“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

Sunday, 27 July 2014

And the Wheel of the Year Turns

Lughnasadh (the Pagan festival of First Harvest) is coming right on time this year - it is due to be celebrated next Friday. And this past week has seen the fields around my village change from golden fields of corn and barley and rapeseed to brown, ploughed-in fields of stubble. The weather has been perfect for Harvest, and the farmers' only complaint must be of the lack of hours in the day. They are starting early and finishing late, and the roads around the village are full of tractors and other agricultural vehicles which we hardly see for the rest of the year. It doesn't pay to be in a hurry!

I have always felt immensely privileged to live in the countryside, where I can still be in touch with the changing seasons of the year. Every year the same, and every year different. It evokes feelings of awe and gratitude, as I watch the first green shoots growing strong and high, flowering, and then ripening. Then the crops are harvested, and the countryside exhales, and settles down for its winter dormancy. Every year the same, and every year different.

And on the village allotments, the runner beans are ready, so are the courgettes, and the raspberries and the salad vegetables, and the maize is coming on nicely. There too, it looks like being a bumper harvest. All the back-breaking work of digging, weeding and anxiously tending has paid off. Every year the same, and every year different.

It is also coming up to the season of exam results, as GCSE, AS and A2 students wait to discover whether their hard work over the past year has paid off. Some students will be delighted with good results, others will be devastated by unexpected failures, and will have to scrabble around for Plan B. Every year the same, and every year different.

So I pray for a goodly crop of exam results this year, and some happy students ready to move on to the next phase in their young lives.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Passing the Buck

Three separate news items have caught my attention this week - all of which are varying aspects on taking responsibility for your actions.

image posted by Harshdeep Kaur
The first is the escalating situation in Palestine, as Hamas continue to attack Israel, and the Israelis continue to attack the Palestinians, and unarmed civilians die by the hundred, and the only winners are the international arms trade, including the United Kingdom. A few brave individuals are working for peace, and being vilified by both sides for their trouble. I have no answers to this - ultimately, the situation will continue to worsen, so long as neither side will sit down and listen to the other.

The second is the tragedy of the Malaysian Airlines plane, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, which was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. The Ukrainians and Russians are both playing the blame game, refusing to admit responsibility, and partially blaming the pilot for flying so close to an area deemed unsafe for civilian aircraft. The prospect of an open international air accident investigation is also being blocked. In the meantime, nearly 300 innocent civilians have lost their lives, and their families are in mourning.

The third, which I heard with some bemusement this morning, was that the widow of a lung cancer victim in the US had successfully sued a tobacco company for billions of dollars, for not warning her husband of the dangers of smoking. I have to admit that this one made me gasp in disbelief - I don't think the tobacco company was forcing her husband to smoke - he *chose* to smoke, and must surely be responsible for that choice. But I understand that they are appealing against the verdict.

Three different situations; three incidents of evading responsibility. I know it takes more courage to hold your hand up and say "It's a fair cop; it was my fault - I'm sorry." But until people start to do that, the world will continue to become a more violent, nastier place, and the innocent will continue to suffer. All we can do, as individuals, is to work for peace and justice, wherever we are.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Hatred or Forgiveness?

I really don't like the word "hate" and all that it stands for. Years ago, I would have said "I hate x or y or z", whether I was talking about black pepper or the latest government idiocy or nuclear weapons, but as the years have passed, I have become more and more wary of its insidious power, and try to avoid using it.

image: expeditionwellness.com
So when a friend posted the following on the UK Unitarians' Facebook page today, it really caught my attention: "A 4-word slogan appeared in my inbox today. The third word was HATE. Is it within our theology and values to hate anything, even really nasty things like genocide, governmental terrorism and bullying? At Golders Green we are trying to reach a consensus "Vision" statement about our purpose as a congregation, and the present draft includes "guided by conscience, kindness, and compassion". With those values, we could "oppose" or "resist" evil ... but "hate"?? What do people think and feel?"

