“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, 12 August 2016

On Perfect versus Good Enough

Over the Summer, I have been re-reading Brene Brown's wonderful books, The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, and Rising Strong.  One of her strongest messages about living wholeheartedly is to let go of the need to be perfect, to be the best. Striving for excellence is good, beating yourself up for not making 100% not so good.

I've recently re-joined my local gym, and am enjoying pushing my body a bit, trying to get a bit more toned, a bit more healthy. On Wednesday, I decided to up the ante a bit. So instead of doing 15 minutes at level 1 on the main cardio machine I'm using (which simulates running, but without the impact), I did 20 minutes at level 2. There were bellows to mend by the end, but I had a great feeling of achievement. I've also upped the number of reps I do on the upper body machines from 12 to 15. It's such fun to challenge myself, to push myself. Lots of lovely endorphins!

But here's the thing. I'm not comparing myself with any of the other gym users, not beating myself up for not being able to run for an hour on level 5 (or whatever). The only person I am competing with is myself - the idea is to improve my fitness over time. Because it makes me feel good.

Then yesterday evening, one of my oldest friends came round to play canasta. I don't get to see her much, so it was lovely to catch up while we vied for the mastery.

We have been playing canasta together sporadically since 1988, when we used to play every morning, going down to London on the train from Northampton. It is such huge fun - we both play the very best we can, and thoroughly enjoy the contest, but it truly does not matter who wins. Last night, she won the first match; I won the second. We are both openly triumphant about our wins, and commiserate with each other's losses.

But the absolutely most important thing is the huge fun of playing the game. Neither of us has any innate need to beat the other - our self-worth is not on the line. We just enjoy playing.

And that is so precious.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

The Right Words at the Right Time

For a while, I have been struggling with some guilt, over some behaviour in my past, which has made me feel unworthy of love.

But sometimes, by purest grace, you are given the words you need to hear. Today, on Facebook, these words by John O'Donohue turned up in my feed:

"When personal guilt in relation to a past event becomes a continuous cloud over your life, then you are locked in a mental prison. You have become your own jailer. While you should not erase your responsibility for the past, when you make the past your jailer, you destroy your future. It is such a great moment of liberation when you learn to forgive yourself, let the burden go, and walk out into a new path of promise and possibility. Self-compassion is a wonderful gift to give yourself. You should never reduce the mystery and expanse of your presence to a haunted fixation with something you did or did not do. To learn the art of integrating your faults is to begin a journey of healing on which you will regain your poise and find new creativity. Your soul is more immense than any one moment or event in your past. When you allow guilt to fetter and reduce you like this, it has little to do with guilt. The guilt is only an uncomfortable but convenient excuse for your fear of growth." (emboldening mine)

This has hit me like a train. It has taken this to finally help me to recognise that I am *more* than my past behaviour, and that to carry on letting the guilt over that past behaviour define me, I have indeed put my soul into prison. And so I am worthy of forgiveness, worthy of love.

Now I can finally believe that I am worthy of love, that my past behaviour doesn't define my whole self. I can't believe it has taken so long for the penny to drop. But drop it has. Thank you God! And thank you, John O'Donohue.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

A Small Kindness

I had to go into town this morning, for an eye test, and to buy some bits and pieces. I was just about to head back to the car-park, when I noticed a stall in the Grosvenor Centre foyer. It had been set up by some members of the St. Giles congregation, and they were offering free hand massage and nail painting.

And so I stopped, and got my hands massaged by a kind lady called Elizabeth. We got talking, and I asked her why they were doing this. She explained that they wanted to show God's love to the people of Northampton. And that there were some events for children up at the church.

I thought that this was such a lovely thing to do - they weren't proselytising, or anything like that - just trying to make some people's days a little bit brighter. I can only say that it worked - I was touched by her kindness, and my hands felt wonderful.

I do believe that this is the way to live - to try to make a little difference where we are, in the hope that the ripples will spread out and make the world a kinder and gentler place to live in.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Living the Words

I have a beautiful prayer, adapted from some ancient words from the Celtic Christian tradition, that I use daily, which encapsulate my conscious wish to live whole-heartedly, bringing my whole life under God's influence.

