Saturday, 17 November 2018

On the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1

If you sometimes think you are insignificant in this life, or doubt the wider effects of your actions in this life, or the value of being able to let God into it, I’d like you to consider a student, just one man, Gavrilo Princip.

On 28 June 1914, Gavrilo Princip shot someone who would have settled for peace. He shot one man, and four years three months and one week later, many millions were dead, more were wounded or traumatised, and swathes of Europe lay wasted. Not bad for one shot.  Gavrilo’s shot lined up Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy- which later changed sides-against France, Britain-Ireland and Russia, drew in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, caused Empires to crumble, revolution to engulf Russia, and the US to be a world power. In the UK, six million men were mobilised. In one battle, the Somme in France, up to one and a half million died. 

One shot led people barely trained to fight small colonial wars to be thrust into the horror of open ended industrial struggle. So don’t think you are insignificant, or doubt the wider effects of your actions, and how you might need to let go, and let God in. 

100 years ago we did, in the early morning light, in a converted dining car in a French train, when it was agreed that WW1 would be over from 11am, and fighting on land, sea and air would stop. Maybe we didn’t let go enough. The later terms of the agreement may have led us to WW2, but we are grateful for the extraordinary sacrifice and struggle of the soldiers and civilians who thought greater love hath no man than to lay down life for friends.  But when we remember, we forget that they didn’t, or couldn’t. My grandfather William, in the photo, survived the Somme, came home with the Kings Liverpool Regiment, and never mentioned it again. 

Actions have effects, and effects have actions. I have worked with soldiers who fought in N. Ireland or the Falklands or wherever, and seen them find peace of mind despite PTSD. In WW1 there was no such thing as PTSD. There was fear of exploding shells and poison gas in the trench, fear of bullets going above it, fear of death, hunger and exhaustion from fear of decomposing bodies which dropped out of the ground as it shifted in the wet, fear of the rats eating them, because they would try to eat you if you slept, fear of body lice, fear of debilitating trench fever, fear of waterlogging, fear of trench foot, fear of extreme temperatures and frostbite, and fear of there being no obvious end in sight. 

So my Grandfather picked up his solider’s Bible and went to Romans 8: To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace … if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he will give life to your mortal bodies also …  I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us … we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose … If God is for us, who is against us? Who will bring any charge against us … Who is to condemn?  Who will separate us from the love of Christ? 

Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loves us. I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

After the war, he became a lay preacher, because one man, like Gavrilio Princip, also changed the world with one single action.  Jesus of Nazareth called some fishermen, 2,000 years ago.  For the WW1 soldiers, letting go was an external letting go with a destination to prepare for, the Western front, the trenches, a bag, a gun. For the fishermen, and for us, we don’t need to pack up, we just need to let go, and to know we are citizens not just of our country, or of our continent, or even of our world, but of the invisible God’s eternal life in us. 

Follow me is a call to let the invisible God work through us because actions have effects in the world, yes, but also in eternity.  So, when Jesus says, “I will make you fish for people,” he isn’t describing a job catching new members, but a way of letting go in this life for God’s life. He could just as easily have said to scouts “Follow me, you will honour God.” To carpenters, “Follow me, you will build the kingdom,” to farmers, “Follow me, you will grow people, to doctors, “Follow me, you will heal brokenness,” to teachers, “Follow me, you will grow minds,” to parents of all stripes, “Follow me, you nurture new life.”

Simon, Andrew, James and John, by Galilee, were not extraordinary, but they responded to Jesus’ words and actions about letting go in trust and relinquishing control for God’s greater purpose to work through them in ordinary daily life, the same ordinary sea, the same net, the same boat, wind, water, fish, sore muscles, tired bodies. They cast the net out, pulled the net in, mended the net. They didn’t expect much, but he called them to let go of nets, boats, and their fathers, and to follow a new way of life. So what can we learn from the WW1 soldiers called up to fight, and from the fishermen Jesus called in, to let go?  

That there were no discussions, no questions, no good byes. No “Where are we going? What will we do? How long will we be gone? What do we need to take? Where will we stay?” They relinquished control and allowed this ordinary life to be extra-ordinary through their daily routines, casting and mending their  way through daily struggles, as we can.

