A Candle in the Window

A Candle in the Window Words to encourage us in tough times 

Reflections by Revd Peter Millar  (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

These reflections are a shortened version of the Candle in the Window which Revd Millar send out every week by email. If you wish to receive the full version, please contact him direct at the email address above.

 

20 May 2020

History will remember:

History will remember when the world stopped 

And the cars parked in the street, and the trains didn’t run.

History will remember when the schools closed, and the children stayed home,

And the medical staff walked towards the fire and they didn’t run.

History will remember when people sang on their balconies, in isolation,

But so much together in courage and song.

History will remember when people fought for their old and weak,

And protected the vulnerable by doing nothing at all.

History will remember when the virus left, and the houses opened

And the people came out and hugged and kissed and started again.

Kinder than before.

 Donna Ashworth whose beautiful words have been circulated by Amnesty International

*** Everything can be taken from us, but one thing. That is to choose one’s own attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

Several years ago I saw these words by Victor Frankl in Saint Columba’s Hospice Chapel, Edinburgh. The Hospice has been for many years a place of love, light and hope for those facing a terminal health condition.

*** The events throughout the world have led us to reflect on how none of us can know what the days or months will bring, but we all have a responsibility for how we respond.

These words were written almost 20 years ago by a friend, Lynda Wright who  at that time was running a Christian retreat house in Scotland. They could easily be words for today in the midst of the lockdowns.

                                     *** Nothing spoke but the absence. *** 

Fadwa Tuqan in her poem “A Mountainous Journey” which was first published in English by The Women’s Press London in1990.

The Bliss of Solitude:

For many years the British writer, Sara Maitland has been living alone in a remote cottage in South West Scotland. Recently, Sara has written an extended article in a leading UK newspaper. (The Observer of 17th of May) and in it she speaks of the bliss of solitude.

*** The most important reason I am enjoying the lockdown, I believe, is that I am used to being alone. I am practised in silence and solitude. I have lived on my own for nearly 30 years – 12 of them in this upland glen where I built my own single-person home on the ruins of an ancient steading. And I can say with authority that it is simply not the case that solitude is inevitably bad for your mental health. Every time I go online I encounter yet more panic about how lockdown is going to drive us all mad. Depression apparently lurks in solitude and we need to take unbelievable care of ourselves if we hope to emerge from all of this with any sanity or wellbeing intact. But solitude and loneliness are two very different things: the first example of the use of the word solitude given on my pre-pandemic online dictionary is “she savoured her hours of freedom and solitude”. That does not sound too bad.

What has happened to Wordsworth’s “bliss of solitude”? To the cheerful, sane humour of the 3rd century desert hermits? To individuals like Bernard Moitessier, the solo yachtsman, who rounding Cape Horn in a strong position to win the first Golden Globe race in 1968, decided it would be more fun to sail on, back round the Cape of Good Hope a second time and  into the Pacific again; or Tenzin Palmo, the UK –born Buddhist nun, who spent 12 years in a cave in the Himalayas? Why should being alone undermine mental health, well-being and contentment?....What if, instead of huge disadvantage, being alone were framed as an opportunity for developing the self? Solitude seems to be more or less a necessity for creativity, for instance whether it is drawing, painting, writing, learning an instrument, cooking or any other kind of creativity. It is also very useful for anyone wanting to deepen their spirituality – this is why both Christians and Buddhists encourage retreats: periods of chosen isolation and usually silence. Spending time alone is in fact spending time with the person you know best of all and who knows you better than anyone else does. Solitude deepens self-knowledge. Practical solitude increases self-independence, making us less vulnerable to emotional abuse and more able to remove ourselves from such situations. Loneliness is a negative, sad feeling. Solitude on the other hand is bliss and practice makes perfect. ***    Sara Maitland is the author of A Book of Silence (Granta) and How To Be Alone (Macmillan) both available from the Guardian bookshop at guardianbookshop.com.-

*** This I know: My life in Your hands, I have nothing to fear. I stop, breathe, listen. Beneath the whirl of what is, is a deep down quiet place. You beckon me to tarry there. This is the place where unnamed hungers are fed, the place of clear water, of refreshment. My senses stilled, I drink deeply at home in timeless territory. In the midst of all that troubles, that threatens and diminishes, You set abundance before me. You lift my head; my vision clears. The blessing cup overflows. This I know: You are my home and my hope, my strength and my solace and so shall You ever be. ***    This is an interpretation of Psalm 23 by Carla A  Gross-Miller. Her book is Psalms Redux: Poems and Prayers published by Canterbury Press UK.

