“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

Thursday, 28 July 2011

High above the Clouds

Flying across the Atlantic, high above the snowfield of clouds last week, I had some thoughts:

I reflect on the manmade-ness of human time. Because humans have divided the world into time zones, I will be going back in time five hours during this journey. Yet from my window I can see the engine and wing moving serenely forwards over the endless miles of fluffy white clouds.

Another odd thing is the strong inclination of my brain to "make sense" of what my eyes are seeing, so for example at this moment, I could swear that I was looking out over the snow to the sea in the distance, and beyond that, the blue horizon. There are clouds overhead, and another aircraft is leaving a vapour trail high above us. We seem to be crawling along, hardly moving, but I know we are travelling at hundreds of miles an hour, completing a journey across the Atlantic in hours rather than days.

A break in the clouds below looks like a blue lake. ... Just now there was a proper break in the clouds, and to my amazement I could see the sea, thousands of feet below. 'The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls.'- thank you, Susan Cooper.

It was a wonderful experience - I was so grateful for the majesty and awesomeness of it all.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Coming Down to Earth

I have just spent a wonderfully stimulating and spiritual week on Star Island, off the coast of New Hampshire, on the Lifespan Religious Education conference. The setting was beautiful (even if the weather was about twice as hot as I would have liked), the workshop I was attending (on using social media intelligently to spread the Unitarian word, led by the dynamic Peter Bowden http://www.uugrowth.com/  ) was exciting and stimulating and insightful, and I have made many new UU friends, which is lovely.

Now I am home, having slept the clock round, and work and domesticity beckon. My heart and half of my mind are still on Star, but there are so many things I need to do here. E-mails to respond to, reports and a newsletter to write, shopping, washing and ironing to do. So I need to re-focus.

As so often, I turn to the Quaker Advices and Queries for advice. And I find two sentences which give me the answers I need:

"Seek to know an inward stillness, even amid the activities of daily life." and

"Be aware of the spirit of God at work in the ordinary activities and experience of your daily life."

These give me the power to come back down from the spiritual high I have been on for the last week, and to re-connect with the mundane and everyday tasks of my life, and to do so happily, without regret. I can look back on my week on Star Island with joy, and with a little wistfulness, but here is where I belong, where I must do "the something I can do."

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Be ye therefore perfect

I've just been writing my last essay for Regent's Park College, about Pelagius and St. Augustine. Pelagius was a late 4th century British monk, who acquired quite a following in the dying days of the Roman Empire for proclaiming that humankind had free will to choose to do right, and the responsibility to follow all the law and the teachings of the Gospel. And ran up against Augustine of Hippo, who believed that we are all rotten with the taint of original sin, totally unable to do anything right except through God's grace. Guess which one I am in sympathy with?

The thing I found very interesting is that both Pelagius and one of my all-time heroes, 19th century American Unitarian minister Theodore Parker, were both inspired by the same bit of Matthew's gospel: "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." (Matt 5:48) Both men believed that humankind has the potential to be perfect, otherwise God would not have commanded us to strive for it. There is an absolutely beautiful passage in Theodore Parker's address The Transient and Permanent in Christianity, which goes like this:

"Christianity is a simple thing, very simple. It is absolute, pure morality; absolute, pure religion; the love of man; the love of God acting without let or hindrance. Its watchword is, Be perfect as your Father in heaven. The only form it demands is a divine life; doing the best thing in the best way, from the highest motives; perfect obedience to the great law of God."

What a challenge! And what an inspiration! Whenever I read those words, it makes me want to sit up straight, and do better.

One of the authors of the books on St Augustine that I was reading for the essay accused Pelagius of a sort of "icy Puritanism", in which there was no room for backsliders and ordinary, everyday, weak, sinful human beings. And I guess I see his point. The sort of church I want to belong to would have the high aims of Pelagius and Theodore Parker to inspire us to do the best we can in all the ways that we can, but also some cradling arms and listening ears to catch the broken and the fallen, and help them back up. Otherwise it could be terribly judgemental, and holier-than-thou, which is not what our inclusive, loving denomination is about.