If we leave the mental nets of emotions that entangle us, the small boat like bodies that contain us, and the individual fathers from whom we seek approval & identity, we let go and allow this ordinary life to be extra-ordinary, since we are citizens not just of a nation or a continent, but actions have effects, and not just for this visible world, as St Paul said… our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but cosmic powers, spiritual forces, in heavenly places.
Jesus knew very well the cost of leaving the known, of relinquishing control to the invisible God. Jesus said truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom, truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it cannot produce seeds, truly I tell you, when you were young you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go. 

What is he saying?  He is saying your life is more than your knowable body and mind, which are not in control, because there is so much more going on through them, if you can let go and let God, and acknowledge eternity as well as the world, so your actions will really have effects, and so no chaotic circumstance or death can separate you from the love of Christ, the universal mind in whom we all live and move and have our being here.

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Trust the process

In Exodus, an army advances on the Israelites who think they will perish in the wilderness, before a wonderful line; "The Lord will fight for you, you have only to keep still." In Matthew, Jesus talks about motives for praying, before another wonderful line; "God knows what you need before you ask him."

In these lines is a sense that everything will work out if you only trust the process.  Trust is not the same as belief.  There was a circus performer who made a living by pushing a wheelbarrow across a high wire that spanned an abyss. The crowds came out in droves to watch him and to cheer him on. “Do you believe I can do it?” he would ask. “Oh, yes! We believe you can do it,” they chorused back.

“So, who’s going to get in the wheelbarrow?” Silence fell. All believed in the amazing circus performer, none of them trusted him. The creeds we recite set out precisely what we are supposed to believe. We can recite those as often as we want, but that will not necessarily amount to trust.  The real meaning of faith, (the meaning of the Greek word Pistis) is trust. Have trust, says Jesus to the disciples, "that God knows what you need before you ask him," or Moses; "the Lord will fight for you, you only have to keep still."

Trust does not mean doing nothing, it means letting God work though you, a cooperative venture between your inner knowing and the world in which you live. Trust is active, aware and alert, not blind and unknowing.  Like the young man who said; ‘Master, so great is my trust in God that I didn’t even hitch my camel out there. I left it to God’s providence.” And the master said, ‘Go back outside and tie your camel to the post, you nincompoop! Don't inconvenience God with something you can do yourself.’
For the disciples trying to understand, it was difficult, and for the Israelites facing the advancing army, it was difficult.  But in difficult times in our lives we can still trust.  Fear whispers into our ears all the time and whether we listen to it or not is the choice we get to make in life.  Many of us make the mistake of assuming as true the fearful stories and scenarios that we confront in our imagination. 

Instead, what if you chose to befriend fear and instead of getting paralyzed by the stories, decide to find out for yourself, do the thing you fear.  Fear is built on structures of assumptions, lack of  awareness. Once you move through the fog of fear and shine the light of awareness by taking action, fear loses power and efficacy.

Once there was a young warrior. Her teacher told her that she had to do battle with fear. She didn’t want to. It seemed too aggressive; it was scary; it seemed unfriendly. But the teacher said she had to do it and gave her the instructions for the battle. The day arrived. The student warrior stood on one side, fear on the other. The warrior was feeling small, fear was looking big. They both had their weapons. The young warrior roused herself and went toward fear, prostrated three times, and asked, “May I have permission to go into battle with you?” Fear said, “Thank you for showing me so much respect that you ask permission.” Then the young warrior said, “How can I defeat you?” Fear replied, “My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen, have respect for me, even be convinced by me. But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power.” 

In that way, the student warrior learned how to trust. When things fall apart or you feel fear, rather than feel you’re getting the short end of the stick, feel lucky. Only when you feel fear will you feel the opportunity to have the courage to grow. Being courageous and having a great life is all about being intimate with fear in a wise and graceful way. Feel the fear, and then rather than being depressed about fear, lean into it, and see it as an opportunity to trust the process, to learn, act and grow. God knows what you need before you ask, and the Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.  


Saturday, 14 April 2018

Christos Anesti!

