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 Candle in the Window which Revd Millar sends out every week by email. If you wish to receive the full version, please contact him direct at the email address above.

 

14th April 2021           

A wonderful tribute to the National Health Service in the UK:

Two weeks ago I mentioned in the reflection the writer Michael Rosen’s great new book  about his experience with very serious Covid 19. Michael was 48 days on a ventilator in 2020. Above his bed in hospital the staff pinned a copy of the poem he had written (before Covid arrived in the world) in honour of the 60th anniversary of the NHS. His poem speaks to us all. We remember with thankfulness all who work in hospitals everywhere in our world. And perhaps especially the millions of ‘hidden’ carers in the poorest countries who are with Covid patients in situations of extreme poverty. The difficulties they are facing are to us unimaginable. Everywhere around, death without medical aid. Hold them in your heart.

These are the hands that touch us first

                Feel your head   -   find the pulse  -  and make your bed.

These are the hands that tap your back

Test the skin   -   hold your arm   -   wheel the bin.

                   Change the bulb   -   fix the drip 

                   Pour the jug   -   replace your hip.

These are the hands that fill the bath

Mop the floor   -   flick the switch   -   soothe the sore.

                   Burn the swabs   -   give us a jab   

                  Throw out sharps   -   design the lab.

And these are the hands that stop the leaks

Empty the pan   -   wipe the pipes    -    carry the can.

                  Clamp the veins   -    make the cast

                  Log the dose   -    and touch us last.       

Michael Rosen: Many Different Kinds of Love – A Story of Life, Death and the NHS  -  published by Ebury Press of Penguin Random House 2021.    ISBN 978-1-52910-945-0

The Night Sky:

Severe light pollution in Britain appears to have fallen according to the countryside charity CPRE. Across a week in February, the charity asked volunteers to look up and count the stars they could see. The results suggest that 51% of participants were experiencing severe light pollution, compared to 61% the previous year – an effect, the charity concluded, of darker towns and city centres, owing to lockdown. Sadly, though, the overall trend is worrying: human illumination of the planet is growing by 2% a year. This has serious consequences: there is mounting evidence that light pollution is a serious contributing factor to what has been called the ‘insect apocalypse’. Disorientated by light, birds also die as they migrate over cities: a distressing 100,000 a year succumb over New York City, confused by the illumination of the skyscrapers. The solution is simple and obvious: to turn unnecessary lights off – also saving energy – and to shade those required at street level.

Light pollution also has the effect of deracinating humans in densely populated areas from what was once a vivid, intense, and often deeply generative relationship with the night sky. In Ancient Babylonia, astronomy was inextricably linked with the development of branches of mathematics, with cosmology and divination, and with the establishment of calendars. Early Greek philosophers and mathematicians were also concerned with the arrangement of heavenly bodies, borrowing heavily from their eastern forebears to try to understand the universe and the human place within it. Stars, of course, have been used since time immemorial to help human beings move around the planet: Polynesians uses a range of methods, including star navigation, to travel prodigious distances across the Pacific.

A watcher of the skies reaches beyond the everyday into awe – or comfort. CS Lewis compared Dante’s conception of the cosmos, as he was led through it on his journey in the Divine Comedy, to being ‘conducted through an immense cathedral’ as opposed to the post-Enlightenment vision of the night sky in which we feel we ‘lost in a shoreless sea’. But whatever we feel when we look up at night, we instinctively feel that that we are in the presence of something magnificent, something greater than the mere humdrum. We, just like all creatures on Earth, desperately need our dark skies. (from The Guardian, UK)

The 2020 Reith Lectures:

The famous Reith lectures on the BBC were given in 2020 by Dr Mark Carney former head of the Canadian Central Bank and in recent years Governor of the Bank of England. Mark Carney who now works globally on climate change, is one of the visionary thinkers of our time, as evidenced in these lectures and in his recent book - Values: Building a Better World, published by William Collins UK. It is easy to get his lectures on You Tube and they are well worth listening to as they address in a particular way many of the tough issues facing  our capitalist-dominated world in which multiple millions of our sisters and brothers are moving day by day into even greater poverty. Carney sees addressing climate issues as central.

A vision grounded in reality:

The marvellous vision of the peaceable Kingdom, in which all violence has been overcome and all children women and men live in loving unity with nature, calls for its realisation in our day-to-day lives. Instead of being an escapist dream, it challenges us to anticipate what it promises. Every time we show compassion, care for the Earth, seek justice for all, we are making the vision come true. We must remind one another constantly of the vision. Whenever it comes alive in us we find new energy to live it out, right where we are. With the vision within us we can never escape from real life.    (Adapted from a reflection by the late Henri Nouwen, activist, visionary and popular writer whose books I recommend.)

 

 

 

31 March 2021

An Easter Meditation:

(This is a meditation from a book I wrote with Neil Paynter some years ago – We Journey in Hope; Reflections on the Words from the Cross.)

Forgive them, Father. They don’t know what they are doing.  Luke 23:34

A few years ago with the late and wise Anne McPherson I wrote a book about a ministry we had shared, along with my late wife Dorothy, in Bidwill in western Sydney. Bidwill carries many of the markers of modern social deprivation and is home to a large range of different cultures and religious traditions. Dorothy and I had been given a place to live in a local church hall which was also a vibrant community centre. In Bidwill, random violence and acts of sacrifice and love companion one another each day. In the foreword to that book, Jo Inkpin, an Australian friend, wrote some words which are prophetic. In my understanding these words relate to these first words of Jesus from the Cross…..”The contemporary world provides a great paradox. The incredible diversity of the world’s population is linked ever more closely to the forces of globalisation and climate change. Yet we remain deeply fractured by massive disparities of wealth and by conflicts intimately related to our varied cultures, religions and identities. Rather than divisions being transformed, past painful memories are regularly enlarged and new walls are daily erected. In the Western world, fear of the ‘other’ has become a powerful driver of social and political policy. Meanwhile, many people are accustomed to knowing little or nothing of their neighbours – a fact which impoverishes us all”.

At this time when new and higher walls of division and fresh disconnections  are becoming an accepted part and parcel of the fabric of humankind, the idea of forgiveness seems totally counter-cultural. Why should we forgive one another? After all, we have been wronged. Why should nations forgive one another? How can we possibly forgive past memories and earlier narratives within our communities or within our own often complicated lives? And why should the millions of our sisters and brothers who today remain trapped in gut-wrenching poverty and oppressive social structures even dream about forgiving the rest of us, who, it can be argued are directly and indirectly responsible for their marginalisation?

Throughout the centuries, theologians and biblical scholars have reminded us that these strong words of Jesus are in a sense a nutshell of the whole Gospel. They bring us to the mind and heart of God. Here in this situation of agony, Jesus, hanging on a rough cross, looked around at all who mocked him, and in tenderness invited God to forgive both their cruelty and their ignorance. Many of those gathered around the cross that day did not know what they were doing – in fact they had not the slightest clue as to what they were doing. They were blinded. Just as we are also constantly without sight or understanding in our own lives, or in Brian Wren’s words, ‘half-free, half-bound’. Like many of those at the foot of the cross that day, we too are swept along my multiple forces which desensitise us. How else can we explain the continuing, moment by moment abuse by us all of our beautiful planet and our steadfast refusal to live more simply that others may simply live?        (End of the book quote.)

*** In the years since I wrote that book with Neil our world has changed at every level. The words of Jesus from his cross are more needed that ever – both in our own personal journeys and globally. It is not however a time for despair. Yes, there is lack of forgiveness, but there is also an awakening. Millions now believe that we must live differently if humanity is to survive. It is just not possible to increase our enmities and think we can be at peace. The massive popular movements now on every continent demand our listening ears. Within human history we all know well that so much has to be forgiven. Seeking to free ourselves of sub-conscious prejudice is a healthy step toward to us being a more forgiving person. Why not just accept that we have often been wrong, ignorant and blind vis a vis other cultures and identities? And our awareness can move forward in quiet prayer and stillness even if we are approaching a hundred!  One example. Christ must weep over the level of our racial prejudice. So let us, wherever we are, have that inner quiet and allow the words of Jesus to penetrate our often distorted hearts. To face our inner selves with greater integrity, and to seek forgiveness. We journey together.

Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live, a place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive; built of hopes and dreams and visions, rock of faith and vault of grace; here the love of God shall end division, for all are welcome in this place. Words by Marty Haugen

* We Journey in Hope - Wild Goose Publications ISBN 978-1-84952-076-8

* Thank you again for all your prayers and loving messages. I am back home and recovering slowly from being so ill. Sending Easter hope and light. Peter

 

25th March 2021

Journeying with Covid 19:
Early in January of 2016 (as many of you already know) I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma (cancer in the bone marrow). Myeloma is at the present time incurable but it is treatable and I am deeply grateful for the last five years of life. More than grateful! However, from the start of the pandemic it has been made clear to me in various circular letters from the Scottish Government and the National Health Service that I would have to ‘shield’ and that if I did get the virus it may present real health difficulties, given that I survived the virus. Naturally I was delighted that I kept free of the virus in 2020 but in mid-February I was told I was positive. A few days later I became very ill and was admitted to hospital where I was soon receiving oxygen. Initially the outlook was not great, but I have pulled through and am now back home - full of gratitude to the amazing NHS, to the Source of Life who holds us all each day, to my loving and supportive family and to the many friends around the world who held me in their prayers. The Spring sunshine streaming through my windows at home has never felt more beautiful and comforting! For me a new chapter has opened as my strength returns day by day.


Perhaps in the days ahead I may be more able to reflect further about this recent experience. The virus itself raises a huge raft of medical, spiritual and social issues for the world, and for the people who find themselves very sick because of it – this invisible force and global destabiliser in our midst. My time in hospital has also brought home to me yet again the massive injustices at the heart of global medical care. I know only too well that I may not have survived the virus had I not had the back up of a superb and equipped hospital. Yet I must leave that important issue for another time, and be truly thankful for the wonderful and caring staff at the hospital who watched over me in these last weeks and celebrated with me on the day I left for home! As I slowly came back to myself in the hospital a line from a prayer often used in the Iona Community came into my head, Lord, give us today the essentials of life. As I pondered these words lying under my oxygen mask, I thought right now I need only one essential and that is…breath. Just to be able to breath without oxygen would be a gift from God. On the day the oxygen mask was finally removed, I knew deep within me I had been given that gift, and that the One who holds us all had restored me to life. Looking back, I understand my tears on that day.


The wisdom and vision of Michael Rosen:
Michael Rosen is renowned for his work as a poet, performer, broadcaster and scriptwriter. He is professor of Children’s Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London. Between 2007 and 2009 he was the UK’s Children’s Laureate. He currently lives in London with his wife and children.


