“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, 27 May 2011

Transcending Boundaries

This week I was invited to speak to a small Christian house-group which is attached to the ecumenical church of Christ the Cornerstone in Milton Keynes. Two members of the group come along to Northampton Unitarians on 2nd and 4th Sundays, and they wanted the rest of the group to learn a little about Unitarianism. So I went.

It was a good experience - the half dozen or so people there learned a bit about Unitarianism, and I learned that there is a very wide range of beliefs within the Christian witness, and a heartening amount of mutual tolerance and inclusiveness.

As a result of that talk, I went to have a look at the Christ the Cornerstone website, which was fascinating. Five Christian denominations - Roman Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, Methodist and United Reformed - "are covenanted together to share their life in worship, understanding of each other and service to the community and to the wider world" to quote the home page. They seem to co-exist happily and peacefully in one ecumenical building. The four Protestant denominations lead ecumenical Protestant worship, taking it in turns. The Catholic members are expected to attend their own services, but are also able to attend the ecumenical services. They are also good on social witness and outreach, being involved in many aspects of the Milton Keynes community.

The church has loads of activities going on, including Friday lunchtime Prayers for Peace, in the little side chapel, which I have just attended. Led by a lovely Northern Irish lady who has just returned from a trip to Jerusalem, the readings and prayers came from many different faith traditions, and I could join in with a clear conscience. It was an interval of peace in a busy week, for which I am grateful.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Relishing Small Victories

I'm not usually superstitious, but last Friday (the 13th) I got two pieces of bad news - not heart-shaking or life-changing, but two bits of news I didn't want to hear. And it got me down. In fact it made me feel quite sorry for myself, and hence self-centred. Thanks to the timely wisdom and compassion of a friend, I managed to get myself back into a healthier head-space, and not take my disappointment out on anyone else.

But it made me wonder about how vulnerable we all are to the rollercoaster that is life (to coin a cliche). We often lack the spiritual resilience to roll with the punches and to bounce back from small disappointments. I think we need to learn to be on the lookout for small things that go right, rather than beating ourselves up about every tiny little thing that goes wrong. At least I do. One of my favourite sources of spiritual wisdom is the poem Desiderata by Max Ehrmann. In this context, I'm particularly thinking of the lines

"Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans" and

"Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself"

Luckily for me, I was able to enjoy an achievement this morning - I ran a hilly 3 miles in 31:30, which for me was immensely satisfying. Running has this ability to take me out of my everyday preoccupations and make me concentrate more purely on relishing small victories - on a bad running day, just getting round the course is enough, on a good day, when I run a good time (for me) it's great. But either way, every run represents a small victory that I can take pleasure in. I know that I am so blessed to have this resource. For other people, it may be sorting socks into pairs, or cooking a perfect omelette, or the first time your child manages to do up their own shoes - doesn't matter what it is, so long as we are aware that we have achieved something, and take time out to celebrate that.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Moderation and Mindfulness

"Try to live simply. A simple lifestyle, freely chosen is a source of strength."

In recent days, I have been reflecting on these short sentences from the Quaker Advices and Queries. In the nearly three months that have passed since I became an ex-smoker (you are never a non-smoker; it is like being an alcoholic - one will always be too many) I have been fairly indulgent about what I have eaten and drunk telling myself that I "deserve" this cake or that glass of wine, "as a reward". As a result of this, I have put on a few pounds, and have now reached the stage where all my clothes are feeling somewhat snugger than I would like. And as I cannot afford a new wardrobe, I have decided to say "Stop" and go on (yet another) diet.

Looking back over the twenty years since my son was born, I have been on many diets, always to lose the same 7-14 pounds. At the moment, to my secret horror, I weigh the same as I did when I was six months' pregnant (although I don't look it). I would just like to get back under 9 stone, which would be a healthy weight for my height. But because I "only" need to lose 10 or 12 pounds, and because most of my clothes still fit (more or less) I have been quietly sabotaging myself. I have realised that I am usually fine during the day, when I am busy, but that it is when sit down in the evening that I "reward" myself for being good all day by eating and drinking all the wrong things - wine, chocolate, crisps. So I need to make better choices.

So I am going to try to consciously and mindfully adopt a more "simple lifestyle, freely chosen" and make healthy eating and drinking choices for six days out of every seven. Then, on the seventh, I am going to enjoy some red wine and chocolate or even a curry to prove that I can eat "what I like" without going hog-wild, and without sabotaging myself.

It may sound odd to relate this resolution to religion or spirituality, but I do feel as though I have been gently nudged in the right direction by Someone. Perhaps that is what being mindful means - attending to the sacred in everyday life, however mundane it may seem.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Endings and Beginnings

Yesterday was the first session of my last term at Harris Manchester College Oxford, where I am training to be a Unitarian minister. My two fellow students, Jim and Sheena, will be carrying on next year, and I felt quite sad to realise that I would no longer be with them. When I got home last night, there was an e-mail waiting from my Baptist friend Jennie, whose training to be a Baptist minister is likewise drawing to a close, and she was feeling sad and a little wistful too.

When I first heard that I had been accepted for ministry training, I was thrilled, but also quite apprehensive. A friend who is a minister warned "it will change you" and she was right. It is almost impossible to describe how, but now, nearly two years later, I do feel like a different person. I'm looking at the world from a different space, and it fills me with awe and gratitude and not a little wonder. I feel so blessed in having the opportunity to share the amazing faith that is Unitarianism with others, and I pray, that in however small a way, I will be able to keep the flame alight in the years to come.