“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

Edward Everett Hale

Friday, 22 March 2019

Rose-coloured Spectacles

This week's quote is by Marcel Proust. "Sehnsucht lässt alle Dinge blühen." Which means "Nostalgia makes all things bloom."

Which I guess is about living in the past, or looking back to the past and only remembering the good bits. For example, if I think about Summer holidays when I was a child, the sun is always shining and I am always happy.

Whereas actually, if I think back objectively, rather than just being nostalgic about it, I can definitely remember any number of rainy days in Wales, when we spent our time indoors, playing board games. Which was enjoyable in another way, but not wall-to-wall sunshine.

Sometimes, nostalgia is harmless. Looking back at happy memories is harmless. But when we look back at the past and re-write it, it can be dangerous. I can never hear the phrase "the good old days" without a shudder. Because they weren't... The good old days are a product of selective amnesia, that we fall for at our peril.

Politicians are masters (and mistresses) of the nostalgia game. Current policies are advocated, because they will bring us back to a glorious past. Which never existed. Not ever.

The only time that is real is the present moment. All else is either memory, or anticipation. So both have an element of fantasy about them, because memory is sometimes faulty and anticipation is often idealised, rarely realistic.

I wonder, how many present moments do we skate over, not appreciating them, because we are too busy either yearning back to a fictionalised past or hoping for an idealised future?

Friday, 15 March 2019

Appreciating the Whole

It took me a while to puzzle out what Hans Christian Anderson meant by this week's quote: "Wenn man sich von den Bergen entfernt, so erblickt man sie erst recht in ihrer wahren Gestalt; so ist es auch mit den Freunden."

Which being roughly translated, means: "When you are far away from the mountains, you can see them in their true forms, this is also true of friends."

I understand the first half easily - when you see a mountain from far off, you can see its beauty and majesty as a whole. Whereas if you are closer to it, or even climbing up it, it's difficult to appreciate the whole of it. Especially, perhaps, when you think you're getting near the top, and you come to what you thought was the horizon, and there is another long bit to climb.

There are so many different ways of interpreting the second half. It could mean that you only appreciate your friends when they're not around, or when you've lost their friendship. Or it could mean that when you're away from them, you miss them.

But I think it means that it is often difficult to appreciate your friends as individual human beings, as whole people, when they are close to you, inter-connected with you, involved in your life. And that sometimes, we need to make the effort to see them objectively, to insert that little distance between ourselves and them, in order to understand them clearly. And not to impose our own thoughts and feelings on them.

Perhaps it is only when we are at a (little) distance to our friends that we can see them whole, and truly appreciate them as unique, precious children of God.

Friday, 8 March 2019

Room to Breathe

This week's postcard is an idyllic scene - a white beach in front of a blue sea, in the sunshine. The ideal place to rest and restore one's soul, perhaps.

Just looking at it makes me yearn for a few peaceful days off. And the quotation, by Victor Levin, says: "Geniesse deine Freiheit und gib deiner Seele Raum zum Atmen."

"Enjoy your freedom and give your soul room to breathe."

I wonder, how often do we do that, even on holiday? In our family, the main holiday each year is spent exploring cities, which is great fun, and very interesting, even satisfying, but it is rarely about giving my soul room to breathe. Walking holidays near lakes and mountains do that, but again, they're still active.

I don't think I've ever been on holiday, and just rested. Just. Rested. Often, when I come back from an exploring-a-new-city holiday, we've packed in so much to our few days away, that I come home needing another holiday to get over it!

It's interesting that the derivation of the word "holiday" is holy day. On holy days, we do stop and rest, and give our souls room to breathe in the resulting freedom.

Hucklow Summer School helps me to do exactly what Levin advises: enjoy my freedom and give my soul room to breathe. A week in the Nightingale Centre, set in the midst of the beautiful Peak District, in the company of other Unitarians, does give my soul room to breathe. Perhaps we should rename it 'Hucklow Holy Days'.

Of course, there are theme talks to attend, and the all-important two hours a day in your engagement group, but the rest of the activities are optional, and there are many opportunities to give your soul room to stretch and breathe and rest. I would recommend it to all Unitarians.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Asking for Directions

For the first time since I started this project, I find myself disagreeing with the quote of the week, by Paul Watzlawick. "Wer zu sich selbst finden will, darf andere nicht nach dem Weg fragen"

Which means: If you want to find yourself, do not ask others for directions.

Yes, I understand that every person is unique and each must find their own path on the spiritual journey.

BUT, and it is a very big but, I strongly believe that we all need support along the way. Which is why being a member of a spiritual / religious community is vital. It is possible to learn a lot by reading or searching the internet, but if we do not have other people to bounce our ideas and conclusions off, we might be led up the garden path by our own imperfect understanding.

I agree that asking others for directions may be a mistake, if we rely on those directions alone, and do not have our own thoughts and ideas. But for me, the spiritual journey is a combination of individual thought and sharing in community.

Which is why I find spiritual direction (which is really a misnomer) so valuable. If you have a spiritual director (which I have for the past seven years) they will accompany you on your journey, listening with full attention to what you have to say, and discerning the movement of the Spirit in your life. They do not direct, they do not judge, they accompany and suggest. Without my spiritual director, I would have been lost, would never have found myself, would never have had the courage for the journey.

I commend being in direction to all spiritual seekers.

Friday, 22 February 2019

Slowing down

Henriette Wilhelmine Hanke wrote "Die Langsamkeit bietet die Chance, das, was wir tun, auch zu erleben." 