Early on in the pandemic, in 2020, Michael caught the virus and what followed was months on wards: six weeks in an induced coma, and many more weeks of rehab as the National Health Service saved his life then got him back on his feet. Throughout Michael’s stay in intensive care, a note book lay at the end of his bed, where nurses and others who cared for him wrote letters of hope and support. Embarking on the long, tough road to recovery, Michael was soon ready to start writing about his time in hospital and this near death experience.


And now in the Spring of 2021 his wonderful new book: Many Different Kinds of Love – A Story of Life, Death and the NHS has been published by Penguin Random House London. (ISBN 978-1-52910-945-0). Given my own recent experience in hospital I found it greatly encouraging to read his book, but I feel many others who have never had the virus would gain much from it, as his writing powerfully and beautifully illumines, from a particular and important perspective, what thousands around the world have and are experiencing. I am sure his book will in years to come be regarded as one of the treasures that emerged from these uncertain days. It may be for some a tough read but I see his book as much more - a testimony to hope. And it shines with his poems, humour and wisdom. Thank you Michael for making us much more aware.


May these words give us the inner courage we need in these times:
My heart longs for the depths, for the soul satisfaction of plumbing the Real and the Holy. My breath seeks its Source, the full inhale that awakens and enlivens. A still sanctuary draws me towards You, Source and Silence, Welcome and Wellspring, Love and Life. I tarry here, my limbs relax, my core expands to hold, and be held by You. I am held, and I am helped. I lift my head - my vision clears. A song of joy erupts from my being, breath carries praise from the depths to the heights, joining the song of the universe which is love. Understanding grows, granting wisdom in the night and strength for the day.
Words based on Psalm 63 from Carla A. Gross-Miller - Psalms Redux, Poems and Prayers. Canterbury Press, Norfolk. UK. (ISBN 978 - 1 -84825-639 -2)

 

 

14th February 2021          

History will remember:

History will remember when the world stopped and the flights stayed on the ground. And the cars parked in the street. And the trains didn’t run.

History will remember when the schools closed and the children stayed indoors, and the medical staff walked towards the fire and they didn’t run.

History will remember when the people sang on their balconies, in isolation, but so very much together in courage and song.

History will remember when the 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.

The ancient wisdom:

If we are ever to find peace either in ourselves or with the world we shall have to learn again that ancient wisdom which alone can give us peace with nature and with God, and which was summed up by Dostoevsky in the words of the Prior of the monastery in which the Brothers Karamasov met: “Brothers, have no fear of human failing. Love a person even in their failings, for that is the semblance of the divine love, and is the highest love on earth. Love all God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it. Love every leaf and every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all embracing love.”  The late Father Bede Griffith of India in his popular book ‘The Golden String: An Autobiography.’

*** There is dignity here – we will exalt it. There is courage here – we will support it. There is humanity here – we will enjoy it. There is a universe in every child – we will share it. There is a voice calling through the chaos of our times; there is a spirit moving across the waters of the world; there is movement, a light, a promise of hope. ***     Philip Andrews

Sad could be happy:

‘Hope has two lovely daughters,’ Saint Augustine of Hippo is credited with saying, ‘anger and courage. Anger at the way things are and courage to change them.’ I think if the human body has two wise daughters, then they are loneliness and vulnerability. Loneliness in order to face your true self and vulnerability enough to tell the story to others. The cruelty of our half-lived lives is a false story of connection based on appearance and comparison, and such connections are parasitic on human community. Those connections glue people together with fear, and tell some that they are enough for themselves, that their loneliness and vulnerability are abated. When I was a school chaplain a young person once wrote a prayer for our end-of-the-day service. He wrote it, he read it out, and then threw it in the bin. I fished it out and framed it and hung it on my wall……….’Dear God. Thank you for putting me on this earth but people can get lonely and I don’t like people being lonely cause sometimes I am and it’s not a good feeling. So I’d like You to pair them up with someone who is not lonely if you can. Amen…….He read the prayer with such simple truth that I thought I would break. The prayer had a picture at the end of a sad face covered by a raincloud and a happy face in the middle of a sun. Sad could be happy, I understand this to say, or rainy could be sunny. There is such humble conditionality in the structure of the prayer. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard more beautiful usage of the three words ‘If you can’. It’s as if he understands that there are limits to what God can do but there’s no harm in asking. From Padraig O Tuama’s ‘In the Shelter: Finding Welcome in the Here and Now.’

Is this true?  In times of profound change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned  sometimes find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a  world that no longer exits.      Eric Hoffer

The long journey:   As we think of the task facing all those who today are working for justice and the healing of our planet I am reminded of some words of Christina Rossetti…’ does the road wind uphill all the way? Yes, to the very end. Will the day’s journey take the whole day? From morn to night, my friend.’      pm

A Gaelic Blessing:   May God be with thee in every pass, Jesus be with thee on every hill,  Spirit be with thee in every stream, headland, ridge and moor. Each sea and land, each path and meadow, each lying down, each rising up, in the trough of the waves, on the crest of the billows, each step of the journey thou goest.

 

 

30th January 2021         

One of the good things about these Candle reflections is that although many  of those who read them would consider themselves to be on the Christian journey, there are many others who tread a different spiritual pathway, and also many others who are just interested in them but would not think of themselves as religious in any way. During the years that Dorothy and I lived in The Abbey on the island of Iona, day after day I saw for myself that a sacred place can touch into a totally undiscovered part of a person. I think the same about written words. Without our necessarily seeking it, they too can take us into our depths. They can surprise us and even transform us. Certainly they can refresh our perceptions. The other day when a good friend quoted to me on the phone these words of Archbishop Rowan Williams –‘God is a one word poem’- I felt my spiritual awareness being deepened.

I have by my bedside a book entitled - ‘Always Begin Again: The Benedictine Way of Living, by John McQuiston published in the States 20 years ago. At the end of the book are meditations for Morning, Mid-day and Evening and in this reflection I would like to quote in full the morning one because I believe it has within it wisdom for all our hearts. I invite you to read it slowly each day for a few days and let its words rest within you. It has certainly helped me to see life in a wider perspective in tough times. Here it is:

Grace to us and peace.  We are given this day, and awareness of its colours and sounds; these and other gifts, too numerous to name and infinitely rare, are received. For these gifts we are thankful.

We do not know what this day will bring – life is the great enigma; life is the great good; we expect good from this day.

At all times, and at this time, we participate in the great Mystery. We acknowledge our contingent nature. We humble ourselves before that which we do not understand.

When we consider the vast reaches of the cosmos, the incomprehensible forces at work in each moment, the numberless stories of each life, the millions of forgotten ancestors who preceded us, the untold acts of kindness which occur each day, we humble ourselves.

Help us to save ourselves by forgetting ourselves. In every experience and thought, bring us into the certain knowledge that we are children of the infinite.

Assist us to envision life as an opportunity to share in the creation of a caring environment, open our mind’s eye to the knowledge that if we give love, nothing in life or death, nor things to come, nor things past, can separate us from the state of grace. So help us this day both to receive grace and to give it.

We believe that we are children of the unlimited and that we are enveloped in an unbounded network of friendships, affiliations and relationships which are in time and beyond time.

We believe in the ancient message that adopting an attitude of faith and hope toward this life and all that it brings will profoundly alter our lives and our universe.

In our activities this day we ask for the power to be continuously thankful, not only in our words, but in our hearts; to give up concern for ourselves and thus to walk in perfect freedom.

We trust ourselves, we trust our friends, we trust our families, we trust life, we trust the universe and we release our past to the past, our future to the future, accepting our present.

We abandon our illusions of control; we acknowledge our complete dependence on providence. We relinquish our apprehension. We rely on that which we do not sometimes understand. We have faith. We have courage.

Keep us from all fear today. Open our hearts to the gifts of this moment, and bind us to great unknown through complete trust.

May the vast Mystery  beyond comprehension fill us with joy and peace and hope this day and always.

We lift up our hearts.

(Published by Morehouse Publishing and the ISBN number is 0-8192=1869-3.) I am not sure whether or not it is still available.  *****   Thank you again for your many messages from different parts of the world. We are walking together and seeking the Light in our many different ways. We are held each day in that Light which we sometimes feel is dim. Yet it is there. Peter. *****

 

 

 

14th January 2021       

From the prophet Isaiah chapter 43, verse 18:

The Lord days ‘Do not cling to events of the past or dwell on what happened long ago. Watch for the new thing I am going to do. I will make a road through the wilderness and give you streams of water there’.

This is the time to be slow

Lie low to the wall

Until the bitter weather passes

 

Try as best you can, not to let

The wire brush of doubt

Scrape from your heart

All sense of yourself

And your hesitant light.

 

 If you remain generous, time will come good; And you will find your feet again on fresh pastures of promise, where the air will be kind, And blushed with beginning.      John O’Donohue

 

Francesca Jones – an inspiration for us all:

At a time when people are seeking to summon significant resources of fortitude simply to endure the loneliness, uncertainty and inconvenience of daily life, the example of a 20 year-old from Bradford in the UK is uplifting. Francesca Jones who has qualified for the main draw in the women’s singles at the Australian tennis open, has had to overcome enormous disadvantages to progress so far in her career. Before her final qualifying victory, Jones was ranked No 241 in the world and No 5 in the UK. Reaching such heights counts as a considerable achievement for anyone. Given that Francesca was born with ectrodactyly ectodermal dysplasia, her exalted status is a testament to her astounding determination.

Her condition, which is congenital and extremely rare, means that she has a thumb and three fingers on each hand and three toes on one foot and four on the other. A large part of her early years was spent in hospital. When she was eight, surgeons told her to forget any ambition to become a professional tennis player. Proving doubters wrong became a motivation for her there and then. A useful one, too. Although she can still encounter problems with gripping her racket, she has largely conquered what the experts saw as insuperable physical obstacles. In doing so, she has developed the mental durability that in elite sport often makes the difference between the good and the great. As with the French sailor Damien Seguin, born without a left hand yet lying fifth in the Vendee Globe round-the-world race, talent and grit have triumphed.