 

13th May 2020 

The search for God continues: (from an article in the UK’s The Guardian)

In these weeks after Easter as worship goes on behind closed doors, there has been some concern that, in countries such as Britain, coronavirus might finish off the job that decades of western secularisation began. Religious observation is a habit as well as an affirmation of faith; habits, once interrupted, are sometimes hard to resume. Given the work done by people of faith in helping the homeless, running food banks and channeling vital aid overseas, it is to be hoped that such fears are groundless.

There is already evidence to suggest that they are. A study has found that as the pandemic spread, Google searches for the word “prayer” boomed across 75 countries, dwarfing anything previously seen in data going back to 2004. In Britain, online streaming of services from churches has generated virtual congregations far bigger than the number of those previously attending in person. A similar pattern is being observed in Jewish synagogues. Isolation seems to be breeding the opposite of spiritual apathy.

Britain’s churches, mosques and synagogues must continue to play their part in helping the country through this ordeal. The idea of sacrifice lies at the heart of the Christian meaning of Easter. In these days, staying at home is a necessary sacrifice for us all to make. There will be more to come.

Everything else can wait except the search for God. George Harrison

*** Bless, O God, the journey ahead. Bless the travelling and the arrival. Bless those who welcome and those who accept hospitality that Christ may come among us in journeying and in stillness. ***

These beautiful words were written by the late Kate McIIhagga a writer and poet who was a wonderful and wise friend to many people.

And a traditional prayer from the Celtic tradition:

And now, may kindly Saint Columba of Iona, guide you to be for others - an isle in the sea, a hill on the shore, a star in the night, a staff for the weak.

There is a rich tradition of prayers, such as the one above, inspired by the Celtic church. Books containing Celtic prayers and blessings can be found at www.ionabooks.com

When the lockdown is over can we discover a new sense of shared values and tolerance in our connected world?

Recently I re-read an article by the Scottish journalist, Joyce McMillan written several years ago. Her article was entitled –“Impulse to faith rooted deeply in our society” and in it Joyce asks –“so where does the way to peace lie”? Peace in our world is for many of us interlinked with lasting justice; with awareness of the other who is different; with a wide compassion; with active faith. and with risk. Joyce pleads for all of those things in her article, a small part of which, marginally adapted - I share with you here …. “First peace lies in an acceptance that the impulse to faith is a near-universal feature of human societies; that most faiths, closely examined, tend to embody similar sets of values to do with charity, honesty, fidelity, humility before God, and that all therefore have a contribution to make to developing the codes of shared values on which any successful common life will be based.

Then, secondly, it lies in a strict understanding that faiths must operate within these shared values. If we believe in the fundamental equal value of each human being – as most of our faiths suggest we should, and as most of the great constitutional documents based on these traditions insist –then we cannot sanction Christian churches or any other group that advocate the subjection of women; we cannot have faith schools that teach intolerance, or even a sense of inborn moral superiority; and we cannot use the strident old language of holy war or moral crusade to justify self-interested aggression.

Today we need religious traditions that can accept the metaphorical and tentative quality of their sacred stories and rituals; that can gaze together into the mystery of creation and human consciousness without feeling the need to produce pat answers or to out-argue other faiths.

And those of us who feel that kind of spiritual awareness in our own lives have an obligation to come out of our private worlds and reclaim our place in public religious debate; which may be unfamiliar territory for us, but is now, suddenly much too important to be left to those whose intolerance of other faiths – or even of faith itself - may bring the world to further violence and division, and to unimaginable levels of oppression for more and more people.”

A final note: Remember that wonderful traditional Zulu phrase –“ umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” - meaning –“ I am a person through other people.”

