas, like Santa Claus. We fill our hearts, like his sacks and stockings, by giving our hearts away. By practising this strange arithmetic of Christmas. We multiply by division. By giving our hearts away we receive all the love and a whole lot more than we could ever wish for. Of course we cannot measure this in the way that we can measure other commodities of life, except through our own lived human experiences. This is the strange paradox of giving though, the strange arithmetic of love that multiplies by division. It can only be measured by taking the time to reflect on our own lived experience and this requires stillness and silence.

This is how we deliver the gift at the heart of Christmas. This is how we bring the spirit to life not only for a day, or even a season, but for the rest of our lives. It is quite simple really, but it aint easy. It requires courage, it requires heart, it requires us to truly live from our hearts and to go against the grain of conventional truth. It requires that most priceless of commodities un-common sense.

It requires us to still ourselves in silence so as to hear the call of Christmas, isn’t that what this time of Advent, of preparation is about. To make ready those mangers in our own hearts and then to simply fill our hearts with the love we have been yearning for, by pouring out that love on all we share our lives with.

In so doing we will bring the spirit, the heart of the season to life. Christ will truly be born again. Love will be incarnated in and through our very lives…

For when our hearts are opened Christ is born again…

Sunday, 4 December 2016

The Greatest Gift of All

We are now fully into the Advent Season, the days that lead to Christmas Day. These are the days of waiting of preparation. The music is playing, we can hear all the familiar songs in every shop as we no doubt begin the process of selecting presents for our loved ones. 

Have you done all your shopping yet? I’ve not even begun. I will soon, but not just yet. I’ve got too much to do.
This is the season for giving and forgetting, but not just one of wanton consumerism is not just about giving and getting things. It is a time set aside to forgive and forget, to heal old wounds, surely this is the spirit of the season ahead. Sadly though the spirit of the season is so often lost.

A classic example of missing out on the spirit and just getting lost in the pure materialism of the season is the “Black Friday” phenomenon that has come to our culture in recent years. It is another example of we British partially importing and acquiring culture from our friends in America. Sadly though we have only taken on board the material aspects. Yes we have “Black Friday” or more accurately “Black Fortnight” but without the spiritual element that accompanies it. “Thanksgiving”, a festival of coming together in love and an offering of thanks for the gifts that life has offered to us, we have not acquired…Oh we do live in such a reductionist age, we have squeezed the spirit out of everything. In so doing we run the risk of reducing our lives to nothingness, to meaninglessness. This is a dangerous game. In reducing everything to a purely material level we reduce everything eventually to nothing, until life itself becomes nothing but a meaningless soulless activity.

We need to find the spirit and soul of everything, to sanctify life once again…We need to rediscover the spirit of the seasons, to once again find the religion in the ribbons and the wrapping paper.

Strangely enough we can begin to discover the spirit of the season in those very gifts as we select them for our loved ones and wrap them up with our care and attention. These are acts of connection and thanks giving in and of themselves. This is the spirit coming alive, oh yes there is true religion in the ribbons and wrapping paper and the time we take to select and prepare the gifts…Through such simple acts we can begin once again to sanctify life…

 In “Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life” Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat offer examples of spiritually literate gifts that offer a way to combine spiritual practice and gift giving.

 They write:

 “Spiritually literate gifts have meanings attached to them. They might be symbolic of God's presence in daily life; they might reflect how we are connected through time and across the miles with others; or they might encourage us in a spiritual practice such as play, wonder, and hope. Here are some examples of spiritually literate gifts to give this holiday season, based on the Alphabet of Spiritual Literacy.

 • Something handmade which expresses your creativity. (Creativity is a gift of God, and a handmade gift reflects our role as co-creators of the universe.)

• A toy, game, joke book, or something whimsical that makes you laugh. (According to the some of the mystics, God created the world in play and loves laughter. There is an Apache myth of the Creator giving human beings the ability to talk, to run, and to look. But God was not satisfied until God also gave them the ability to laugh. Only then did the Creator say, "Now you are fit to live.")

 • Something you have used and appreciated, such as a book you have read or a piece of clothing. (Everything has value, even old and used things, and recycled gifts often have added value because stories go along with them.)

 • A journal into which you have copied meaningful poems and passages from books you like, or a CD of your favorite songs. (By making your own holy books and hymnals, you are sharing your spiritual understanding of the world. You are also introducing others to your teachers.)

• A DVD that has touched you. (This is another way to share meanings and teachers with others. It also encourages hospitality, imagination, enthusiasm, gratitude, joy, and play.)

• A food basket, arranged to accent the variety of colors and shapes of food. Or an aromatherapy candle. (Beautiful sights, touches, and smells evoke wonder and reverence for life's bounties.)

• Copies of recipes, perhaps family favorites or dishes served on a special occasion. (In addition to sparking memories of shared experiences, recipes reflect our connections with others over time and space.)

• A donation in someone's name to a charity or nonprofit organization. (Money given to an environmental organization or an animal shelter testifies to our reverence for the Creation; money to groups working for conflict resolution advances the cause of peace; money to a community food bank or an organization working with refugees demonstrates our feelings of connection to others.)