Even if she loses her first-round match in Melbourne next month, Francesca will fly home with her entry into the top flight secured.  (from an article in the UK Times)

Known, yet unknown, without a name yet holding every name. In the mystery of love You come to us and in tenderness reveal the meaning of our lives and the pattern of our days.  pm

 

In Bethlehem:

In central Bethlehem the Church of the Nativity was packed with pilgrims from many countries, a beautiful and powerful reminder of the extraordinary diversity of the world church. For a few moments we joined a group of Africans in prayer – that vibrant kind of praise and thankfulness to God which resides deep in the African soul, and knows what it means to have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ in hard times. And I thought again how true it is that those in the shadows are often the ones that reveal the true nature of the divine. In a place like this, in a town under daily oppression, the words of Mary carry a deeper resonance and fresh questions for our hurting, divided world: ‘The Lord has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty’. (Luke 1; 52-53)

As we walked across Manger Square, my friend Colin who knows the Palestinian people well, suggested that we visit the Mosque which for many generations has stood directly opposite the Church of The Nativity. Many worshippers were going in and out of the Mosque, but no tourists. We asked if we could enter and were given a warm welcome. As we ascended a wide staircase to the central prayer hall, an older Palestinian man asked where we came from. We started to talk and he told us that he was one of the two muezzins at the Mosque. He had been calling the faithful to prayer five times a day in this particular place for thirty one years: we soon realised that we were in the presence of a man who had experienced the sacred in his life. After introducing us to the imam, he led us up a narrow, stone spiral stair=case to a small balcony which tops the minaret. The view across the villages and hills of Palestine was literally breath=taking. And on the far horizon, the Wall =which looks ghastly at any time, but much worse under the brilliant sun – snaked its way amidst the fields and olive groves, dividing communities and families in its relentless progression. Below us the bells of many churches rang out, while on the far side of the square an Armenian bishop got into the back of a rather decrepit taxi, while in the front seat, next to the driver, a young priest held an enormous gold cross which stuck out of the window by at least five feet. No hiding of the Christian faith here!

And as we watched the gold cross making its way in the taxi out of Manger Square, we had a special moment In the Mosque, Our new-found friend, the muezzin, said he would like to sing for us. In a low, beautiful voice he sang from the prayers which had accompanied his life on earth for the last thirty one years. Unforgettable. He then translated his songs for us, and as we stood in silence together, he said ‘How can there be peace in my land if our hearts are angry and not pure –whether Jew or Arab?’ He told us how he longed for real peace and how weary everyone was of constant conflict. He also knew that many years of suffering lay ahead for the Palestinian people. The silence between the three of us was deep in that ancient house of prayer in the heart of the place where Jesus was born. .Later on.as I reflected on the events of the day, I remembered that great prayer of Brazil’s Bishop Helder Camara who was truly a companion of the poor and understood oppression. This is it. ‘Lord, take away from us the quietness of a clear conscience and press us uncomfortably for only thus that other peace is made, your peace.’

(An extract from my book, A Time to Mend: Reflections in Uncertain Times - Wild Goose Publications, Glasgow 2013 -    ISBN 978-1-84952-247-2)

 www.ionabooks.com for more information about Wild Goose Publications

 

3rd December 2020  

A favourite poem from the great Welsh poet R.S. Thomas:

There are nights that are so still that I can hear the small owl calling far off, and a fox barking miles away.

It is then that I lie in the lean hours awake listening to the swell born somewhere in the Atlantic rising and falling, rising and falling wave on wave on the long shore by the village that is without light and companionless.

And the thought comes of that other being who is awake, too, letting our prayers break on him, not like this for a few hours, but for days, years, for eternity.

The burden of reality - words from Henri Nouwen:

Can we carry the burden of reality? How can we remain open to all human tragedies and be aware of the vast ocean of human suffering without becoming mentally paralysed and depressed? How can we live a healthy and creative life when we are constantly reminded of the fate of the millions who are poor, sick, hungry and persecuted? How can we even smile when we keep being confronted by pictures of torture and execution?

Maybe, for the time being, we have to accept the many fluctuations between knowing and not knowing, seeing and not seeing, feeling and not feeling, between days in which the whole world seems like a rose garden and days in which our hearts seem tied to a millstone, between moments of ecstatic joy and moments of gloomy depression, between the humble confession that the newspaper holds more than our souls can bear and the realisation that it is only through facing up to the reality of our world that we can grow into our own responsibility. (Nouwen’s many books have encouraged so many people around the world. Look him up in Google.)

 

 

18 November 2020          A Candle in the Window          Peter Millar

This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes.

Try, as best you can, not to let
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.

If you remain generous,
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.
                           John O’Donohue, Irish poet and philosopher

So come my friends, be not afraid, we are so lightly here,

It is in love that we are made, in love we disappear.

 

Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering.

There is a crack in everything - that’s how the light gets in.

                            Both these quotes are from Leonard Cohen

Ours is along and often silent struggle.

Why do we struggle? Two reasons.

We struggle because we love not because we hate,

And we struggle because our faith in God is alive, not dead.

                            Marta Torres, activist.

 

When I look round at all the poverty and injustice I say to myself; ‘thank you God that I am not God’. Then when I remember that in every place of human suffering there are many caring women and men and children, I say to myself, ‘thank you God that you are God’.  Desmond Tutu

To become aware of the sacramental nature of the cosmos; to be open to the sacramental possibilities of each moment; to see the face of Christ in every person – these things are not novel – but their rediscovery is the beginning of our health.
                                                                  
Ron Ferguson writer and former Leader of the Iona Community

At every beginning, bless our dreaming and our doing.

This is the day we have – full of the mundane and the miraculous, the known and unknown.

Open our eyes to all that is around us. Open our ears to the song the soul yearns to sing.

Open our hearts to the love that lives through us. Open our hands to the task the moment requires.

Let us do this one thing, the thing before us, as if all creation and our very life depend upon it.

as if you are bent over, watching and listening and willing to do it well.   Carla A. Grosch-Miller.

Restoring a great country’s reputation:  Words from the well- known UK journalist Andrew Rawnsley following the recent American election.

Only Americans have a vote in their presidential election, but the whole world has a stake. Never more so has this been the case than in 2020. The planet has been mesmerised by the compelling theatre of American democracy. Not only does the winner occupy one of the most potent seats on the planet. America’s choice of president can set, confirm or reverse global ideological trends. The Brexit vote in the UK in 2016, our stark break with post-war history, was a harbinger of another great rupture, Donald Trump’s victory that November. This, in turn, energised nationalist populists around the planet and encouraged them to think that the future belonged to them. There is already much rune-reading of the long-term reverberations of this US election. A clutch of conservative commentators gleefully note that the Democrats failed to sweep all before them and conclude that left-wing ‘identity politics’ has been quashed. Yet the larger failure is that of right-wing ‘culture war’ politics whose ultra-bellicose and previously most successful champion has lost the US presidency by the thumping margin of more than four million votes. In a country that rarely denies a second term to the incumbent, Mr Trump’s defeat is a feat as extraordinary as it is welcome. Mr Biden’s victory contradicts the notion that we live in an era when it is fatal to be ‘the establishment’ candidate, disabling to be a seasoned, thoughtful and temperate person and hopeless to be a consensus-seeking moderate. The president-elect vanquished Mr Trump not by offering himself as the left-wing mirror image of the incumbent, but by personifying a contrasting kind of political character. By both reputation and demeanour he is a pragmatist and a unifier. “We always do better as one America” was one of the signature lines of his campaign. No presidential candidate in American history has won as many votes as the man his rival ridiculed as ‘Sleepy Joe’. He represents a revival of a kind of politics that many told us was deceased in the opening decades of the 21st century. It is a triumph for the centrist grandad.

Healing a fractured world:   Jonathan Sacks who died recently, was for many years the Chief Rabbi of Britain and the Commonwealth. These words are from his book, To Heal A Fractured World: the Ethics of Responsibility first published by Continuum in 2005.

In the early twentieth century the outstanding Rabbi Ben-Zion Uziel (1880-1953), delivered a strong statement on the universality of Jewish moral concern. These are his words: The settlement of the world (yishuvo shel olam) in its many ramifications is a precondition and vital need for our attaining our proper way in life. Each country and each nation which respects itself, does not and cannot be satisfied with its narrow boundaries and limited domains. Rather, they desire to bring in all that is good and beautiful, that is helpful and glorious to their national (cultural) treasure. And they wish to give the maximum flow of their own blessings to the heritage of humanity as a whole. Each self-respecting nation desires to establish a link of love and friendship among all nations, for the enrichment of the human storehouse of intellectual and ethical ideas and for the uncovering of the secrets of nature. Happy is the country and happy the nation that can give an account of what it has taken from others, and more importantly, of what is has given to the heritage of all humanity. Woe to the country and nation that encloses itself within its own four cubits and limits itself to its own narrow boundaries, lacking anything of its own to contribute, and lacking the tools to receive from others.

26th October 2020 

"Christian faith does not assume a life (or world) of continuous security and familiarity. It is fed by scriptures that speak of transience, mortality, provisionality, interruptions and leavings. But, they also whisper that the endings are always beginnings - the leavings open a door to arrivals that could not have been experienced otherwise. In other words, the loss can be seen as a gift - what Walter Bruggemann calls 'newness after loss.'

So we may be helped in articulating this by asking 4 Covid-realated questions:

1. What have I/we lost that we need to regain in the weeks and months ahead?

2. What have we lost that needs to remain lost - left behind in another country?

3. What have I/we gained that we need to retain in the future?

4. What have we gained recently that was useful for this season but needs to be lost if we are to move forward? (These questions have been in various church and other publications in recent weeks.)

One of my earlier poems slightly adapted by a good friend Dr Allan Gordon in these Covid19 days:

Companion of the faithful -

have we forgotten the wonder of each day

and the magic of each other,

as we speak yet again

these strange words about

'the war on this pandemic' -

in a world attacked by Covid-19?

Yet even while imprisoned

in our freedoms,

our hearts still sing of hope -

for we long to laugh again,

to dream a dream,

to dance in the sun -

in a world of love.

(From the booklet “Remembering Dorothy: A Few Prayers for Life, Healing, Hope and Laughter” first printed in 2011 - ten years after Dorothy’s sudden death in 2001.

Spirit of God, we thank you that you dance through creation, scattering sparks of peace and markers of healing in our wounded, uncertain world. pm

Tears for the hurting ones, tears for the frightened ones, tears for the world, tears for myself - and weaving through them all Your tender tears of love. pm

Thomas Homer-Dixon, Commanding Hope: The Power we have to Renew a World in Peril. Knopf Canada/Penguin. 464 pp. Hardcover $27.00; ISBN 9780307363169: This important book calls on history, cutting-edge research, complexity science and even Lord of the Rings. Thomas Homer-Dixon lays out the tools we can command to rescue a world on the brink. For three decades, the renowned author of The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization, and The Ingenuity Gap: Can We Solve the Problems of the Future?, has examined the threats to our future security—predicting a deteriorating global environment, extreme economic stresses, mass migrations, social instability and wide political violence if humankind continued on its current course. He was called The Doom Meister, but we now see how prescient he was. Today just about everything we've known and relied on (our natural environment, economy, societies, cultures and institutions) is changing dramatically—too often for the worse. Without radical new approaches, our planet will become unrecognizable as well as poorer, more violent, more authoritarian. In his fascinating long-awaited new book (dedicated to his young children), he calls on his extraordinary knowledge of complexity science, of how societies work and can evolve, and of our capacity to handle threats, to show that we can shift human civilization onto a decisively new path if we mobilize our minds, spirits, imaginations and collective values. Commanding Hope marshals a fascinating, accessible argument for reinvigorating our cognitive strengths and belief systems to affect urgent systemic change, strengthen our economies and cultures, and renew our hope in a positive future for everyone on Earth. (I would like to thank my friend Prof Stuart Hill in Sydney for sending me this Review.)