Please share these weekly reflections if you would like to.

 

6 May 2020 

A new contagion - KINDNESS 20:

Inspirational words to be read slowly, from Fiona Lynch in Australia -

Let this be us. Take a moment, sit and softly close your eyes. Breathe life into a world where the old, the frail have no need to queue, where children are cocooned in a village of elders who listen, soothe and leave the light on. Ransack the shelves of your heart to unfurl what it is that binds us. Look over your shoulder, and wait for the slowest of your neighbours to catch up. May those not yet born hear stories of how we slayed separation, rolled in a ditch with distrust, and became one. May this be the time strangers meet through the light in their eyes, above masks, beyond difference. One small action, every day, a remedy seven billion strong. A new contagion - KINDNESS 20. Let this be us. – written by Fiona on 21st March 2020.

The exquisite balance of life:

You have been through many dyings and know in your heart- beat and bones the precarious, exquisite balance of life. Joanna Macy

The sky is red:

But Jesus answered, “When the sun is setting, you say, ‘we are going to have fine weather because the sky is red’. And early in the morning you say.’ It is going to rain because the sky is red and dark’. You can predict the weather by looking at the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs concerning these times.” -- from the gospel of Matthew 16:2-3

In times of transformation:

Several years ago Joan Chittister, the well-known American peace activist and writer, wrote words which in today’s world have perhaps even more relevance than when Joan wrote them….” We are in the midst of a fast-moving transformation across the globe. In times of major transformation such as this, two things occur: a sense of breakdown, but also a sense of possibility, of breakthrough”.

And from the Iona Community:

The World belongs to God, the Earth and all its People.

Dadirri – the deep listening within the heart:

Father Eugene Stockton is an Australian friend. Eugene is both a Catholic priest and a distinguished archaeologist who has spent a lifetime walking with indigenous communities all over Australia, and learning from them. One of his books is called The Aboriginal Gift and in it he writes of the depths of indigenous spirituality and of how that ancient wisdom can bring new meaning to the western search for inner spiritual understanding. One of the people he is indebted to is Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr who speaks of what is perhaps the greatest gift Aboriginals can give to fellow Australians, and to us all. This quality is called ‘Dadirri.’

It is inner deep listening and quiet still awareness. Dadirri recognizes the deep spring that is inside us. We can call on it and it calls to us. It is something akin to what is known as contemplation. Miriam-Rose says that when she experiences Dadirri she is made whole again. She tells of how she can sit on a river bank or walk through the trees – just listening, in that same way in which her community have listened since the earliest days. She knows that her people could not live good useful lives unless they listen. This way of listening has been handed down through indigenous learning for 40,000 years.

The perfectly innocent speech:

What a thing it is to sit absolutely alone, in the forest,

at night, cherished by this wonderful, unintelligible,

perfectly innocent speech,

the most comforting speech in the world,

the talk that rain makes by itself all over the ridges,

and the talk of the watercourses everywhere in the hollows!

Nobody started it, nobody is going to stop it.

It will take as long as it wants, this rain,

As long as it talks I am going to listen. Thomas Merton

The bread is pure and fresh, the water is cool and clear,

Lord of all life, be with us, Lord of all life be near. An African grace.

 

29th April 2020 

A grandmother’s tip:

My grandmother once gave me a tip: In difficult times, you move forward in small steps. Do what you have to do, but little by little. Don't think about the future, or what may happen tomorrow. Wash the dishes. Remove the dust. Write a letter. Make a soup. You see? You are advancing step by step. Take a step and stop. Rest a little. Praise yourself. Take another step. Then another. You won't notice, but your steps will grow more and more. And the time will come when you can think about the future without crying. Elena Mikhalkova

Simple words, but true. They were sent to me by Mary Duncanson a friend of long-standing who lives in the beautiful village of Cromdale in the Scottish Highlands. As one of the local ministers Mary, like many other friends across the world, is caring for people who are finding the going tough, especially all those who mourn.

The steps of God:

For every step we take towards God, he takes a thousand steps towards us.