God to enfold me (in his loving arms)
God to surround me (so that I am always aware of His presence)
God in my speaking (so that I think before I speak / write, and don't use words that have the capacity to wound others)
God in my thinking (the "What would Jesus do?" question)

God in my dreaming (so that I have big plans for a better world)
God in my waking (so that I bring Her to my mind as soon as I awake)
God in my watching (so that I am aware and mindful of His presence, and also that I watch my own actions and words)
God in my hoping (so that I never give up)

God in my caring (for others, and also for myself)
God in my loving (because Love is the greatest force for good in the world)
God in my choosing (to live whole-heartedly and vulnerably and mindfully)
God in my trusting (that God *is* everywhere - particularly that there is "that of God in everyone", as the Quakers say)

God in my life (so that I try to live it mindfully, in awareness of Her presence)
God on my lips (so that my words do not wound)
God in my hands (so that my actions match those beliefs I am professing)
God in my heart (because Love is at the centre of everything)

God in my sufficing (so that I understand that who I am is enough, and that I don't need to "please, perform and perfect", to be loved)
God in my slumber (because I know the fundamental importance of rest and relaxation)
God in mine ever living soul, God in mine eternity (so that I recall that I came from Her and will eventually return to Her. And that the time in-between is the only life I have on this earth, my only chance to live wholeheartedly, striving to be the best person I can be).

Amen, Blessed Be.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Standing on the Side of Love

My Facebook feed this week has been filled with an outpouring of grief for the 50 innocent men and women who were senselessly murdered in the Pulse Club at Orlando, because one man was filled with hate for the LGBT community.

Many vigils have been held, both in the US and over here, in which people of all sexual orientations have been drawn together to mourn their loss, and to stand shoulder to shoulder with each other.

I have been incredibly moved by this up-swelling of love and solidarity. I posted this quote (shared by Sue Kelly Squires) on my own Facebook page yesterday, and was touched by the response of a friend: "Thanks Sue. I really needed to see this post today. I've been shocked by the homophobia of some Christians this week. I'm so tired of defending Christians to the gay community. It's time now for the Anglican Church to step up. You are so lovely to post this! Thank you!"

I felt both humbled and shamed as I read her words. Living as I do, a heterosexual white person, I had not truly appreciated until this week, the difficulties and fears that many of my LGBT friends still have to deal with every day. I had not realised how unaccepted and separate and vulnerable many of them still feel. I apologise for my lack of sensitivity and understanding, born of unthinking privilege.

Then this afternoon came the news of the murder of Jo Cox, a young MP who had spent her life fighting for the rights of those less fortunate than herself, notably Syrian refugees. She was shot, stabbed, and then kicked as she lay dying, by her vicious murderer.

Later on, her husband Brendan Cox issued a very moving statement: "She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one, that our precious children are bathed in love, and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her. Hate doesn't have a creed, race, or religion. It is poisonous."

Maybe standing on the side of love, standing up for the best that humankind can be, sharing a message of hope, not hate, is all we can do. To quote Nick Lowles, of HOPE not Hate, "The best way to do that is for us all to redouble our efforts to challenge hatred, prejudice and intolerance, wherever we encounter it."

May we all remember this, in the weeks and months to come.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

A Warm Welcome

Part of my role as District Minister for the Midland Unitarian Association, is to do two services a month "around the District", either covering for ministers' holidays, or for congregations who don't have a minister at present. It is a part of the job I really enjoy, meeting all the different congregations, and catching up with their news.

This morning, I travelled down to Cheltenham, to do a service at Bayshill Unitarian Church, and got a warmer welcome than I had anticipated ...

image by Cressida Pryor
I had decided to give them a nice, peaceful, reflective service entitled The Tree of Faith, and we were half way through the Time of Stillness and Reflection, when a series of what sounded like small explosions came from outside. One of the congregation went to look, and came back in and said, very matter-of-factly, "The building next door is on fire; I think we'd better get out."

So we gathered our things together, and left. Sure enough, there were smoke and flames pouring from the roof of the adjacent building, and there was some concern that it could spread to the church. But the fire brigade soon arrived, cordoned off the area, and put it out.

In the meantime, we adjourned to the Bayshill pub, where. over cups of coffee, I delivered the address and benediction. It was certainly one for the diary.

Monday, 16 May 2016

"Just Pop Your Card In There, Dear"

This morning, I went into town with the Chair of my congregation, who is 70, but looks younger, to see the borough council about organising waste collections for our new building.

It has also been in my mind that we need to set up a Twitter account for Northampton Unitarians (watch this space) so as I don't know much about Twitter, I decided to buy a simple book about it. The one I found is called Social Networking for the Older Generation.

We went to the till to pay for it, and I became, for the first time, the victim of age dsicrimination. The woman on the till could not have been much younger than me, but I don't think she actually looked at me once. She saw the title of the book, and the whole tone of the transaction was set by it. She adopted a sing-song, cooing tone of voice, and said to me: "Just pop your card in there, dear."

I was so taken aback that instead of challenging her, I meekly did what I was told, completed the transaction, and then lingered to see whether her tone to the person next in the queue (a young man) would be the same.

Needless to say, it wasn't. She was much brisker and normal with him.

It left me thinking about how I treat elderly people. I *hope* that I am not as patronising as that woman - I certainly don't adopt a "special" tone of voice when talking to older people. But it was a real lesson in What Not To Do.