On the brink: (A reflection by the American novelist, Richard Powers)

In January, 2017, the day after being sworn in as President of the Unites States, Donald Trump directed the Interior Department to help lie about the size of the crowd who turned out to witness him rave about “American carnage”. I read the news in a state of stunned disbelief. Since then, few weeks have passed without some escalating offence coming from the White House. Four years of sadness, horror and trauma: We’ve all been broken by it. In these four years, I’ve lived through things that I could not have imagined witnessing in my country. The president has stoked paranoid conspiracy theories. The president has championed division and hatred and violence. The president repeatedly attacks basic decency and violates the constitution. The president is actively working to undermine public trust in the election. Each new day brings some impossible outrage that I have habituated to, changed by the daily horrors in ways which I can no longer see. As Yeats captured it, in another time of civil war:

We had fed the heart on fantasies/The heart’s grown brutal from the fare/ More substance in our enmities/ Than in our love….”

(This insightful reflection by Richard Powers continues on the following page.)

I’m afraid this election will shake America to the breaking point. I see the polls but take no comfort in them. The president’s plans to subvert are forming up in plain sight, as open and obvious as all the other high crimes and misdemeanours that he has already gotten away with. Maybe the polls will yield the results that all the polls predict. Maybe the president will leave office, peacefully, without ordering his supports into the street. (It would be the first such conciliatory act of his life.) But even if the election follows the best possible course, an uncontested Biden victory won’t save us: for four years 40% of the country has unwaveringly backed Trump’s every assault against civic life, and the once-great party that has enabled him at every turn shows no sign of repudiation, even now. It will take decades to heal the deep wounds.

One thing is certain, though: Trump’s re-election would maim America beyond recovering. A considerable majority of Americans now know that, too. I’m braced for the worst, but I take my slender hope from our great poet of democracy, Walt Whitman, writing over a century and a half ago, in the middle of the war for the nation’s soul that we’re somehow still fighting:

Over the carnage rose a prophetic voice,

Be not disheartened – Affection shall solve

The problems of Freedom yet;
Those who love each other shall become invincible.

As our world waits:

As the world anxiously waits for the American election results, all of us hold the

American people in our thoughts and prayers. As we all know this election matters greatly, not just to America, but to the world, and not least to the millions of our sisters and brothers in many places who companion suffering, poverty and

war on a daily basis. But truly it MATTERS to every person who believes in human decency and human solidarity. Trump’s election was more evidence of ecological and human derangement. Take him out of the mix and we must have more of a chance. Hopefully, those of us who still have the strength to campaign can be on the streets of the world in solidarity and love. The new dictators in our time (and there are several) are not right: they are wrong, and on the wrong side of history. All we need for evil to triumph more and more is for people of integrity, wherever they are, to remain silent. For my own part, I give a prayer of thanks to the One who holds us all, when I hear that my 15 year old grand-daughter, Ella, is already making her voice heard in relation to some of the great issues of our day. And Ella is not alone. Millions of young people are awakening. Let us rejoice and be glad! This not a time for either cynicism or despair, no matter our age. Let us refute the idea which Yeats articulated so powerfully in his poem. There MUST BE more substance in our love, than in our enmities. I hope you are playing your part, and perhaps especially so if you are in the last chapter of your life. We need your wisdom, awareness and compassion more than ever. Peter.

 

 

14 October 2020           

Words to encourage us in tough times.            This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

A Notice seen recently in a bookshop:  The Post-apocalyptic section has been moved to Current Affairs.        (share this with friends – it says everything!)

You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the whole ocean in a drop.  Rumi.

*** When the pot breaks, the soup goes with it.   An African village saying.

Centuries ago we were reminded that the first Bible was not the written Bible but CREATION itself – the cosmos. (Romans chapter I verse 20 – “ since earliest times people have seen the earth and sky and all God made, and have known of his existence and great eternal power.”) This is surely true: but you have to sit still for a while, observe it, love it without trying to rearrange it by thinking you can fully understand it. You simply participate in what one person described as a – Long Loving Look At The Real.               Richard Rohr.

And comforting words sent to me by a friend this week:

Circle me O God - Keep hope within - Despair without.

Circle me O God - Keep peace within - Keep hatred out.

Circle me O God - Keep love within - Keep evil out.

Circle me O God - Keep light within - Keep darkness out.

Christ -  stand in the circle with us... today and every day.

 

May the God of Peace inspire us.

May the God of Justice empower us.

May the God of Hope encourage us......

To live the Good News.       

Hope means more than just hanging on. It is the conscious decision to see the world in a different way than most others see it. To hope is to look through the eyes of faith to a future not determined by the oppressive circumstances of the present. To hope is to know that the present reality will not have the last word. It is to know, despite the pretentions and cruelties of idolatrous authorities, that God rules. It is God who will have the last word. We need more than resistance; we need hope and a positive vision of where we are going. We begin to live out new possibilities in our daily living.  Jim Wallis, theologian, writer and campaigner for justice for many years.                                                                             

The consolation of nature:   (An extract from a book coming out this month.)  If there was one mitigating circumstance about the coronavirus that first hit Britain in January 2020 it was that the virus struck in the early part of the year, when the northern hemisphere was entering into springtime. The coronavirus spring that followed turned out, in fact, to be a remarkable event, not only because it unfolded against the background of the calamitous disease, but also because it was in Britain the loveliest spring in living memory. It had more hours of sunshine, by a very substantial margin, than any previously recorded spring; indeed it was sunnier than any previously recorded British summer, except for three. It meant that life in the natural world flourished as never before, just as life in the human world was hitting the buffers. I have loved wildlife and the natural world since I was a small boy, but I never recorded a spring before. Yet the Covid spring was different. It seemed unlike all others, not least because it was proving exceptionally beautiful, yet by unfolding in parallel with the disease it was producing a sort of bizarre and tragic incongruity. Our beloved summer migrant birds – the swallows and cuckoos, the swifts and the willow warbler – were returning from their winter in Africa; the spring butterflies – the brimstones, the orange-tips and the holly blues – were emerging with their flashes of brilliance; and the spring flowers were each day adding new colour to the landscape, which was only intensified by the sunshine which seemed to pour down uninterrupted from morning till evening. Yet even as all this was happening, people were dying every day in their hundreds, often away from their loved ones, alone and in distress, and the health workers and care workers who were trying to save them were also dying, while millions of others were struggling to cope with the loss of jobs and the stress of being confined to their homes. You almost felt that nature should have switched off, out of sympathy. Yet it went blithely forward, as nature has always done. As the spring evolved, so did the pandemic. Yet there was something more; spring in the time of the coronavirus felt not just unusual, not just paradoxical and incongruous in its character, but important somehow. What we could see initially was solace. “There is no salve quite like nature for an anxious mind,” wrote Richard Deverell, the director of Kew, as he reluctantly closed the world-famous garden as the pandemic took hold. The idea of the consoling power of nature goes back many centuries, but it is strange how recently the beneficial effects of the natural world on our physical and mental health were proved to be real.   From: The Consolation of Nature: Spring in the Time of Coronavirus by Michael McCarthy, Jeremy Mynott and Peter Marren. (Hodder Studio, part of Hodder and Stoughton, UK.)

 

30th September 2020      

May we be helped each day to do here what is most right.

       -  words from the Native American tradition.

It is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world.

         Mary Oliver

Go and open the door … may be outside there’s…a tree, or a wood…a garden, or a magic city.         Go and open the door…may be the dog’s rummaging…may be you’ll see a face… or an eye…or a picture, of a picture.          Go and open the door…if there’s a fog…it will clear.          Go and open the door… even if there’s only…the darkness ticking…even if there’s only the hollow wind…even if nothing is there… go and open the door.       At least…there will be…a draught.              *Miroslav Holub - (Prague) -  from his ‘Poems Before and After’.

*** I am an old man now and have had a great many problems. Most of them never happened.       Mark Twain.

*** Knock and the door will be opened.             Matthew chapter 7, verse 7.

*** Enter eagerly into the treasure house that is within you and you will see  the things that are in heaven.                                 Saint Isaac the Syrian

I heard a delightful story of how the roof of New College, Oxford needs some major repair work carried out. The problem is that the roof has some massive oak timbers in it, and these don’t just grow on trees (if you know what I mean). But the best part of the story is this. When the college was built in the 14th century, someone said, “One day this roof will need to be repaired or rebuilt. We had better plant some oaks now, to be prepared against that time.” So they did just that. And the grove of trees, planted when the building was new, has now matured and is just right for the job. One has to admire the blend of inspired common sense and practicality which looks forward in that way, unlike the philosophy which says, “Och, it’ll see me out!” ---   This is part of a BBC radio broadcast - Thought for the Day – given some years ago by Reverend Rachel Dobie, a minister in the Church of Scotland.

*** Our task is clear – re-enchanting our times. David Tacey, Australian writer.

Posture and Prayer:

Though not especially well developed, there is an ancient Christian awareness that physical stillness facilitates interior stillness. Saint Gregory of Sinai and Saint Gregory of Palamas both thought that sitting still and close to the floor could be of great assistance. Gregory of Sinai recommended sitting on a small stool close to the ground. Today we call this a prayer bench. Many of the old monks spoke of a rather odd posture that involved sitting on a low stool  and bending the head down towards the navel (this is the likely origin of the term ‘navel gazers’). Today we see things differently. Largely through a sustained dialogue with Hindu and Buddhist monasticism begun in earnest by Pope Paul V1, many Christian contemplatives have seen the benefit of the classic lotus or half lotus position. All things being equal, they are well worth learning, and can be found in any good book on yoga or Zen. Most Western Christian contemplatives, however, sit on a chair or a prayer bench. In any case there is nothing magical or esoteric about learning proper posture.

If you sit in a chair, better to use a simple flat-seated desk or kitchen chair rather than an arm chair more suited to reading, watching TV or nodding off! The idea is that the knees and the buttock form a tripod that serves as a solid support for the body. Because most of us are accustomed to slouching this takes some attention. Sit on the front portion of the seat. Don’t lean back. Instead, keep the back straight; shoulders back but not rigid. Depending on your height, a lot of desk chairs leave your knees about even with your hips. If possible place a cushion under you so that the hips are slightly above the knees. Good breathing is then possible – with feet flat on the floor. Many people don’t know what to do with their hands. Just lay them palms down on the knees or gently cupped in the lap. Some people feel they cope better with distractions if they keep their eyes closed. With time you will discover what is best for you.  Words take from Martin Laird’s book: Into the Silent Land-The Practice of Contemplation. (Latest reprint 2016)  ISBN - 973-0-232-525640-0.

But the silence in the mind is when we live best, within

listening distance of the silence we call God…

It is a presence, then, whose margins are our margins;

that calls us out over our

own fathoms.     R. S. Thomas.         