Not everyone recognises the perfect love of Christ risen casts out fear and allows us to find life independent of the death of the body.  At Easter, we are not offered a dead Jesus but a living Christ, so the Greek Easter chant is Christos Anesti, Christ is Risen!  There is a scene in the film My big fat Greek wedding when a Greek girl invites her very non Greek boyfriend to meet the whole family at Easter.  She knows he won't recognise Greek so she is coaching him, by saying, "For Happy Easter, we say Christos Anesti!"

Suddenly her Father appears.  The boyfriend says “Cheestro Anasti.” The father mutters Greek the boyfriend doesn’t recognise and the audience sees the subtitles; “When my people were writing Philosophy, your people were swinging from Trees.” The daughter, aghast, turns to her boyfriend and says; “He likes you.”

The whole family appear, a pig on the spit, food is flowing, music is playing, dancing is happening, the Mother comes and says can she cook for the boyfriend.  The Greek girl tries to calmly explain he is a vegetarian.  The Mother does not recognise this term, she looks confused, the girl explains he doesn’t eat meat.  The Mother loudly asks, “What do you mean he doesn’t eat meat?!?”  The whole room stops – a record scratches, music halts, a glass drops from a stunned hand, jaws drop as they stare at the boyfriend.  The Mother, ever the gracious host, says, “That’s okay. I’ll make lamb!”

She is using food to make peace even though she doesn’t recognise something strange.  If like her you don’t understand being a vegetarian, imagine a friend I had who went to African Churches on placement and was greeted on his first night by people offering their local delicacy in his honour, a large plate of usually flying but now dead white insects, not something he recognised as a honour, but for the community it had power. In Luke's gospel reading, appearances, conversations, and even physical evidence cannot liberate the disciples to find a life independent of the death of the body, so Jesus resorts to “Have you anything here to eat?” 

This gets disciples gathered around the table, so they finally hear him. In fact, the text says that he opens their minds to understand scripture.  After confusion, fear, lack of recognition, misunderstanding and disbelief, comes food, clarity, wisdom, direction and peace.  An eternal view of life breaks through, the disciples accept it, commissioned to take it away.

For those of us who have never received or who have received it our whole lives, we may forget that the food we call Eucharist, Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion or Mass can also heal, reconcile, and embolden.  What is it that prevents us finding in Christ risen the life independent of the death of the body?  Maybe we don’t understand, maybe we are scared, maybe we identify too much with our bodies, maybe we are trying to protect ourselves.   Maybe the articles of the faith seem impossible.  God becoming human. A virgin giving birth. Water becoming wine. Five thousand fed with two fish and five loaves. Lazarus coming out of the tomb, Jesus’ resurrection.
But inexplicable and impossible are not the same.

Impossible holds meaning and power without being recognised rationally or even literally, and we all have stories of when what seemed impossible in our lives was made real. What if, instead of starting with what we consider possible, recognisable, we began with the impossible, that Christ is risen. In Luke's gospel, the disciples see Jesus, but they do not recognise him as the same bodily Jesus they had known. The first words he offers are ‘Peace be with you,’ a deep awareness of God with us, when they are wounded and estranged.  Have you had an experience like this?

Jesus may speak peace but he shows his hands and his feet, the cost and the wounds involved in being a presence of peace in a world and Church that does not recognise or understand peace is not comfort but a truth of life independent of death of the body.

I was standing in the heat between a funeral and a furnace last week at the crematorium, no-one else around, and I distinctly heard a voice say I Love You, do not be afraid.  Peace is not the same as comfort, but we don’t have to fear.  Allow the words and all they may mean to fill your body and remain within you.

Christos Anesti!

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Alien or intelligent?

At the time of his death, Professor Stephen Hawking had become known to millions for a courageous struggle to overcome a disease that left a formidable mind locked in a wasted body, and through his book A Brief History of Time. The book baffled people, but I do hope this won’t. Stephen once said alien life is quite common in the universe, but intelligent life less so, and some say it has yet to appear on planet Earth.

The aim of Stephen’s mathematical approach to understanding the universe was to produce a theory of everything that would enable us to know ‘the mind of God.’ This nod to the Almighty was odd, given that he was a declared atheist who, according to his first wife, had real issues with religion. Someone said that when asked why humans were here at all, the Professor replied, "to reproduce". But the mind of God seems to have animated him with a far bigger quest than that –  or a ‘simple goal’ as he expressed it – to find out why the universe is as it is, and why it exists at all.