• The gift of silence, such as money and time off for a visit to a spiritual retreat house or just to stay home with the phones off. (Silence is an essential spiritual practice, valuable according to all the wisdom traditions for communing with God and nurturing, healing, and renewing the soul.)

Such gifts help to bring connection and oneness and help to bring alive the spirit. Such simple, meaningful gifts can begin to create the religion that can at times become loss in the ribbons and the wrapping paper. We can bring the spirit of the season alive in our ordinary lives; we can bring light to our lives and our relationships; we can shine some light on the “Black Fridays” or “Black Any Days” that seem to have over taken this season.

There is also something else that we can give in the season of rushing, pushing and at times resenting. That gift is simply our time and our love. We can sanctify this season by giving one another perhaps the greatest present of them all, our true presence. We just need to spend time listening and paying attention to one another. Perhaps the greatest gift we can give to one another is the gift of our time. The most priceless commodity of them all.

A lovely friend of mine, who lives in a land far away, sent me the gift of a “meme”, in a message of Facebook the other day, that expresses the priceless commodity of time. It is by Thich Naht Hanh, who said:

“Every morning, when we wake up, we have twenty four brand new hours to live. What a precious gift! We have the capacity to live in a way that these twenty four hours will bring Peace, Joy and Happiness to ourselves and others.”

What a precious gift we have been given. The gift of life, the gift of our presence. Let’s not waste it. Let’s sanctify life with our presence with our life. Let’s become the gift we have all been waiting for.

You see we’ve already received the greatest gifts we could ever have been given, the gift of life itself. It is up to us what we do with this gift. Let’s not waste them; let’s make the most of them; let’s make the most of our lives. In so doing we will encourage others to do the same and we will sanctify life with our presence. What a present we then become to life itself. Remember that life is indeed the greatest gift of them all. Life is the ultimate Grace. We did absolutely nothing to deserve it. It was freely given to us without any effort on our part.

This year has been quite a year for myself. I have received many gifts and quite a bit of recognition. At the recent Slimming World Awards night I officially received my award for “Man of the Year”. It was a wonderful night in which I shared with other prize winners. Along with the prize money I also received the gorgeous gift of cuff links and a beautiful glass trophy. It’s the first trophy I’ve ever received. These of course were not the real gifts, nor was the publicity. No the real gift is in the new life I’ve been given. Yes this began with the weight loss and led to this greater experience of the life I’ve been freely given. A life I can now make better use of in the service of others. This truly is a gift that keeps on giving as I share it with others. I offer true thanks giving for this and live with real gratitude as I make use of the gift, and I do so with no “Black Friday” in sight.

Life offers so many gifts to us, if we would just recognise them. Sadly we don’t always do so and we don’t always make the best use of this ultimate Grace. I know I’ve wasted many of the precious gifts that I have been offered. No doubt I will do so again, I am as human as I have always been. I will not beat myself up for this. I will just pledge to do my best to make use of what I have been given and to share it with those I get to share this ultimate free gift with, the gift of life itself.

I will do my utmost to give this love away beginning this Advent and moving on into Christmas and beyond. This to me is Love coming alive, Love incarnating in human form. This is what we are here for. To use the gifts we have been given, not only for ourselves but for the good of all and to share with all, therefore encouraging others to do the same. It begins by simply sharing the most precious gift of all, my time, my presence, isn’t this the ultimate present. Oh how I wish I had more of this priceless commodity to give. Oh how I wish there was more of this precious commodity for giving and for getting. Maybe there is, but more about that in the next "blogspot",

This is my suggestion for focus this Advent season, this giving of our true presence, the ultimate present. It begins right here right now in this season of selecting and wrapping presents. We can begin to bring the sacred alive in what appears to be wanton materialism. We can sanctify life with our presence in the selecting and wrapping of presents, we can begin to bring the spirit of the season alive in these most simple acts, we can unwrap the religion in the ribbons. We can also bless one another with our presence by simply spending time with one another mindfully and lovingly, in simply sharing our time and listening to one another.

 It really is that simple. We can bring the spirit of the season alive once again. We can bring Christmas alive in the presence of each and every day. We can become the greatest gift that anyone could wish for.

We no longer have to wish it could be Christmas every day, we can make it so, by simply blessing each day with our presence.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Awakening to the Love of Winter

Winter comes in many forms in our lives. Whatever form it takes the universal response to winter is to hope that it will soon be over, to wish it all away. It is often a time of year that we want to pass through so as to once again reach the re-birth and renewal of spring. So many of us do not like the cold, the dark, the lifelessness of winter. How often do we wish that it was over?

We need winter though. We need the times of darkness and coldness. We need the stillness of winter too. We need this time of preparation. We need to slow down and reflect on what has been. We need to feel the cold and experience the fear and loneliness of the darkness to prepare ourselves for the light and the new life that is yet to come. We need to prepare for the new love that can be reborn in the spring time. We need to allow the new love to be born in our hearts once again and shine out onto our world. We need to remain open to this love in this the darkest and coldest time of the year.