 

 

 

 

9th September 2020             A  Candle in the Window             Peter Millar

 Words to encourage us in tough times.              This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.                      

                 We shall not cease from exploration

                        And at the end of all our exploring

                                Will be to arrive where we started

                                              And know the place for the first time.     T.S. Eliot

    No matter how far the town is, there is always another beyond it.

                                                                                   words from the Fulani peoples.

A proclamation of goodness:    

O Christ, there is no plant in the ground but it is full of your virtue.

There is no form in the strand but it is full of your blessing.

There is no life in the sea, there is no creature in the ocean,

There is nothing in the heavens

BUT PROCLAIMS YOUR GOODNESS!

There is no bird on the wing,

There is no star in the sky,

There is nothing beneath the sun

BUT PROCLAIMS YOUR GOODNESS!          (A Celtic prayer)

The joy of being in it together:

At the end of our road is a residential complex for Asian elders who walk their slow way up and down the street. At the front of our house is a low garden wall which women and men from the complex use as a resting place, especially on warmer days. We started to offer them water, then conversation began, names were exchanged, and then gifts of fruit and flowers brought to our door. We began to clean up the wall and painted it. Soon it was the most important part of the garden: an international meeting place bathed in the sounds of laughter!                               Words written by a friend Ron Smith.

The ever-changing nature of life on Earth:

It could be said that we live in an age of the dinosaurs. It is, of course, 66 million year since a great extinction wiped out three quarters of the animals on Earth, including non-avian dinosaurs. The first fossil was described in scientific literature around two centuries ago. In the last 25 years, the pace of palaeontological discoveries has accelerated to dizzying speed. Over the last five years, a new dinosaur has been identified every week on average – including, this month, a theropod from the Isle of Wight, already nicknamed Dinosaur Island thanks to the haul of treasures from its shores. Though the bulk of the new species come from China, Mongolia, Argentina and the United States, the new theropod demonstrates that striking finds are being made all over the world. They range from crow-sized creatures to giants more than 30 metres long.

The work of the last two-and-a-half decades -  from the discovery of feathered dinosaurs in China - suggests that these animals were smarter, more diverse, more interesting and important than we realised. They thrived for 150 million years; modern humans are closer in time to Trex and triceratops than these creatures were to the stegosaurus. They are the ancestors of animals including birds, our modern day dinosaurs. We might take a humble interest in their ability to survive and adapt through dramatic climate and environmental change.  They seem, perhaps, especially appealing now. The pandemic has left us in what feels like an endless present; our lives feel suddenly smaller. Dinosaur discoveries are an inspiring glimpse of the broadest temporal horizons, allowing us to contemplate the rich, complex and ever-changing nature of life on Earth.                         From an article in the Guardian

And from Psalm 8:

O God, how we have maligned and misinterpreted You – placing ourselves above all creation, commandeering the helm that we might control and use for our own comfort and convenience. Forgive us, and restore us to our senses, that we might see and sense and know and love all that is and all that can be. May our reverence for You be manifest in our reverence for all of life. May our wakeful listening penetrate the earth and reach towards the heavens. May our bold tenderness overcome our ignorance and enable wise action. For this life is a wonder. You have gifted us with all we need – beauty and bounty, word and wisdom, courage and companionship.     From Carla A. Grosch-Miller, Psalms Redux: poems and prayers. Canterbury Press. ISBN 978-1-84825-639-2

29 July

Earth’s Music:

Great Spirit, give us hearts to understand, never to take

From creation’s beauty more than we can give.

Never to destroy wantonly for the furtherance of greed.                               

Never to deny to give our hands for the building of earth’s beauty,

Nor to take from her what we cannot use.

Give us hearts to understand that to destroy earth’s music is to create confusion. That to wreck her appearance is to blind us to beauty.

That to callously pollute her fragrance is to make a house of stench.

That as we care for her – she will care for us.

(These words are from a United Nations programme on the environment.)

The golden-ringed dragonfly:    (A beautiful reflection by John Gilbey in Wales.)

 My route home was badly overgrown and I made  slow progress looking down at the rocky, uneven ground and concentrating on a good foothold. Bees and small moths swirled up from around the long grass and wild flowers, then something much bigger blundered away from under my feet. As it rose above the tangled grasses, the wingbeats of this golden-ringed dragonfly were clearly audible as a deep chitinous drone, the frequency modulating as it repeatedly changed direction. I watched it fly further up the path, expecting it to veer away and be lost to view, but instead it settled again on a tall stem

Dramatically marked with contrasting bands of yellow and black, the slender body was as long as my middle finger and, as the stem moved in the breeze, the complex structure of the wing surface created transient patches of iridescence. Dragonflies have a family history reaching back hundreds of millions of years, with origins almost as distant as the ancient Silurian rocks I was standing on. The ancestors that flew in the rich Carboniferous atmosphere must have been an especially impressive sight, with fossil evidence showing a wingspan the length of my arm – the apex aerial predators of their day. Then the breeze blew the stem into my shadow and, alarmed by the sudden change of light, the dragonfly started upwards from its perch. Caught by the rising wind, it whirred away across the meadows toward the dark, still oxbow lakes that mark the meandering former courses of my local river. (Note: the adjective ’chitinous’ comes from the noun ‘chitin’ which is a polysaccharide that is the principal component of the exoskeletons of anthropods and of the bodies of fungi.)

Life’s many unfinished symphonies:

Since I was diagnosed with an incurable cancer in January of 2016, I have thought in a new way about the many unfinished symphonies in my own life. In one of my earlier books, ‘Our Hearts Still Sing’ I included these words by Ronald Rolheiser which come from his book ‘Finding Spirituality’.

“When we fail to mourn properly our incomplete lives, then this incompleteness becomes a gnawing restlessness, a bitter centre that robs our lives of delight. Because we do not mourn, we demand that someone or something - a marriage partner, a sexual partner, an ideal family, having children, an achievement, a vocational goal or a job – take all of our loneliness away. That of course, is an unreal expectation which invariable leads to bitterness and disappointment. In this life there is no finished symphony. We are built for eternity. Because of that we will, this side of eternity, always be to some extent lonely, restless, incomplete.”

It took me several years to take on board in a meaningful way that many of life’s symphonies remain incomplete. Lesslie Newbigin a former bishop in the Diocese of Madras in South India where Dorothy and I worked for many years, called his autobiography ‘Unfinished Agenda’ – words which eloquently  capture this truth. Many of our hopes and dreams will never come to fruition, which does not mean we should not have them. Even as I near the end of my own life I still have more than a handful of hopes! We all do – even if one of our hopes may be for a relatively pain-free death.

It is good and it is healing that we should mourn some of these unfinished agendas, while at the same time celebrating what we have accomplished. I know that for many people this is a hard task as deep inside they feel they have achieved very little. Yet paradoxically as we mourn all that we have not done in this life, we may also discover that we reappraise the things we did do.  Becoming aware of what we have left incomplete may help us to move into a more gentle, and honest, estimation of ourselves. That kind of inner journey can be hugely rewarding and healing. I remember a friend telling me that life is all about – ‘releasing our baggage every day’ As the well-known and much loved Australian writer Michael Leunig said ….’God, give me the strength to hold on, and the strength to let go.’ That truly is a great prayer for all of us.

HOLIDAY TIME: After many Candles in the Window, August will be a holiday month for these reflections. Thank you for all your messages and support.

 

 

22 July

Promise this world your love, for better or worse:

These words were written by Lynn Ungar in March of this year. In these weeks as some countries move out of a strict lockdown and as other countries move into further lockdowns, they remain encouraging words. Lynn entitled her poem ‘ Pandemic.’

What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Centre down.
 

And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
 
Promise this world your love –
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health, so long as we all shall live.      
                             Lynn Ungar. 11th March 2020. 

*** Take heed, dear friends, to the promptings of love and truth in your hearts. Trust them as leadings of God whose Light shows us our darkness and brings us new life.   (Words from the handbook  ‘Advices and Queries’ from the Society of Friends (Quakers) Yearly meeting.) ***

The flowering that never ceases:

Perhaps in these last four months like me you’ve realised the importance of relationships of care and kindness more than ever before. I have a wonderful friend who is very unwell with cancer. I remember when she first told me. She knew the prognosis was not good. But then without evasion she went on, as is her way, with great concern to ask about me: “How are you getting on?  How are the Refugees you are working with? .When I came off the phone I was moved - moved most of all by how in the face of a diagnosis we all fear of a terminal illness, her goodness just seemed to be carrying on undiminished. As we cannot visit her, her friends put together a CD to celebrate her birthday. Her friends sang songs or played instruments and shared messages of encouragement. I chose to read a short poem by Kabir. My friend is a great gardener and she loves nothing more than to plant and watch flowers grow and bloom. But at the moment that is something she is not able to do, so this is the poem I read -  

           Dear friend, you don’t need to go outside your house to see flowers,

My friend, don’t worry about that excursion, for inside your body there are flowers,

           And one flower has a thousand petals - that will do for a place to sit.

       Sitting there you will have a glimpse of beauty Inside the body and out of it

                                         Before  gardens and after gardens.

That was it you see: The thousand petals, the flowering that never ceases. That was what I wanted to say to her on this CD. It was this: you have such a gift of friendship – every time you met with me you made me feel that I was the most special person in your life; And I am sure every one of your friends would say exactly the same. That is the gift of a generous heart. Not something turned on and then off but the gift of a generous heart, before the garden, in the garden and after gardens (from a broadcast reflection given on July 16th by the Revd Richard Carter.)

The soaring condors:

 In the last few weeks I have mentioned ravens and magpies and now we come to condors. If you are heavy and travel a long way to find dinner, it’s best not to get in a flap that just wastes energy. The Andean condor has perfected the art of soaring aloft. One bird has been recorded flying continuously for five hours, covering 107 miles without flapping. The 15kg birds, whose wing span can be up to 10 feet, flapped for only 1.3 per cent of the time they spent aloft, mostly during take-off. Scientists have predicted that even in winter - when soaring conditions are poor, Andean condors may flap no more than three seconds per mile. And by the way, the fastest flappers are hummingbirds, at up to 80 flaps a second!

*** Enjoy the earth gently, enjoy the earth gently; for if the earth is spoiled it cannot be repaired. Enjoy the earth gently ***            (Part of a Yoruba poem from West Africa)

Lord, you are the source of all life, and because of Your light, we see the light. Psalm 36:9

 

15 July

Four worldviews as suggested by Richard Rohr:

Each one of us operates out of an implicit worldview, a set of assumptions that are usually not conscious, and therefore are difficult to observe, much less evaluate. Your worldview is not what you look at. It is what you look out from or look through. It is thus taken for granted, largely unconscious, and in great part determines what you see – and what you don’t see at all. The important thing is that you know what your preferences and biases are, because there is no such thing as an unbiased worldview. When you acknowledge your filters, you can compensate for them.