From a purely scientific perspective this is unsolvable, at least at this stage of our evolution as a ‘meaning seeking’ species, a term used by Greek philosopher Aristotle 2500 years ago. For all our exploration of space, its dark matter and energy is concealed, and we know far less than we once thought about the stuff that makes this universe.  What we do know is open to revision, in the light of new discoveries, nothing is settled in our quest.  The search goes on, we are human, but we have been described as hard wired to need more than monkey nuts and East Enders, and the sky at night does indeed speak to us of a sense of awe and mystery that neither tv soaps nor mathematical equations, nor even physical pleasure can quite satisfy, so these questions are unavoidable for us humans.

The principal of my Theology college was an astrophysicist, he liked to say the observable universe was once small enough to fit through the eye of a needle. He wrote a book on the Big Bang called God Time and Stephen Hawking, had a passion for Jesus, he knew religious thinkers have long acknowledged the unobservable as well as the observable, so we need humility as we gaze on the stars that seem to go for ever.  Better minds than ours have been dazzled by the fact that it exists at all.  There is no logical or rational need for us to be here. Why is there something rather than nothing is not a silly question in our more reflective moments.

We ask why this ‘something’ with its dependable scientific laws has proven so mathematically elegant and fantastically conducive to our human flourishing here on earth.  A shrug of the shoulders, a crass assertion that it has always been here, so just get over it and pass the monkey nuts is no explanation, it fails to do justice to the breath-taking facts as we have them, our long evolution, the exquisitely precise conditions that made emergence of life possible.

Revelation Chapter 21 says I am making the whole of creation new, it will come true, it is already done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.  Ephesians Chapter 1 says Praise be to the God of our Lord who blessed us in the heavenly realms, who chose us before the creation of the world to be put into effect when times reach their fulfilment, unity, to bring all things in heaven and on earth under Christ - this is not so much a theory of everything as the practise of everything, and that's why we are here. 

Jesus knew Easter as Passover, the passing over of death, and it is when for us he absorbed into his body all the enemies of life, doubts, fears, cosmic powers & political principalities bigger than any of us, his body tortured abandoned & broken, so if you share in his suffering you will also share in his glory.

The observable universe, 1,000 billion stars inside 1,000 billion galaxies, was once small enough to fit through the eye of a needle. The first creation happened at the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago, and Jesus was the second, a mere 2,000 years ago, when humans were ready to record it.  If we are to seek a meaning behind life’s deepest mysteries, the ‘why of things’, Colossians Chapter 1, John Chapter 1, 1 John Chapter 1, and Hebrews Chapter 1, all say that Christ is eternity, the spiritual goes on, mirrored yes in Jesus of Nazareth BUT ALSO in every aspect of creation, from elements to weather, planets, animals, attitudes, non-Christians, art, even enemies.  

So it is, two thousand years after St Paul’s amazing missionary journeys, across the globe - an extremely tiny globe in the great cosmic scheme of things, a speck actually, but that’s ok - two billion Christians remember and celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Sceptical minds struggle to comprehend this claim; others dismiss it as nonsense or wishful thinking.  But either the universe is devoid of purpose or it isn’t. If it isn’t, it is the work of an intelligence mindful of human lives and ends, a creator, out of loving concern, overcoming the evil and suffering of Good Friday. It is not beyond the source of this universe to raise his only Son on the third day for us.  And now we know that matter is energy, anything is possible. Set against the equally improbable emergence of time and space and a universe of baffling beauty that reflects ‘the mind of God’, this can be accepted as an article of trust in the heart.

Jesus said before Abraham was, I am, he knew the prophets, and he knew you, before you were born.  When Jesus died, St John found his linen wrappings and the cloth and that had been on his head, rolled up in a place by itself, like a Chrysalis from which a butterfly has emerged, just as if his dead body had simply passed through them, dissolved, moved to a new form of existence. Who is to say it did not?  Mary, looking for a corpse, was instead presented with a new way of being with Jesus. Who is to say we are not?   

To surrender to this before we surrender to death is a resounding ‘yes’, not to a God of religion which Stephen Hawking rejected, but to a self-giving love declaring how glory, not sin and death, has the last word.  This glory beyond the body and the mind is who we ultimately are, hidden with God in Christ, yesterday, today and forever, and this is cause for our celebration.