These beautiful words paraphrased from the Koran speak of a God who sits with us where we sit, in all of our uncertainty and muddle and contradiction. And there is an even greater truth in those words. Even the slightest inclination of our hearts toward the divine fills our life with God’s possibilities. Saint Simeon, a visionary theologian, put it this way: “Radiant in his Light, we awaken to the knowledge that we are held in love in every part of our body.”

The place of stillness within:

Life is not just a question of getting through each day, although that is important, and especially as we think of millions of our sisters and brothers who face a struggle for food and shelter every new morning For centuries, all the world’s religious traditions have invited us to discover within ourselves a continuous expansion of heart and spirit. We forget this in our often frenetic life-styles, but these virus weeks have caused us to halt and become aware in fresh ways of our amazingly rich humanity. Just pause as you read this and listen to that inner voice which tells you that your life is both unique and precious. That you carry within you the possibility of discovering a guiding Light which will not go out. Befriend that inner strength which enables you to keep searching, to be alive to new insights, to encounter these fresh truths which can change the way you think about everything. Shed any pent up bitterness. Laugh at your own limitations. Look outwards, phone a friend (you don’t need Zoom!) and hear the bird song above the silent streets. pm….Many thanks for your messages. My cancer remains stable and I hope you are OK.

 

22nd April 2020 A Candle in the Window Peter Millar

One of my favourite poems:  

The peace of the earth and the peace of the heavens be with you. The peace of the rivers and of the oceans fall over you. The deep peace of God be with you today in all your doings and wherever you are – and may you pass it on.

Adapted from a traditional Celtic blessing

Tonight before falling asleep, think about when we shall all return to the streets. When we hug again. When shopping together will seem like a party. Let’s think about when we can share a coffee and small talk and pictures. Be close to each other. We can think about these present times when it will only be a memory. Normal times will seem like a beautiful gift. Every second will be precious to us. Sunsets and laughter. See you soon and take courage!

From some recent words of Pope Francis.

Leaning on each other:

In a particularly poignant scene in Albert Camus’ The Plague – which reads like it was published three weeks ago instead of in 1947, the doctor works tirelessly to lessen the suffering of those around him. But he is no hero. “The whole thing is not about heroism,” he says. “It may seem a ridiculous idea, but the only way to fight the plague is with decency.” In these post-Easter days I find myself wondering, more than in previous years, what “new life” might emerge from this present global crisis. Whatever it is, I hope it is characterised by more decency. I hope it embraces our interdependence: our need for each other. In Bill Wither’s words, “Lean on me when you’re not strong because we all know it won’t be long ‘til I’m gonna need somebody to lean on.” From a reflection written by a friend, Nathan Wilson in the States.

Lord of every human heart, take our stumbling generosity and simple acts of kindness and use them as best you can for Your purposes of love. pm.



8th April 2020  A Candle in the Window  Peter Millar

What is the Corona Virus really teaching us?
An interesting reflection by Bill Gates

I’m a strong believer that there is a spiritual purpose behind everything that happens, whether that is what we perceive as being good or being bad.

As I meditate upon this, I want to share with you what I feel the virus is really doing to us: It is reminding us that we are all equal, regardless of our culture, religion, occupation, financial situation or how famous we are. This disease treats us all equally. It is reminding us that we are all connected and something that affects one person has an effect on another.

It is reminding us that the false borders that we have put up have little value as this virus does not need a passport. It is reminding us, by oppressing us for a short time, of those in this world whose whole life is spent in oppression.

It is reminding us of how precious our health is and how we have moved to neglect it through eating nutrient poor manufactured food and drinking water that is contaminated with chemicals upon chemicals. If we don’t look after our health, we will, of course, get sick.

It is reminding us of the shortness of life and of what is most important for us to do, which is to help each other, especially those who are old or sick.

It is reminding us of how materialistic our society has become and how, when in times of difficulty, we remember that it’s the essentials that we need (food, water, medicine) as opposed to the luxuries that we sometimes unnecessarily give value to. It is reminding us of how important our family and home life is and how much we have neglected this. It is forcing us back into our houses so we can rebuild them into our home and to strengthen our family unit.