I have concluded there are four basic worldviews, though they might be expressed in many ways and are not necessarily completely separate. Some people represent the best of all of them, or combine several, allowing them to cross religious, intellectual and ethnic boundaries. There are good things about all four of them. None is completely wrong or right. ( What follows is only a very brief summary of Rohr’s understanding  of worldviews.)

The ‘material worldview’ believes that the outer, visible universe is the ultimate and ‘real’ world. This has given us science, engineering, medicine and much of what we call civilization. It has brought huge good to the world but it also creates highly consumer-orientated and competitive cultures, which are often preoccupied with scarcity, since material goods for millions are always limited.

The ‘spiritual worldview’ characterizes many forms of religion and some idealistic philosophies that recognise the primacy and finality of spirit, consciousness, the invisible world behind all manifestations. Taken too far it can become ethereal and disembodied, disregarding ordinary human needs. In some forms it has little concern for the earth, the neighbour or social justice, because it considers the world largely as an illusion.

The ‘priestly worldview’ is generally held by sophisticated, trained and experienced people and traditions that feel their job is to help us put matter and Spirit together. They are the holders of the law, the scriptures and the rituals; they include gurus, ministers, therapists and sacred communities.  People of the priestly worldview help us to make connections that are not always obvious between the material and spiritual world. It describes what most of us think as organised religion and the self-help world.

In contrast to these three is the ‘incarnational worldview’ in which matter and Spirit are understood never to have been separate. This view relies more on awakening than joining, more on seeing than obeying, more on growth in consciousness and love than on clergy, experts, morality, or rituals. In Christian history we see this worldview most strongly in the Early Fathers, Celtic spirituality, and through the centuries in many mystics who combined prayer with intense social involvement. From Rohr’s ‘The Universal Christ’  ( Limited space means that I cannot do justice to Rohr’s thinking in this area but he raises important questions as  we seek for a greater understanding among the peoples of our world.)

The whispering Spirit:              

Softly whispering Spirit, blow gently into our lives;

Blow softly into our minds and bring peace:

Blow softly into our thoughts and bring understanding:                       

Blow softly into our concerns and bring calm:

Blow softly into our fears and bring courage:

Blow softly into our hearts and bring love:

Life-giving Spirit breathe your life into our lives each day    Elizabeth Mills.

From the Benedictine Community:

(We usually associate ‘fasting’ with Lent but a time of recollection can be any time in the day or year. I have always found the words that follow uplifting.)

Fast from judging others: feast on the dwelling in them.

Fast from emphasis on difference: feast on the unity of life.

Fast from anger: feast on patience.

Fast from pessimism: feast on optimism.

Fast from worry: feast on divine order.

Fast from complaining: feast on appreciation.

Fast from hostility: feast on non-violence.

Fast from bitterness: feast on forgiveness.

Fast from self-concern: feast on compassion for others.

Fast from personal anxiety: feast on eternal truth.

Fast from idle gossip: feast on purposeful silence.

Fast from lethargy: feast on enthusiasm.

Fast from discouragement: feast on hope.

Fast from facts that depress: feat on verities that uplift.

Fast from shadows of sorrow: feast on the sunlight of serenity.

Fast from apparent darkness: feast on the reality of light.

 

And from the women of Guatemala:                                                         

Forgive us that narrowness of vision which sees only the clouds and misses the RAINBOWS.

 

8 July

No one is too small to make a difference:

These are the well-known words of Greta Thunberg the Swedish young person who is alerting us all with the wisdom and vitality of youth, to the countless ways we are all daily wounding our beautiful planet. I like to add these words to those of Greta….” And no one is too old, even if alone at home”. As we slowly move beyond Covid19, climate change and its global consequences will be facing us more than ever. Even with all the beautiful words and promises, some from governments, our planet remains in grave danger. It is an existential danger for all future generations and humanity stands at a crossroads. Greta is right – as are many others.  Even if we are not as able as we once were (that includes me) we can still act – and act with deep hope in our hearts. This is what Greta said at a UN climate conference in Poland in December 2018. “If a few children in Sweden can get headlines all round the world by just not going to a school because they want the world to listen about climate change, then imagine what we could all do together if we really wanted to”.

We all accept that our world stands at a turning-point as we emerge from these strange months. Totalitarian leaders are now in place in many nations. When we read that Putin could be in power till 2036, and that Trump may be re-elected in November we can feel anxious – to say the least. Yet the flux and flow of human history often takes surprising turns and Vaclav Havel’s words on hope as a dimension of our souls are words for today.  “Either we have hope within us or we don’t.  It is a dimension of the soul and is not particularly dependent on some observation of the world. It transcends the world that is immediately experienced and is anchored somewhere beyond the horizons. Hope in the deep and powerful sense is not the same as joy that things are going well. Or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather the ability to work for something because it is good. Not just because it stands a chance to succeed. Hope is definitely not the same as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out. It is hope above all, which gives us the strength to live and continually try new things”.(Vaclav Havel, 1st President of the Czech Republic 1993-2003)

And now for something different – a few suggestions about the perfect poultry to keep in your garden if you are fortunate enough to have one!

Lockdown has made the idea of keeping hens – and harvesting their eggs even more appealing, but sadly the populations of a surprising number of delightful native breeds here in the UK are dwindling. Peter Hayford, an octogenarian poultry farmer reported a glut of requests for birds or eggs to hatch in the first weeks of lockdown. His own life-long interest in hens stems from shortages of eggs in the Second World War. He encourages those who would like to keep hens to go for native fowl, rarer breeds. Even the names of theses breeds can cheer the spirit! And do remember if you are planning on having some of the wonderful  ‘Independent Araucanas’ hens they tend to hide their beautiful blue eggs. There are many other amazing and special breeds available….

The Derbyshire Redcap: The Scots Grey: The Norfolk Grey; The Lincolnshire Buff; The Old English Pheasant Fowl: The Scots Dumpy: The Rumpless Game: The Suffolk Chequer: The Modern Langshan: The Cream Legbar: The Marsh Daisy:  The Bluebelle: The Ixworth: The Black Orpington; The Rosecomb.

More information is to be found at these websites: www.rbst.org.uk or www.rarepoultrysociety.com or www.poultryclub.org  

And finally, Inspiring words from my friend Molly Harvey in Glasgow:

As we think of today’s activists around the world we also give thanks for the thousands of people who have faithfully campaigned for world peace and justice for many years. Some years ago Molly was arrested – along with others -  at a peace demonstration organised by many different groups, including the churches, at Faslane, the nuclear submarine base on the river Clyde not far from Glasgow. These were her words at that time: “My decision to break the law was not taken lightly but for two main reasons. I felt I would be failing my children and grandchildren if I did not take action against first-strike nuclear weapons on my doorstep. And I would be failing the people living in poverty with whom I work in partnership, if I did not speak out against the obscenity of the expenditure on these weapons of mass destruction - of the equivalent of £30,000 a day since the birth of Christ.”   (Note: Replacing the current nuclear submarines is expected to cost 31 billion UK pounds. Another 10 billion has been put aside to cover extra costs. ( taken from UK government figures in July 2018.) In comparison, in 2019 the UK government spent around 17 billion on measures to reduce climate change.)       website:   cnduk. org    

 

1 July

We don’t think ourselves into a new way of living: we live ourselves into a new way of thinking.   The writer of these words may have been Richard Rohr.

Marc Chagall’s - White Crucifixion:

All my adult life I have had a passion for art and architecture of all kinds and from all periods. My soul-mate the late Dorothy used to say to me that it was more important for me to have a painting on the wall, then food on the table! Chagall (1887- 1985) and his wonderful paintings have helped me on my spiritual journey and in his book ‘My Life’ he wrote: “ What counts is art, painting, a kind of painting that is quite different from what everyone makes it out to be. But what kind? Will God or someone else give me the strength to breathe the breath of prayer and mourning into my paintings, the breath of prayer for redemption and resurrection?” In 1938, shortly before his own life as a Jew in Germany was to be dislocated in multiple ways, he painted his ‘White Crucifixion’. In their excellent book on Chagall, published in 2000, Ingo Walther and Rainer Metzger write about this particular painting in a way which totally speaks to our time of global chaos. The painting now hangs in The Art Institute of Chicago but you can easily see the image on Google. (Marc Chagall – White Crucifixion.) This is their observation on this powerful painting:

“In 1933 Chagall had described his aesthetic aims in these words: ‘If a painter is a Jew and paints life, how is he to keep Jewish elements out of his work! But if he is a good painter, his painting will contain a great deal more. The Jewish element will be there, of course, but his art will aim at universal relevance.’ In the figure of Christ on the cross, symbolising the passion of the prophet of the Jews and the death of the Christian God who took on the form of a man, Chagall located a universal emblem for the sufferings of his time. Like the arma Christi, or the tools and implements shown in traditional crucifixion scenes, images of confusion are grouped around the cross. Revolutionary hordes with red flags rampage through a village, looting and burning houses. Refugees in a boat shout for help and gesticulate wildly. A man in Nazi uniform is desecrating a synagogue. Distressed figures in the foreground are trying to escape. Ahasverus, the Wandering Jew, is passing by in silence, stepping over a burning Torah scroll. Old Testament figures are seen hovering, lamenting against the background of desolate darkness. Still, a bright beam of light breaks in from on high, illuminating the white figure on the cross. All traces of his suffering are  gone, and worship of his centuries-old authority is seen as a path of hope amid the traumatic events of the present day. Belief in him, as Chagall makes clear in this work, can move mountains of despair.”

In this challenging painting we are brought face to face with that central belief about Christ as the hope of the world, both in 1938 and now. Given the huge uncertainties of the human future we can easily doubt. Millions do doubt, and millions more feel the Christian God has nothing to say to us. Belief is hard in these times and yet if it was not hard it might not be life-giving belief. Within the spiritual journey we are always being invited to see the tiny ‘shafts of light ‘ which come from God even in the darkest times. In the painting, Christ may be on his cross, but that very cross is set in the midst of human confusion and suffering.  Cecil Frances Alexander’s words bring this truth home to us who believe and to those who long to believe that God is present in their lives. At heart we are all seekers and pilgrims in this short life, one way or another ……

               “We may not know we cannot tell, what pains he had to bear;

                 But we believe it was for us he hung and suffered there.”

*** There are nights that are so still that I can hear the small owl calling far off and a fox barking miles away.                                                                               It is then that I lie in the lean hours awake - listening to the swell born somewhere in the Atlantic rising and falling, rising and falling – wave on wave on the long shore that is by the village that is without light and companionless                                                                                                                                    And the thought comes of that other being who is awake too, letting our prayers break upon him, not like this for a few hours, but for days, years, for eternity. ***      

        The great Welsh poet R.S. Thomas. The poem is called ‘The Other.’