Behind the observable cosmos is One righteous divine intelligence, One who is for us, not against us, in every cell of our being, One who makes possible endless worlds in the immensities of space, and is able through the raising of Jesus to deal with the shadow that frames every one of our human lives.  For us, the salvation of not just Israel or the world, but the entire suffering cosmos, fulfilled through the gospel, so that death is the beginning of a new type of life through a spiritual body experiencing the grace of God in all matter everywhere. Which brings us to today Easter.

The mind of God that Stephen Hawking, who suffered bodily but sought to discover, is not just mathematics, but shares and experience all suffering, to offer us new bodies, a new heavens, and a new earth.  Surrender to this intelligent life which has appeared on planet Earth for us is a resounding ‘yes’, it means nothing is wasted, not sin or death, so take time to surrender to a real cause for celebration.

On Ash Wednesday I acknowledged I would return to dust.  On Easter Day I’d like to raise a toast that there is more going on than dust.  Just like this icon above, Resurrection is here to stay, never born, never died, beyond body and mind, who I am, hidden with God in Christ, yesterday, today and forever.

Christ is Risen!


Sunday, 18 March 2018

Let go of everything

In Matthew’s gospel Jesus said; “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  But when the young man heard this, he went away sad, for he had many possessions. In Luke's gospel, as Jesus left the town, he saw a tax collector sitting at his booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So, Levi got up, left everything, and followed him. What do these readings have in common?

They both talk about leaving everything behind, all your possessions, all your concerns, letting go in order to follow and be whole.  If you only get  this, that it is necessary to continually let go of everything, you have got it all. This is the practise Jesus taught, contemplation, leaving everything behind, letting go, and letting God.  Consider the unforced birds and lillies. 

That leaving of everything behind is essential in order to follow Jesus and also essential for our human ability to perceive anything clearly. This is why Jesus says blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God, he means that a life without attachments, a life of letting go, allows for a clarity of perception. This is also why Jesus says blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth, he means people who accept what is happening, do not resist what life offers, do not get so angry, can be happier, of service to others, relationships flourish.  In this way, letting go and letting God, the New Testament is mental health advice.  

Our words Holy, Whole, Health and Healing, all have a common root, so the gospel encourages a movement from psychological disintegration to this wholeness.  Mark 5;15 says they came to Jesus and observed a man possessed by legion, which means many, many inner voices, sitting down, clothed, and in his right mind.  This right mind is a whole and integrated mind, no longer a legion of many separate parts and voices, but One mind, the mind of Christ 1 Cor 4;16 says we have, the mind of Christ Phil 2;5 encourages us to allow to be in us, by letting go, a regular emptying of ourselves so that Christ can fill us. In Luke 9:23 he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must leave themselves behind.” Let go. How?  That important advice is given too – regular silence and stillness.
In the Old Testament the psalmist says Be Still, and Know I am God, and truly I have set my soul in silence and peace. Zachariah says let all mankind be silent before the Lord. 1 Kings 19;12 says God is in the silence.  In silence we realise that the unclean spirits which Jesus casts out are not who we are.  2 Corinthians 10;5 says we need to take captive our thoughts.  That  something deeper than words in your head, ceaseless prayer, as Thessalonians 5;17 says, persistent prayer, as Romans 12;12 says, never losing heart, as Luke 18 and Matt 11;5 says, alertness, as Mark 13;33 says, or as Matt 25 says keeping awake, being present, we never know the day or the hour the Kingdom will come.  Letting go of everything else first, putting away anxious thoughts about the physical body, as Matt 6;25 says, in humility and trust, like children, as Matt 18;1-4 also says. I am not hear to quote Bible verses at you – but to make the point the gospels are based on experiences, and experiences are based on practises, and those practises are the silencing of thoughts, or meditative prayer, a preparing of our being for God’s union with the soul, a state of higher doing called Contemplation. These practises require letting go in faith, not beliefs or rules, but trust and knowledge, well-being and spiritual growth. To the Ephesians St Paul said may God give you the spiritual powers of wisdom and vision by which there comes knowledge, strength and power through his Spirit in your inner being, Christ dwelling in your hearts in love, your inward eyes illumined. 