My response was to say "Hate diminishes the one who hates. I agree that one should oppose and resist evil, but not hate." To my surprise, somebody else responded that they were "fine with 'hate' - for me it denotes a passion that the other words do not."

By coincidence, there has also been a lively thread over on the Unitarians Facebook page today, concerning a new anti-Zionist Facebook group. I was one of several friends who commented against it, saying that I "would not support a group based on hate, rather than compassion. My feeling is that the most important thing that Unitarians can do as an open, inclusive community is to try to live by the Golden Rule, and spread compassion from where we are." But in no time at all, the thread has become very heated, with some real verbal vitriol being spewed around. Proof, if any were needed, that the path of hatred is a negative one.

I believe that one of the major reasons for religious intolerance and religious strife (or at least for intolerance and strife in the *name* of religion) is fear of the unknown. The vast majority of people know very little about other religions, and it is part of human nature to fear the unknown (or the different). Ignorance breeds intolerance, which in turn breeds fear and hatred, which can easily turn into all-out violence. Unfortunately, many unscrupulous politicians who sit at particular points on the religious divide, see it as their job in life to foment intolerance and fear, so that they can whip up "their" people to commit acts of aggression and violence in the name of religion or a particular political path or whatever. The links between states and religions are very strong; the dividing line between tribalism and nationalism is a very thin one.

Karen Armstrong launched the Charter for Compassion in 2009, because she believed that there was a better way to conduct human affairs than violence, and that the practice of compassion is crucially important in the work of peace. Desmond and Mpho Tutu understand this too - I am currently reading their The Book of Forgiving, and have been struck by their belief that "The quality of human life on our planet is nothing more than the sum total of our daily interactions with one another. Each time we help, and each time we harm, we have a dramatic impact on our world. Because we are human, some of our interactions will go wrong, and then we will hurt, or be hurt, or both. it is the nature of being human, and it is unavoidable. Forgiveness is the way we set those interactions right. It is the way we mend tears in the social fabric. It is the way we stop our human community from unravelling." Their Fourfold Path is shown in the image above.

By forgiving each other. Not by hatred. It's not an easy path, but I do believe it is the right one.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

The Thrill of the Game

I have just finished watching the Mens' Singles Final at Wimbledon, between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. It was truly nail-biting - a five-set match with some marvellous ups and downs. First one man was winning, then the other. By the fifth set, I genuinely didn't care who won - they had both played such fabulous tennis that they both deserved it. It was a delight and a privilege to watch tennis being so well and so daringly played.

After four gruelling hours, Djokovic finally won. And paid generous and moving tribute to Federer in the post-match interview. I know it was easy for him to be generous when he had won, but to thank Federer for "letting me win" was both funny, and moving.

I couldn't help contrasting it to the lack-lustre Women's Singles Final yesterday, when Petra Kvitova wiped the floor with Eugenie Bouchard in two sets in under an hour - I found it quite dispiriting to watch. Kvitova's tennis was just in a different league to Bouchard's - all credit to her, but no fun to watch.  Hopefully Bouchard will have a chance another year.

It has made me realise (again) that so far as I am concerned, it's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game that matters. Both Djokovic and Federer demonstrated this over and over again - if one of them lost a game, they just picked themselves up and battled on, refusing to be downcast or put off. They didn't let setbacks affect their game, they just strove to be in the present moment, concentrating on the game they were playing. Which was what made it such a treat to watch. Even in the fifth set, there were long rallies, with multiple daring strokes.

And this is true not only in tennis, but in life. I hope that when life kicks me in the face, that I will remember today, and have the courage to follow their example, and pick myself back up and carry on, giving it my best.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

When Virtual Becomes Real

Our little cat Luna has been very ill. It started last Saturday, when she was noticeably off her food, and quieter than usual. By Sunday, we were sufficiently concerned to take her to the vet, and again on the Monday. She was given antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, and we were told to keep an eye on her. My husband texted me on Wednesday morning to say that she was no better, so when I got home from my conference in the afternoon, I took her straight back to the vet, who admitted her as an in-patient. That night, she had a 3cm section of impacted bowel removed. Had it not been, she might not have survived. The next day, we went to visit, and she was like a different animal; and on Friday evening, I brought our little one home, well on the way to recovery.