*** Jesus puts healed people back on themselves, never creating any kind of dependency or co-dependence on him that will keep them from their own empowerment. All people must learn to draw from their own ‘implanted spirit’ which is the only thing that will help them in the long run. Jesus gives them courage to trust their own ‘inner Christ’ – and not just its outer manifestation in himself. Go reread the Gospels and see if that is not true!  Richard Rohr in his book ‘The Universal Christ; how a forgotten reality can change everything we see, hope for and believe’.  Published by SPCK 2019.

24 June

The gossamer covering:

Recently I re-read these words of Vladamir Shatalov from his book ‘The Home Planet.’ They lift the mind and provide us with a new perspective, and a greater desire to do all we can in our short lifetime to help heal our amazing planet.  Shatalov, born in 1927, is a former Soviet cosmonaut who flew three space missions of the Soyuz programme.  All together he spent almost 10 days in space. Do share these prophetic words with others who are concerned about the future of our precious planet –our glorious Mother Earth.

“When we look into the sky it seems to us to be endless. We think without consideration about the boundless ocean of air, and then you sit aboard a spacecraft, you tear away from Earth and within ten minutes you have been carried straight out of the layer of air, and beyond there is nothing!  Beyond the air there is only emptiness, coldness, darkness.  The ‘boundless’ blue sky, the ocean which gives us breath and protects us from the endless black and death, is but an infinitesimally thin film. How dangerous it is to threaten even the smallest part of the gossamer covering, this conserver of life.”

A healthy human being:

Ashley Montagu (1905 -1999) was a British-American anthropologist and for many years a public intellectual in the States.75 years ago he published ‘Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race’ and the most recent edition from 1997 is still in print – I think. Why I am mentioning him here is because apart from Covid19 much of the world is debating issues of race, gender, identity and human development. In my notes I came across this list which he compiled. It still is of interest in these turbulent times. For Montagu, a healthy human being requires much more than satisfaction of physiological needs in childhood. He lists the following psychic needs of a growing young child that must be fulfilled to ensure full development of a child’s potential…..see if they resonate in any way with your own thinking.

need for love:     friendship:        sensitivity:      the need to think soundly:      the need to know:      the need to learn:      the need to work:     the need to organise:      curiosity:      the sense of wonder;      playfulness      imagination:

creativity:        flexibility;      experimental-mindedness:   resiliency:       a sense of humour:      joyfulness:      laughter and tears:      optimism:      honesty and trust:    a desire to explore       compassionate intelligence:      dance and song. 

That is a large basket of hope and of vision and I think I should share it with my children all of whom are bringing up children in this unsettled and often scary period in human history. In many ways it is a meaningful list, but I cannot help thinking of the millions of children in our world who are fortunate if they can have even one meal in day and/or fresh water. I very often think of the children living on the streets in the great city of Chennai in south India where we lived as  a family for many years. What is their future at a time when the gulf between rich and poor widens day by day – at a global level? And also we think about the millions of children in the affluent world who in their young lives are for one reason or another nowhere near even a few of these visionary hopes.

An observation by the late John O’Donohue:

One of the great fruits of suffering is compassion. When you have felt and experienced pain, it refines the harshness that may be in you. Tolstoy said that our great duty as humans was to sow the seed of compassion in each others’ hearts. This happens in friendship. If you are in pain and your friend knows pain, you feel the kinship and understanding that can really shelter you. Understanding is one of the few shelters that are capable of standing in the suffering place. In one Buddhist temple I visited, I discovered a Buddha with hundreds of hands and in each hand there was an eye. He was given this gift of many hands and many eyes to help everyone who was suffering, is suffering. This Buddha is a beautiful image of compassion which has strength, wisdom and enlightenment within it. ***

And part an old Celtic prayer:    

                     This morning, I will kindle the fire upon my hearth,

                      before the holy angels who stand about my path.

                      God, a love-flame kindle in my heart to neighbours all,

                      from the lowliest thing on earth

                      to the Name this is highest of all.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

17 June

Imagining a new world:

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine the world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.

We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.

Words from a recent long article by the great Indian writer Arundhati Roy whose latest novel is ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’.

Global powers need to make good on promises to help the planet’s poor:

No country is emerging unscathed from the Covid-19  pandemic, but the impact on the world’s poorest countries is especially severe. Extreme poverty is on the rise and underfunded health systems are woefully unprepared to cope with the virus. The number of children in Africa dying of preventable diseases is increasing. The gains made in development since the turn of the millennium are being reversed.

Next month marks the15th anniversary of the Gleneagles summit at which the G8 delivered a package of debt relief and aid for poor countries. The argument then was that it made sense for rich nations to convert the money they were owed into social investment in poor countries, many of which were paying far more in interest payments on their debt than they were on health and education. That argument is even more compelling in 2020 than it was in 2005.

None of this is going to be easy all the time Donald Trump is in the White House, but these developed countries still committed to a multilateral approach need to show that they are prepared to act on debt relief and other measures with or without US support.           From The Guardian UK

Remembering great Black lives: Let us pause and remember Olive Morris (1952-1979) from Jamaica who moved to London as a young child. Olive was just 17 when she became a leading figure in Britain’s anti-racist movement in the 1960’s and 1970’s organising against discrimination in housing and employment, stop and search and attacks by the far right such as the National Front. Tragically, Olive died from cancer in 1979 at the age of 27.

Magpies:

Thank you for all the messages about the article on ravens by Jim Perrin. Here  Jim writes about magpies…in the midst of everything  going on in the world his words redirect our thoughts in a great way!.......For several years the ivy bush by my window has been home to a pair of magpies, whose calls one eminent ornithologist unkindly compared to the sound of machine-gun fire. They have a greater range than that. Their chirrupings and chucklings are amiably tuneful. I am at a loss to understand why magpies are so widely disliked. For me, they are among the most beautiful of birds. Whoever held the palette when creating their plumage was one of the great artists. If you think of them merely as noisy monochrome crows, look again. Green, bronze, purple, touches of azure, hints of red, iridescence – all add depth and complexity to that overall piebald patterning. But I actually love all crows – magpies and ravens especially. Their intelligence is striking. Years ago, I encountered an old gamekeeper I knew. At the edge of a wood a magpie flew out. He threw up his gun and brought the bird down. “I will put that on the gibbet later on,” he commented, and walked off to feed his pheasant poults. I counted five magpies flying towards the shot bird. They landed, hopped round crooning softly, prodding it with their beaks, laying grass on it. Say I am anthropomorphising if you will, but there was concern, grief even, in their behaviour. After they had dispersed I walked back, picked up the limp corpse, carried it into the wood and laid it to rest under moss and leaves, respectfully.

Words of hope:              

This week I read these words by Bishop Ken Untener at the funeral of a close friend Dr Runa Mackay, one of the great women of Scotland who died recently at 98. Runa who had given her life as a medic to the Palestinian people liked these words which were also valued by Archbishop Romero of El Salvador.

***** It helps now and then, to step back and take the long view. The Kingdom of God is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us. That is what we are about. We plant the seeds that will one day grow. We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realising that. This enables us to do something and to do it very well. It may be incomplete but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results. We are ministers not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own. *****

10 June 2020

In solidarity:

Millions of us in several countries in these weeks are walking in solidarity with those who are raising our awareness about continuing racial injustice at several levels in our common life. The tragic and needless death of George Floyd has ignited a massive stirring within our global consciousness. Together, we must hope and pray that these popular uprisings will bring radical change both within our public discourse and public institutions. And of course in our own hearts and minds.

Prof Jericho Brown, the American poet and academic, reminds us that to win racial justice we need the rage that ended slavery. Recently he also reflected on the search for racial justice in these words: “If you live in the United States, everything you have is the result of, or in spite of violence. As a matter of fact, any history we learn in our schools about our nation is a catalogue of murderous events told in such rapid succession that by the time we graduate from high-school we are numb enough to believe that state-sanctioned brutality is not just normal but, worse, moral. Our naivety is so deeply rooted that, even today, some of the citizens think of the civil rights movement as non-violent. But we disrespect the movement when we revere Martin Luther King’s brilliant leadership without understanding that his work was done at the same time as the pioneering work of Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, the Black Panther party, the Deacons for Defense, and many grassroots organisations more interested in ‘an eye for an eye’ than ‘turn the other cheek’. Peaceful protest alone has never brought progress, fairness or justice to black people in the United States. Some would even say that white American  capitalist power prefers peaceful protest since militant protest asks for more than what power is willing to offer at a negotiating table.

These rebels marching today have something radical in mind. They are not interested in reaching the middle ground when it comes to institutions that exist only to patrol, intimidate and kill us. We know that it once seemed insane to say ‘abolish slavery’. And we are ready to get called crazy when we say ‘abolish the police’. If you don’t think police are the problem, then you think black people are. If after everything you have seen, you think that over the last 100 years the problem of police brutality is black people, then you’re racist.”

*Dr Jericho Brown  (born in 1976) is an American poet, professor and writer who this year won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.  He was born and raised in Shreveport, Louisiana and his 2019 collection of poems – The Tradition – has garnered widespread critical acclaim. If you would like to know more about Jericho’s work you will find it at www jerichobrown.com and also interviews with him on You Tube.

And from Dr Martin Luther King:

Martin Luther King’s warning in 1967 that the worsening conditions for black Americans must be condemned as equally as the riots is still true. “A riot is the language of the unheard,” said Martin Luther King. “Our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention. America must do more than listen to the unheard, it must hear them.” 

*** PREJUDICE is a burden that CONFUSES the past, THREATENS the future, and renders the present INACCESSIBLE. - The great American writer, Maya Angelou.  ***

*** To bring about change you must not be afraid to take the first step.   Rosa Parks ***  

Beaten in Uganda, abused in the UK: The Archbishop of York’s long fight against injustice:  Parts of a longer article in The Observer UK on 7th June 2020 by Arun Arora the Church of England’s former head of communications.

(John Sentamu who has been Archbishop of York for the last 15 years is retiring. Born in 1949 near Kampala in Uganda he and his wife Margaret have a daughter and son. He was a lawyer and judge in Uganda and suffered under Idi Amin. He fled to the UK in 1974. He became Archbishop of York, the second senior position in the Church of England in 2005.)

*** This week, the Church of England loses one of its most powerful, prophetic and joyous voices as John Sentamu, the 97th Archbishop of York retires. The journey from Uganda to York, via Cambridge, London and Birmingham, has been marked by an extraordinary contribution to the life and faith of both church and nation. In the midst of national debates on racism, inequality and brutality, few in public life can claim to have the experience of standing up to injustice and paying the price in the way he has done.

As a high court judge in Uganda and opponent of the horrific regime of Idi Amin, Sentamu refused to overlook the crimes of one of Amin’s family. Defying an order to deliver a not guilty verdict he was arrested and badly beaten in prison, subsequently describing the experiences as “being kicked around like a human football”. He suffered severe internal injuries and received the last rites from Keith Sutton, a British priest and later bishop of Lichfield who arranged to smuggle Sentamu and his wife Margaret out of Uganda on his release from prison in 1973.