Which means: "Slowness offers the opportunity to experience what we do."

A reminder which most people in our frantic society could do with, myself not least.

Time for reflection and rest is so important. It is only too easy to rush from task to task, ticking off items on the to-do list, and then straight on to the next thing. Yet there are times when being busy, busy, busy, just gets too much The thought crosses our minds: "Stop the world! I want to get off!" But it won't stop, so we have to consciously make the effort to schedule some time to step off that treadmill. It may take a little creative selfishness to realise that you are quite entitled to do this, and quite a bit of planning to reschedule your activities, and find a free time-slot, but it can be done. The most important thing is that we commit to it, on a regular basis, and do it consistently.
Because we're not supposed to live like this. Every person needs to have some time to centre down, to be at peace, to recharge their emotional and spiritual batteries. I believe that one of the most important of God's creations is the Sabbath - a time to rest, to re-group, and come back to our everyday lives refreshed. One reason why my faith is so important to me is that it has taught me that there is another way of living, even if I don't always follow it.

The idea of resting every seventh day goes back to Biblical times. Right at the beginning of the Bible, we are told that God created the world in six days, and then rested on the seventh day. This concept was taken up by ancient Israel, and was one of the ten commandments laid down by Moses in the Book of Exodus: "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." For Jews, the Sabbath starts at sundown on Friday evening with the lighting of a candle, and a shared meal, and continues until sundown on Saturday.
When Christianity started two thousand years ago, they took on this principle (broadly speaking) and met firstly on Saturdays, but then on Sundays, to participate in the Lord's Supper, or Eucharist. Later on this got hedged round with a lot of do's and don'ts, but today an increasing number of Christians try to observe a Sabbath day once a week, in which they "rest in Christ". An article by Lauren Winner on the Christianity Today website explains: 
"But Jesus never said to forget the Sabbath completely. Keeping the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments, after all! And through the ages Christians have seen the wisdom of devoting one full day to rest and praise. There's an old Puritan saying, 'Good Sabbaths make good Christians.'
Still, honouring the Sabbath was easier in Puritan New England, where almost everyone took the Sabbath seriously. Shops weren't open on Sundays, businesses closed their doors, and everyone headed to church. Sabbaths are much more difficult in contemporary America. In fact, in a society that values busyness and productivity, observing the Sabbath is downright countercultural.
That's not to say contemporary society doesn't encourage us to relax. To the contrary, most secular women's magazines and television talk shows ... instruct us to indulge ourselves. While there's nothing wrong with the occasional bubble bath, [this isn't] quite the same thing as Sabbath. The key to the Sabbath isn't merely rest. Rather, it's that in our rest we turn our attention to God, whose rest our Sabbath mirrors."
So let us slow down, simply be, and be present to the world and the divine around us.

Friday, 15 February 2019

Digging Deep

When I turned the page of my calendar, and looked at this week's picture, I felt simple pleasure. I have always loved waterfalls - especially walking alongside them, and glorying in their beauty. This dates from early childhood holidays in mid-Wales, which always included a visit to Dolgoch Falls. My father used to spend many happy hours re-arranging the course of the stream, by building dams out of stones and slate, enthusiastically helped (or hindered) by my sister and me.

When I translated the text, I had to laugh, because it was exactly what I needed to hear, this week. The words are by Mark Aurel: "Blick in dich! Innern ist eine Quelle, die nie versiegt, wenn du nur zu graben verstehst."

Which being translated, means: "Look inside you! Inside there is a spring that never dries up, if only you know how to dig."

And I have had to dig, in recent weeks. Perhaps I am secretary of too many Unitarian bodies: the Warwickshire & Neighbouring Counties Monthly Meeting of Protestant Dissenting Ministers (our local ministers' meeting), the Midland Unitarian Association, the Unitarian Ministerial Fellowship, Northampton Unitarians, the Unitarian Peace Fellowship, and the Worship Studies Course Group. And they've ALL had meetings in the last three weeks. And there's another one to come, next Wednesday. It has meant a lot of travelling, and a lot of minute typing.

But I am not complaining. It has been my choice to put my hand up for these roles, because I know I am good at doing the secretary thing, and it is my way of contributing to the wider Unitarian community. And so I choose to dig deep, churn out the minutes, and follow up with the actions.

How do you dig deep for Unitarianism?

Friday, 8 February 2019

Understanding the Past

Stefan Zweig wrote: "Wer die Vergangenheit nicht versteht, versteht nichts wirklich." Which being translated, means: "Whoever does not understand the past, does not understand anything, really."

We are human beings, living in time, and hence have a natural bent for looking forward, rather than back. Our minds are generally on what we are about to do, planning for the future, anticipating it with either pleasure or dread.

But I have come to understand that if we do not deal with things which happened to us in the past, they can sneak up and catch us unawares in the present. For this reason, we do need to understand the past, our own past. Which means befriending our shadows, those dark, unacknowledged sides of ourselves we do not want to think about.

I blogged about this on my other blog, Gems for the Journey, in a post Befriending Our Shadow. I mentioned a book called The Dark Side of the Light Chasers by Debbie Ford, which I would recommend to anyone who feels they are ready to do this hard, but very rewarding work.

This befriending process is often difficult and unpleasant, and is, for me, very much a work in progress. But thanks to my efforts, I now feel more whole, and have got better at standing back in hard situations, rather than jumping in and reacting straight away.