So I quote a Christian Psychiatrist, Larry Culliford. “Growth often occurs through adversity, not by avoiding adversity.  Emotional healing accompanies grieving and acceptance of loss, setting aside overambitious hopes and crippling fears, releasing distorted perceptions, releasing desire for control and security, attachments and aversions to things people places activities ideas and even beliefs.  This is what Jesus offers - let go of everything. If we do, we live with increasing spontaneity, more compassionate, attuned to suffering, wiser, of benefit and value to others.  If we don’t, we fail to understand emotions and go through all six stages of life’s arc. Let’s take those one at a time, first, understanding our emotions. 

For whatever the situation I find myself in, said St Paul to the Philippians, I have learned to be self-sufficient ... to cope with every circumstance ... to be well provided for, or to go without.  He has trained his mind in equanimity & steady state contentment, not thrills and spills. Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, slander, and every form of malice, he said to the Ephesians, just as Peter in his first letter told people to empty themselves of malice and deceit and rage and envy and slander.  This was a training in better emotional habits, not by pretending the worse ones are not there, but by letting go of the worse ones.  This comes in silence and stillness. 

Jesus advised, if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; if you say ‘fool,’ you will be liable to hell.  Letting go is forgiveness, Aphesis in Greek, not just saying someone has done something wrong but you let them off anyway, but a visceral letting go of emotion and tension in your body, a practice in letting go, clearer perception, developing greater health by allowing you to notice how chaotic seeming emotions work rather predictably, as follows.  As St Peter tells us in his second letter, first, we have a desire.  This desire can prevent us becoming divine because this desire for something, or to escape something, when that isn’t possible, leads to anxiety, then bewilderment about what to do, then anger, which is always resistance, a refusal to accept and let go. Attachment to anger, even the milder anger of frankly telling someone what you think, will give you energy or a sense of rightness, it will not give growth, maturity, happiness, it will deny or repress emotion. Letting go of long held emotion on the other hand may lead to guilt, shame, sadness, then a spontaneous release of emotional energy in tears, but always leads to acceptance, not tension.  This is why the Christian Desert Fathers used to pray for the gift of tears.

Regular letting go in embodied prayer allows us to accept forgive integrate and heal, which brings us laughter, love, contentment, joy, trust and wholeness. Faith, the Greek word Pistis, properly understood, is trust, not belief.  It is trust that when you let go, God will be here, is here. Why is it that so many people are unable to become whole ?  Because they don’t want to let go.  Which brings us to the six stages of life’s arc. All of them are necessary for psychological development in the spiritual life.   

Before stage one, when we are tiny infants, our souls are in a state of union with God.  Stage one is when we are young children and look at ourselves in the mirror and identify with the reflection, learn the reflection isn’t just anyone, it is  me.  We become egocentric.  Stage two is when this ego is conditioned with beliefs and opinions of our friends or our family or our tribe.  Jesus incidentally outgrew this by saying anyone, not just my family, but anyone who does the will of God is my Mother Sister or Brother. 

Stage three is becoming the conformist who promotes and defends conditioned beliefs.   But to own beliefs you first have to question them, not just do as you are told, which is stage four, an individual testing them out, then stage five, if you get there, a stage of development where you say OK to beliefs, but integrate them with lots of other ways of understanding. For example, In Romans 8, verse 9 St Paul says; “You are not in the flesh, you are in the spirit,” and we have no reason to think he knew what we now know. If he said it now he might add other dimensions such as the physical, in which matter and energy interchangeable, the very atoms of our bodies were formed in stars. Or biological, evolution showing how we are related to plant fish animal and human flesh. Or psychological, the Kingdom of God inside us containing sense, emotion, impulse, thought, memory, imagination, intuition, and wider social aspects of mind, sympathy, empathy, habit, linked to the practise of the spiritual, God’s Spirit bearing witness with our spirit, moving from dualistic thinking to holistic experience, directly accessing the source who links us all.  But you have to let go for this. Then you realise that Truth, as you would expect of Truth, is True everywhere, not just in the Christian religion. This is Stage 6, Universal, there are no words, you feel connected to the whole, the mind of Christ, the mind of the Universe, as Colossians, Ephesians and John say. 