She is currently sitting on top of the wardrobe in the spare room, no mean leap for a cat who is supposed to be "taking it easy". But it's one of her favourite spots, and I guess she wouldn't have done it if she had felt too sore.

During the whole sad time she was in hospital, and I was so worried that we were going to lose her, I have been unutterably moved by the warmth and caring of my community of Facebook friends, who have been commenting and sending love and sympathy for the last 48 hours or so.

I have noticed this before on Facebook - if anyone is in trouble, or in grief, or anxious, or worried, friends *do* rally round, offering words of sympathy and comfort, and warm virtual hugs. And it really does help.

The feeling of connection is very real. I know that it is fashionable to say that the social media and mobile phones between them have ruined genuine communication between people. There are endless images of people standing or sitting "together" with their heads down and their thumbs busy, texting away, and not noticing the world and the people right next to them.

BUT this is the other side of it. And I am very grateful. And moved. And feeling blessed.

Friday, 20 June 2014

The Gift of Laughter

In one of Anne McCaffrey's books, somebody (I think it's Lanzecki in The Crystal Singer) says "A man can sleep any time. But a laugh restores the soul." And I have just been chuckling away at a post on the Tolkien Society page on Facebook, where members were invited to do bad mis-castings for characters in the Peter Jackson films. Of course it very soon got out of hand, and many other cultural references found their way in, from Monty Python's Holy Grail, the Wizard of Oz (Sauron being killed by Edoras falling on his head) and even Dallas (Melkor coming out of the shower and finding it was all a dream). And I will long remember the image of the Nine Riders on black Harleys, with Riders on the Storm by the Doors in the background. And Orc munchkins. And Samwise Gamgee in sparkly red shoes, saying "There's no place like home, Mr. Frodo." It made me laugh out loud, and suddenly the world seems a brighter place.

"A laugh restores the soul." Yes. This is certainly true of the laughter that arises from the joy of sharing something funny with others, or as a side-effect of being happy anyway. But laughing *at* others rather than *with* them has always struck me as a cat of an entirely different colour. I am sometimes accused of having a sense of humour deficit, because I don't often find people falling over / failing to do something / otherwise being made a fool of, very funny. So while I do find many of the posts on Facebook very funny, and indeed, share many of them, some I just don't. This laughing at other people's misfortune *feels* the same way to me as cruelty to animals.

I guess it all comes down to compassion in the end - putting yourself in the other person's shoes, and imagining how they must be feeling. So while I love to laugh, and find that a good giggle brightens my day, I'm selective about what I laugh at.

Friday, 13 June 2014

A Walk in the Woods

It is going to be difficult to write this without resorting to cliches. On this warm and sunny morning, I decided to go for a walk in the woods. I am very fortunate in living five minutes' walk away from a footpath which leads to Salcey Forest. I was only out for about 40 minutes, but it has left me full of awe, full of wonder, full of gratitude.

The combination of weather during the last few months - sunshine and rain in just the right quantities, meant that the verges of the path were a mass of green and flowers. I walked mindfully, opening my eyes and ears to the world around me. There was cow parsley over six feet high, clover, buttercups, many other shy woodland flowers I could not name, and a riot of wild roses; and the air was full of bird song. The sky overhead was blue with wispy white clouds, but the height of the bordering hedges meant that the path was still in shade, very pleasant to walk in on this warm morning. Every so often, there would be a break in the hedge to my left, and the sunlight came pouring through, painting everything it touched in brighter hues. The path is narrow, only wide enough for one person (or one horse - it is much used by the local riders) and I had it to myself. One cyclist passed me on the way out, and one runner on the way back. Apart from that, it was me, alone with God's creation. And it was glorious. And I give thanks.