It is reminding us that our true work is not our job, that is what we do, not what we were created to do. Our true work is to look after each other, to protect each other and to be of benefit to one another. It is reminding us to keep our egos in check. It is reminding us that no matter how great we think we are or how great others think we are, a virus can bring our world to a standstill.

It is reminding us that the power of freewill is in our hands. We can choose to cooperate and help each other, to share, to give, to help and to support each other or we can choose to be selfish, to hoard, to look after only our self. Indeed, it is difficulties that bring out our true colours. It is reminding us that we can be patient, or we can panic. We can either understand that this type of situation has happened many times before in history and will pass, or we can panic and see it as the end of the world and, consequently, cause ourselves more harm than good.

It is reminding us that this can either be an end or a new beginning. This can be a time of reflection and understanding, where we learn from our mistakes, or it can be the start of a cycle which will continue until we finally learn the lesson we are meant to.

It is reminding us that this Earth is sick. It is reminding us that we need to look at the rate of deforestation just as urgently as we look at the speed at which toilet rolls are disappearing off of shelves. We are sick because our home is sick. It is reminding us that after every difficulty, there is always ease. Life is cyclical, and this is just a phase in this great cycle. We do not need to panic; this too shall pass. The virus is not only a great disaster for many, it is also a great corrector – it is sending us important messages that we seem to have forgotten, and it up to us whether we shall learn them or not.
Bill Gates of Microsoft

Remembering in love our many sisters and  locally and around the world who in recent weeks have died from the virus:
 
We say farewell,
As best we can, and as tenderly,
Often in tears and unbelief that this is true
They are gone, and we are left  - and –
All too soon –
Often in the dark reaches of the night
Memories become our companions.
Yet through our tears, a dawning always breaks
Even if at first just a slither of light.
Their voices, now distant, guide us to that path.
Where love returns
And reaching out again
Is what we do
Even when our hopes are fragile still.       Pm
 
Who brings about peace is called the companion of God in the work of creation.     A traditional Jewish saying.



1st April 2020 

Words to encourage us in tough times (Plase share around this reflection)

The only way to eat an elephant is in small pieces. Desmond Tutu


Perhaps the Earth can teach us as when everything seems dead and later proves to be alive. Pablo Neruda in “Keeping Quiet”

Normally we have Mass daily; not now, but we are praying more. Faith is important to people in times such as this. For all of us, the crisis is triggering questions about what is important. Having a Pope like Francis is wonderful; he sent out a beautiful message: “Tonight before falling asleep, think about when we will return to the street, hug again…We will go back to laughing together. Strength and courage. See you soon!” The temptation is to retreat, to look inwards. But once this is over, do we stay behind borders or will we have learned things? We might have opened our hearts in ways we hadn’t thought about before. The Jesuit sister, Jane Livesey

Mother and Father God,
Creator of the deep quiet,
May we never be a stranger
To that place within our heart
Where we are at one
With life’s source and tiniest bloom. Pm



Prayers for the week ahead

Spirit of life, in the mystery of each new day, with its uncertainties and unknowns, to untangle the knots within me, so that in this time of turbulence I can mend my start hearts simple ties to others. pm

Lord, in these times when all of us are bundled together in ways we could not have imagined a few weeks ago, help us to recognise that you are propelling us to wider vision , an enhanced awareness and even tto a calmer acceptace of Life’s surprising turns. Give us the spiritual depths to see that much in our present situation can be turned to blessings – blessings from You, blessings from family and friends and blessings from those who ask for our help near and far. Pm.

And a final thought! I hope you can see this and smile! https://youtu.be/MMBh-eo3tvE

Thank you again for all your messages in this last week. Much appreciated and thank you for sharing these weekly Reflections.
The crisis has connected us all in special ways and this is something that is truly a blessing, in the midst of the many huge difficulties facing the world, in this time of Lent and Easter.

Peter

Contact Information

Mayfield Salisbury Parish Church,
18 West Mayfield,
Edinburgh,
EH9 1TQ

0131 667 1522 / 0780 801 1234

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Scottish Charity Number: SC000785

Quotations

  • Because God is both knowable and unknowable the tension of the symbol, the multilayers of the myth and the openness of the poetic are all vital to our desire to celebrate the Mystery to whom we relate and in whom we have our being.
    Mark Oakley

  • You must love him as he is: neither God, nor spirit, nor image; even more, the One without commingling, pure, luminous ...