Feeling cut off from this True Self is sin, your false Self, as St Paul said, a lot of ideas in your head like dissonance on a guitar string out of harmony.  In all of our lives, events cause us to vibrate in this dissonance, but if we regularly come to rest in harmony, by letting go, and by letting God, sitting up, still, not falling asleep, returning our attention to the breath of God inside us, the sensations of the body as a temple of his spirit, we allow God’s spirit to bear witness in our own and see we can be who we are.


Wednesday, 27 December 2017

a God is for life not Christmas - leave this world alive

Great American Psychologist William James, who wrote the Varieties of Religious Experience, said all human beings are hardwired for the experience of something more. But what is this something more? Is it family and friends? No.

The Professor of Islamic Studies, Mona Siddiqui, a Muslim, was never exposed to the Nativity in religious stories her Mother told her, but she came to recognise the sanctity of togetherness in the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

I am not convinced.  Jesus is not concerned about attachments. He is disparaging and sometimes outrightly dismissive of his family.  He says no Prophet is recognised in his home town, and he is unable to do miracles where people think they already know who he is.   

In Matthew’s gospel, talking to a crowd, his mother and brothers are outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone says, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside wanting to speak to you.” He says; “Who is my mother, who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he says, “Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother sister and mother.”  So, the something more we are hardwired to seek is more than attachments.

But what it it?  Won’t we be lonely without attachments?  The commission established by MP Jo Cox before she was stabbed to death calls for a national strategy for loneliness, and a minister responsible.  The report concludes with an ageing society and a rise in the use of social media, 9 million adults are often or always lonely, a lonliness deadlier than obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and three-quarters of GPs say they see up to five patients every day who are lonely. Loneliness estimated to cost employers £2.5bn every year.  Mmmm...

Perhaps then, the something more is 'membership', including religious membership, for the lonely.  No, I say again, Jesus came for those who do NOT belong, to outsiders, to the unhealthy, the marginalised, tax collectors and sinners.  This something more, is more than membership with other people.  Maybe it is visible worship then?  No, once again, there are worship services with a few participants and 100 prayer candles burning, witnessing to an unseen world, a world of those who pray, but those are not seen by visible worship.

But what is this something more then?  In a font in the parish of St Martins in the Fields in Trafalgar Square, is an engraving of the infant Jesus attached to the globe of the earth by his umbilical cord.  The something more is the incarnation of God as a human being, ultimate reality in the flesh, because enfleshment is a way for us not to be confined to the limitations of being human anymore, such as our attachments, our membership, or our visible worship.  It goes beyond the limits of the body and the mind, and without such boundaries, we find union with God in vast boundless limitless spaciousness in his cosmos. 

God is the something more, more than a mere thing. God is not made of any thing, God is the no - thing who is also the unmanifest something we don't need to seek, because in the incarnation of God as human, we realise we share God's nature, we can stop worshipping things, we can know the divine, the All One who is more than our little body and mind.  

God became human, so humans could become God, and experience Christmas every day, not in attachments, religious membership, and the world we see with our eyes, but in knowledge and practise of something reaching into and entering something less.  If we take this incarnation seriously, all our subsconsious cravings and aversions, all our thoughts feelings and sensations, are embraced by the one God of the universe, and we have limitless union, it pulls us out of ourselves and into Godself. Mary, meanwhile, reminds us humans are part of the whole - in these bodies to be God bearers like her, to find inside, accept, and then to give birth to eternal life. 

Just as the incarnation is for all year, Mary is for all humans, not the religious.  Anglicanism, the Church of England, began in the 16th century with a break from Rome, but Catholic is not Roman, Catholic comes from two Greek words Kat and Holos, meaning of and whole.  Mary teaches us we are all part of the whole, protestant or not, religious or not. 

The Church of England when it began was left to do theology without a Pope and to find stability on three legs, like legs on Mary’s handmaiden’s stool, but three legs of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. Puritans, people who only considered scripture, were too extreme and left the country.  Romans, people who only considered tradition, were un-English and forced into hiding, and people who only used Reason became forerunners of the Enlightenment which rejected spiritual revelation altogether.  