I really felt the cold the other morning. It feels like winter. Yes I know that officially it is not until the 1st of December, but tell that to the air. I felt the cold of winter as I awoke to prepare myself for Advent and the weeks ahead.  Winter is here. I’m sure that we have all felt the cold of winter these last few days and nights. Each morning as I awaken it is still dark and as each day passes the light seems to turn back to dark oh so quickly. The days of light seem oh so far away. On days like this it is so easy to wish away the winter, to wish that it will quickly be over. It is hard, at times, to wait patiently for the coming of lighter and warmer days ahead.

In this darkest coldest season we celebrate the coming of the new light and the new life, exemplified in the birth of a child. A child that is born again in our own hearts when we live in love ourselves. “In the bleak mid-winter, in this world of pain where our hearts are open Christ is born again.”

This is what the season is for. To prepare ourselves for the new love that is yet to be born in the mangers of our own hearts. A time to wait for what is yet to come in the New Year.

So let us not wish this time of year to be over, even though it soon will be. Let us instead fully experience this time. Let us prepare for the new love waiting to be born in our own hearts and when the spring time comes let us pour out this Love on a world that so dearly needs this. For surely this is our task. To give birth to love that sleeps peacefully, these silent nights, in the mangers of our own hearts.
Today marks the beginning of Advent. A time for waiting, a time of preparation. A time set aside to wait for the “coming” of Love in human form symbolised in the birth of the Christ child. A promise of what love can become if we let it grow and nurture in our hearts and lives. For every new life is the gift of promise and possibility. A gift of possibility that can be reborn in each of our lives if we allow it to be.

The season of Advent invites us to embrace the spiritual discipline of waiting. We cannot rush through this season, we must experience it all, before the moment of magic. We must first sing the carols, light the candles and open the doors of the calendars. We must select our gifts for our loved ones and we must prepare ourselves for the year to come. We must experience the whole of this season if we are to give birth to the love that is at the core of it all; if we are to grow this love in the mangers of our own hearts and to give birth to and both experience and share it in our world. A world that needs love and hope as much as at any time in our history.

Advent is a season of preparation and it cannot be rushed. It requires patience. We cannot wish the days away, we cannot wish the winter away. We have to wait patiently, but not passively.
This idea of waiting and nurturing of love brings to mind the following piece of wisdom by Paula Gooder.  She writes on pregnancy as a model of active and nurturing waiting, which she also sees as characteristic of the season of Advent and Hope.

“The Meaning Is in the Waiting :The Spirit of Advent” By Paula Gooder 

"As I waited for the birth of my baby, I discovered that waiting can be a nurturing time, valuable in its own right. Until then, I had assumed that waiting could only be passive, that it involved sitting around, drumming my fingers, completely powerless to do anything until the moment of waiting passed and I could be active again. How wrong I was. The waiting of pregnancy is about as active an occupation as one can hope to engage in. Pregnant waiting is a profoundly creative act, involving a slow growth to new life. This kind of waiting may appear passive externally but internally consists of never-ending action and is a helpful analogy for the kind of waiting that Advent requires. For many of us, Advent is such a busy time with all our preparations for Christmas that the thought of stopping and sitting passively — while attractive in many ways — is simply impossible. Advent, however, does not demand passivity but the utmost activity: active internal waiting that knits together new life.

"One of the other things I learned during pregnancy was that learning to savor the time of waiting allows us also to appreciate the event when it comes. The loss of an ability to wait often brings with it the inability to be fully and joyfully present now. Instead, we are constantly looking backward to better times we used to know and forward to better times that may be coming. The more we do this, the more we miss the present. Not only that, but it becomes hard to appreciate the future moment even when it does come. Many people speak of the feeling of deep anticlimax on Christmas Day when that long-anticipated day does not live up to expectations. Often the reason for this is that we live forever in the future, so that, when the future becomes the present, we are ill equipped to deal with it and have lost the ability to be fully present, right now.

"One of the many reasons we wait in Advent is to hone our skills of being joyfully and fully present now. After a month of doing this, Christmas Day can gain a depth and meaning that would otherwise fly past in a whirl of presents and mince pies."

I believe that Paula highlights some deeply important and spiritually enriching aspects of Advent, that can so easily be missed. If we wait patiently, but not passively, we will truly appreciate the day when it comes, as we will appreciate our lives when each new day comes. This waiting patiently but not passively will enable us to truly experience the gift that is our lives as it will truly allow us to not only live in the present, but to open the gift of the present, to truly give birth to it and to bring the present to life and thus truly experience what it is to be alive.

So let’s prepare ourselves for the moment of magic yet to come. Let’s nurture the love within us and prepare to give birth to it in our lives. Let’s not wish these dark cold days away. There is a beautiful gift in them if we allow ourselves to fully experience them. We need to experience each and every sensation of this season. Much like a mother who experiences the stirring of her baby in the womb we must experience each and every moment of this season before the moment of magic when the love is ready to once again be born.

If we do we will bring alive that love that is deep within each of us. If we prepare ourselves we will nurture that seed of love in all our hearts and we will bring it to life and therefore shine some light on the dark places in our lives and in our world. We can give birth to love in the mangers of our own hearts.