His appointment to York – described by one broadsheet at the time as “political correctness gone gloriously sane” – gave a neat nod to the fact that, for the first time in history, the church would have a black archbishop. Sentamu played down the race element, responding to one journalist that, “first I am a Christian, second I am a man, third I am black”. It is also true that while living in London, he was stopped and searched by the police eight times.

There were other incidents too: “ There was a lady who didn’t want me to take her husband’s funeral because I was black. I took one funeral and at the end a man said to me, ‘Why did my father deserve to be buried by a black monkey?.’ We also received letters with excrement in them.” But it is Sentamu’s strength as an evangelist and his ability to connect with people far beyond the church that have been markers of his ministry, There is little doubt that even in his retirement, Sentamu will continue to advocate for the voiceless, to speak out strongly and clearly against injustice, and tell of the glories of the Lotd. ***

*** The Gospel brings forgiveness for the past, new life for the present and hope for the future.***  John Sentamu, Archbishop of York.

Recommended book:

Summer: Liturgical resources for May, June and July including Eastertide and Pentecost, Ruth Burgess - Wild Goose Publications www.ionabooks.com ISBN 978-1-84952-724-8

It includes prayers, stories, responses, songs, poems, monologues liturgies and reflections for the major Christian festivals and seasons of Eastertide and Pentecost, as well as for Ascension, Saints’ days, pilgrimage, holidays and other occasions. The material is written by Iona Community members, associates, friends and others.

A BLESSING FOR TRINTY SUNDAY by Simon Taylor in this new book.....  May the eyes of the seeing Father watch over us and keep us in his gaze…... May the arms of the loving Saviour hold us close and surround each moment of our lives with his care…... May the wings of the living Spirit shelter each of us and enfold all our days and nights with God’s peace. Amen.  

                                                                         

3 June 2020

Rook - a large Eurasian passerine bird, with black plumage and a whitish base to its bill. The passerine bird family known as corvids, includes crows, ravens rooks, jackdaws, magpies and jays. (Collins Concise Dictionary)

This week I thought that a reflection on the rooks in a wood in Harlech In Wales would lift our thoughts to the constant joys of Nature, and to the celebration of a corvid which sometimes gets a bad press. Jim Perrin – the writer of this piece is intrigued by his rook neighbours and their life-style.

*** The leaves on the ash trees at the foot of my garden are open now, pale green fans of foliage unfurled to give shelter and privacy to the dozen nests at the small rookery. The corvids’ nesting season this year has coincided quite closely with the Covid19 lockdown, so I have not had to travel far for daily nature study. Rooks are noisy, shrill and squabbling birds, but they make interesting neighbours. In March they settled into an industrious round of nest selection and repair, copulation and incubation. Their clutches of four greeny-blue speckled eggs having hatched early in May – weeks later than those in more southerly countries – the female birds can now join their mates in the hurried gathering of earthworms and leatherjackets. So the clamorous scoldings that once welcomed the males back to the nest after each foraging trip have been replaced by shrill alarm calls from the whole colony when local ravens approach the unattended nests.

I see the rooks down in the pasturelands each afternoon on my walk. They use their bills to flick aside clods of dung from the winter’s muck-spreading before devouring the rich harvest of worms beneath and hastening back to regurgitate them into fledglings’ gapes. As light relief from this incessant reproductive activity, I’ve been enjoying music sessions with a tuneful cock blackbird, perched on the roof of the garden shed. If I whistle to him he puts his head to one side, listens attentively, and then exactly reproduces the musical phrases before embellishing them with his own riffs and trills. He’s up on the roof now, singing out the internationale and La Marseillaise to hearten all Europhiles, myself included. ***
*** In this quieter time, if we are fortunate, we can pause and observe differently than before the beauty, intricacy and mystery of crows, rooks, ravens, magpies and jays. The joys of creation enriching our lives. ***

The person reborn:
The God whom we know in Jesus Christ is known in others under widely varying names and attributes. They seek Him or Her in nature; in the truth pursued by science; in social justice and international peace. When we are embarrassed by our wrongdoing and try to hide it, we often still seek; in each generation the search continues. This something we search and long for for is what I call ‘the spirit’.

Many people today are thinking about the crisis through which the world is passing. Although they are of the most varying beliefs, they are arriving at the same conclusions. They realize that modern civilization has lost its soul; that technical skill divorced from faith does not suffice to bring peace and happiness; that the spirit has been relegated to the narrow confines of the church and of private belief; that is has ceased to be a real power in the lives of women and men – in politics, economics, art and intellectual life. They believe that this is why the world is no longer able to find any solutions to the personal, family, national and international problems that beset it. If we try to make a particular orthodox belief the indispensable credential for anyone who wants to join in work for the spiritual reconstruction of the world, we shall turn away the majority of people of goodwill, whom we ought to be welcoming with open arms. Bring them our Christian convictions, but let us hold out the hand of friendship to them. We shall be able, without denying our faith, to find a basis for common action, for they, like us, believe in the spirit.

Dr Paul Tournier who wrote these words was a popular writer on Christian spirituality and its importance in daily living some years back. In some ways his words may be dated, but the core vision remains true. We just need to look at our political leaders to see the emptiness of much of public discourse. Tournier argues for a spiritual voice to be once again heard in the market place, not a strident, dogmatic voice such as in the contemporary New Right, but one of humility and faithfulness that encompasses compassion linked to justice. A voice of integrity linked to an ability to communicate in a technological age. A voice of love that is not faked. He reminds us of the need for an awareness that the natural world must no longer be dominated by the greed of humans. He is convinced, as many of us are, that there can be no lasting peace without a much deeper understanding and respect between religions. A truth which the German theologian Hans King wrote about with such clarity. (The words quoted above come from Tournier’s book, The Person Reborn, 1971)


Postscript: As I send out this weekly reflection, America is again engulfed in a new wave of violence on the streets of many cities. Why is that we humans cannot welcome the stranger or the one who is different from us? Do we ever learn? The American leadership can think only of repressing the violence with arms. No dialogue: no listening: no awareness of the heart-felt cries of millions of our sisters and brothers. We must be with them in this time - in our thoughts, in our prayers, in our campaigns, in our messages to political leaders, for if we remain silent, we remain part of the problem. Tournier and many others before us were right. We need to be reborn, all of us, in our understanding of the global, connected human family in all of its difference and vitality: in all of its struggles for justice and peace.

27th May 2020          A Candle in the Window          Peter Millar

***   This is God’s day, so make the most of it.  (Words seen on a poster)

To brighten the day – the story of creation by Nick Midgley when he was 13.            

On the first day God made light, and he was dazzled and made dark, and then a switch.

On the second day God made the earth and he took the elements, shuffled them, and dealt them.

On the third day God made plants. He learnt to breathe the fresh air before it was too late, and he saw beauty.

On the fourth day God made the stars and God was proud of them. He winked at them and they winked back.

On the fifth day God made birds and fish and wanted conversation, but they would not talk.

On the sixth day he made animals to talk to but they would not listen. And in evening he made humans. He said, ‘Women and men you are my companions’, but one of them replied, ‘off my land, you’re trespassing.’

On the seventh day God rested and looked at his creation, the animals and people, and began to think long and hard about what he had done. 

The precious air:

The air is precious to the Red Peoples. For all things share the same breath - the trees, the beasts, the women and men. What are we without creation’s goodness? If all the trees and beasts were gone, we would die from a great loneliness of spirit. For whatever happens to the trees and beasts, happens to the people. Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the peoples of the earth.            Chief Seattle, Duwamish leader, speaking in 1854.

*I believe, O Lord and God of all peoples, that Thou art the creator of the high heavens, of the skies above, of the oceans below. That Thou created my body from dust and ashes; gave to my body breath, and to my soul its possession.*

Quoted by Esther De Waal (editor) in The Celtic Vision: prayers and blessings from the Outer Hebrides.

Rediscovering the wonder of it all:

Recently I was re-reading a book I wrote more than 20 years ago ‘Waymarks - signposts to discovering God’s presence in the world.’ One of the chapters was headed ‘wonder.’  In this time of separation I think that many people, often in surprising ways, are being given an opportunity to rediscover a sense of wonder about life in its many colours; to glimpse the essential wonder inherent in life on earth. Albert Einstein expressed it this way: “Whoever is devoid of the capacity to wonder, whoever remains unmoved, whoever cannot contemplate or know the deep shudder of the soul in enchantment, has already closed their eyes upon life.” These are challenging and wise words which open up a fresh vision for all of us in the frenetic busyness of the modern world. Centuries ago, Saint Augustine made the observation that the human mind has the capacity not only to observe, measure and explore creation, but also the ability to wonder at it.

We look at the night sky and the nearest fixed star is 2.5 million miles away. A former Astronomer Royal here in the UK calculated that six specs of dust in the vastness of Waterloo Station in central London represented the extent to which space is populated by stars: a fact which is certainly beyond the imagination of most of us! ‘Wonder’ takes over when imagination fails. We are in awe. We are silent. Perhaps some kind of prayer is born within us – human words, but with an internal movement which transcends them. George MacLeod, founder of the modern Iona Community experienced this wonder when he wrote; “Once more we give thanks, for earth and sea and sky in harmony of colour: the air of the eternal seeping through the physical, the everlasting glory dipping into time.”

Indigenous people speak of the ‘soaring heart’  We all need soaring hearts in these days – our inner selves taking these leaps into the mystery of life and of all creation and being silenced by the immensity and beauty of it all, enabling us to be more human and less fake: more loving and less anxious. The world famous cellist, Pablo Casals 1876 -1973, never lost his sense of wonder and at the age of 93 could write, “For the past eighty years I have started each day in the same manner. I go to the piano, and play two preludes and fugues of Bach. It is a sort of benediction on the house. But that is not its only meaning. It is a rediscovery of the world in which I have the joy of being a part. It fills me with awareness of the wonder of life, with a feeling of the incredible marvel of being human.”

Every day we read about an increase in depression among all ages. There is no easy answer to depression, but I believe, along with many others, that a part of the healing process is about an inner realisation of our sense of wonder. To recognise that we are part of the great framework of life. To be able to place our lives within the mystery not only of creation, but also within that framework of awareness which encompasses the whole world and blesses our souls with yearning. We may not describe healing in these exact words, but we all long for our hearts to soar from time to time. For our spirits to rejoice; for our souls to find their true and energising song. And often it is in the most surprising places that a sense of wonder envelops us. Even in tough times we can be conscious of being in some way ‘blessed’ - of glimpsing a further shore; of looking at life through a different lens.

 Waymarks, published by the Canterbury Press UK ISBN 978-1-853111-336-9.

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