But now in the 21st century, in our flesh, in our body work, in our spiritual practise, our silent prayer and meditation, we sit on all three legs of Mary’s handmaiden’s stool, and scripture, tradition, and reason are all one in our flesh, which finds union with the infinite, and we are God bearers, the whole experience, in this body like her to find inside, accept, and give birth to eternal life, not religious life. The company of the divine is available to all those can sit alone and practise in silence with the divine for company. 

In the film City of Angels, a young heart surgeon called Maggie discovers this,  She is holding a man’s heart in her hands when she realises life and death are not actually in her control at all, and she doesn’t know what to do with that.  She learns she is in the arms of the Angels, who speak to us as we think create and pray, who appear as we are dying, who guide us to new forms of life.  Nature is an extension of a subtler, unseen energies of God, and Angels are a way of communicating overwhelming brightness to dense beings. But we don't have to be dense.  Psalm 8 tells us we are a little lower than angels.   

Angels do not look like us, but we visualise them like us to help us to understand.  They are really forms of consciousness beyond ours but related to ours.  The top three are divine love, divine presence and divine knowledge, the lower levels are our guardians, to help us embrace the inevitable suffering of a human vocation and find our meaning in life.   

Our English word Angel comes from a Greek word Angelos, it means messenger, a messenger to every listening human heart and mind, for all those who have the ears to hear, anyway, as Jesus would later go on to say.

So the Angel Gabriel visits Mary in the gospels.  As well as Gabriel the Bible mentions Michael, and other Angels, like Raphael and Uriel. Angels are mentioned nearly 300 times because a human is a spiritual being experiencing the mind of God beyond the confines of an individual brain. 

Tradition and Reason also recognise this.  In medieval times we acknowledged many levels of mind between humans and God.  Angels are infused with the Holy Spirit, they appear as channels for divine communication, and say things in us.

‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you,’ as Gabriel says to Mary.  Mary’s experience becomes the basis for the tradition of prayer which says 'Hail Mary full of Grace, the Lord is with thee.' Gabriel continues, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God.’ This becomes 'Blessed art thou among women', just as Gabriel’s next words to Mary, 'you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus', become 'blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus'. 

As part of the whole experience then, humans who are not totally identified with the flesh, are not liiving in its fear, and we can use it to participate in divinity, and like Mary, serve God in it, with no hesitation, no matter the pain it costs us.
This is why the Hail Mary goes on to say 'Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death', because there are aspects of reality most humans resist for fear, and this resistance is sin, dissonance.  

Mary says for us ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ We have something to learn from her in every moment, the acceptance of suffering as the inevitable result of the acceptance of birth, which opens us to acceptance of union with God.  

If we resist, rather than accept, as Psychiatrist Carl Jung said, whatever we resist persists, and suffering will increase. Or not. This is why St Paul is told in scripture to stop kicking against the pricks, to go with God's will.  Scripture says darkness and light are alike to God, but in resistance to darkness we fail to notice how our lives touch others with light.

So, think of something you are resisting, perhaps because you are scared or don’t understand, or want to avoid the pain.   

This is the message - accept life, no matter how difficult life is, no matter the way life needs to take you, not because it makes sense, not because it never changes, not because you are in control, but because it is God’s will for you is to say yes, to be a God bearer like Mary, facilitating birth growth death & new life, finding inside, accepting, and then giving birth to eternal life. This is Mary’s gift to us.  She said yes, in the here and now, not no, I am too scared, I don’t understand, I don’t like change, I don’t want the pain.

In the film Dr Zhivago, Zhivago, to the question, 'Are there things in the world that claim our fidelity?', answers 'Very few.  We ought, I think, to be faithful to immortality, which is another name, a richer name, for life.  We should be faithful to immortality, faithful to Christ.  Why to Christ?  Because once upon a  time there was maiden who in silence and in secret gave life to a child and gave the world life, the miracle of life, the life of all things.'

Mary is a model for our human yes to the life of all things, of the whole, Kat Holos, our union in the arms of the Angels with immortal no-thing. She and we practise a Yes, not to religious life, but to eternal life.  We are in these human bodies to find inside us, to accept, and to give birth to eternal life.  

In spiritual work, we have the infinite capacity to respond, to be responsible, to accept that the way things are is the way things are, and that we are as a Mother to the Universe.  Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.  Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.  Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.  

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. +