    Meister Eckhart

  • The purpose of our life is God's glory. However lowly a life is, that is what makes it great.
    Oscar Romero

  • Faith may justify bigotry or fanaticism, as Church history tragically witnesses. It needs a safeguard. If it is not animated as it were by the greatest of the theological virtues (love), faith can become defective.
    Thomas Norris

  • Dry not, dry not, your tears of love eternal! Only to eyes that fail to weep does this world seem so dull and dead. Dry not, dry not, those long, sad tears of love.
    Johann von Goette

  • The post modern paradigm manifests itself as a unity which preserves diversity and diversity which strives after unity.
    David Bosch

  • There is only one assertion that requires no evidence. Children are a sacred trust...Unless we care properly for our children, we shall never build a better world.
    'A Good Childhood’ The Children’s Society

  • These are only hints and guesses, hints followed by guesses; and the rest is prayer.
    'The Dry Salvages' T.S.Eliot

  • According to strict truth, God is incomprehensible, and incapable of being measured.
    Origen

  • Myth is a story about the way things never were, but always are.
    Thomas Mann

  • In the darkness ...The child of your love - and now become as the most hated one - the one You have thrown away as unwanted - unloved ..... The darkness is so dark .... I have no faith.
    Mother Teresa

  • I love the Bible. I owe my faith and my life to the Bible and its liberating message. It is in the Bible that I first met Jesus ... I too am included in God's embrace.
    Gene Robinson

  • It is this great absence that is like a presence, that compels me to address it without hope of a reply ....
    R.S. Thomas

  • Faith is not a proud self-consistent philosophy. It involves maintaining oneself between contradictions that can't be solved by analysis. It is therefore a living response to the grace of God as revealed in fragile lives.
    Mark Oakley

  • Any religion which does not say that God is hidden is not true.
    Blaise Pascal

  • The contemporary Church is losing aspects of its wide and generous memory and therefore condemning itself to become a 'swimming pool Church' - one that has all the noise coming from the shallow end.
    Mark Oakley

  • For all your doctrinal headaches take Paradox.
    Mark Oakley

  • The true vision and the true knowledge of what we seek consists precisely in not seeing, in an awareness that our goal transcends all knowledge and is everywhere cut off from us by the darkness of incomprehensibility.
    St Gregory of Nyssa

  • Death, death be hanged, the Lord has promised me that I shall live. This I believe!
    Martin Luther

  • We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life have not been put to rest.
    Wittgenstein

  • Religion is the flight of the alone to the Alone.
    Plotinus

  • Stupid clergymen appeal quite directly to a Bible passage directly understood ....
    Soren Kirkegaard

  • What is the point of the arts of reading and criticism as long as the ecclesiastical interpretation of the Bible, Protestant as well as Catholic, is cultivated as ever?
    Friedrich Nietzsche

  • A figure like Ecclesiast, rugged and luminous, chants in the dark a text that is the answer, although obscure.
    Wallace Stevens

  • Myth is the poetry of the soul.
    Sara Maitland

  • Our loss of the ability to think mythically, poetically, allegorically, creatively, theologically, and artfully is a greater threat to our religious experience than anything good scientists have to report ...
    Sara Maitland

  • In general, Zen attitude is that words and truth are incompatible, or at least that no words can capture truth.
    Douglas Hofstadter

  • 'God' is a one word poem
    Rowan Williams

  • What is today? Today is eternity.
    Meister Eckhart

  • Apprehend God in all things, for God is in all things.
    Meister Eckhart

  • The most powerful hunger we have, mostly suppressed and misdirected, is the hunger for God.
    Miroslav Volf

  • We frequently judge that things are as we wish them to be, for through personal feeling true perspective is easily lost.
    Thomas a Kempis

  • Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.
    Rabindranath Tagore

  • God is the beyond in our midst.
    Dietrich Bonhoeffer

  • 'God is not the answer, God is the question.'
    Herbert McCabe