“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, 30 September 2011

How little it takes to make a difference

It is amazing how little it takes to make a difference to the feel and shape of someone's day. Today I went to visit a friend in hospital, and, as is customary (or so I thought) I took her a bunch of flowers. Only to learn that flowers on wards are now strictly forbidden because of "water contamination". So I had to take them away again. But at least my friend realised that I had been thinking of her.

My original thought had been to stick them back on the back seat of my car, and take them back home with me. But then, at the main entrance to the hospital, I walked past two women (I guess mother and grown-up daughter) who were obviously waiting for a taxi or something. On impulse, I presented the older lady with the flowers. And her whole face lit up: "It's my birthday on Monday!" she said. So I wished her a happy birthday and went on my way.

I love the words of Frederick Buechner about how we act towards strangers can have a real knock-on effect. he writes: "As we move around this world and as we act with kindness, perhaps, or with indifference or with hostility towards the people we meet, we are setting the great spider web atremble. The life I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops, or in what far place my touch will be felt."

It is lovely to think that perhaps my gift of flowers to that woman might have that sort of impact on her day, and hence on those around her. It also made my day - her happiness made me feel good! It is amazing how little it takes to make a difference - to my life, and to that of others. May I live to make it so.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The Power of Poetry

Somebody once defined poetry as "the best words in the best order" and I have to agree. I have just been introduced to the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke (specifically his Book of Hours: Love Poems to God in a lovely translation by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy) and have been blown away by them.

Rainer Maria Rilke

So many beautiful images, which really speak to my condition. Reading slowly through the book this morning was a huge pleasure, and I feel spiritually nourished. Let me share just one of his poems:

"I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.

I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
I've been circling for thousands of years
and I still don't know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?"

Most of the poems are quite short, but are deceptively deep, conjuring up some beautiful images of the relationship between God and humankind. The only other poet who has had this effect on me is Hafiz, the great 14th century Sufi master, whose poetry is likewise intimate and challenging at one and the same time. And I am filled with gratitude for this gift.

Dear God,
Thank you for giving us the power to create,
and to share with each other,
words which delight and inspire.

And thank you for poets,
whose words can ravish our hearts and minds,
shaking up our images of the world,
so that they fall in a new and different pattern,
enriching our lives.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Come, ye thankful people, come!

Today I went for a walk in the fields around our village with a friend. All the wheat had been harvested, and the fields were looking bleached and untidy. It made me appreciate anew the miracle of the cycle of the seasons, which it is so easy to forget if the eyes of your mind are closed to the changes around you. And it made me think ...

Harvest Festival at Dudley Old Meeting House

I think it is a shame that Western society has grown so far away from the rhythm of the seasons, and the agricultural cycle. Even when I was a child, which I know my children think was in the Dark Ages, but really isn’t so long ago, harvest still meant something, at least to a child brought up in the countryside.

But now, ask anyone where their food comes from, and they are likely to reply "from the supermarket". You can buy pretty much anything all the year round - strawberries in December, parsnips in June. but this universal bounty has its downside. We have lost contact with the changing order of the season - and I think it is a loss. The Western demand for all kinds of everything all the year round has had far-reaching effects all over the world. Farmers in developing countries now grow "cash crops" such as coffee and bananas, instead of food to feed themselves and their families.

So why do we in our modern industrialised society still celebrate Harvest Festival? Is it out of a feeling of nostalgia for a more structured past, one in which the seasons followed each other in order, and still meant something? I think it is significant that it is the only pre-Christian festival still widely celebrated in Christian churches. I believe that in spite of our outward severance from the cycle of the season, our innermost selves still believe in its importance, and like to mark it in this way.

A prayer for Harvest time:
Creator of all, we thank you for once again bringing the annual miracle of growth to fruition.
We thank you for the sunshine and the rain, combining to nurture the plants and help them to grow.
We thank you for the good soil of the earth, which feeds the seeds and enables them to burgeon and bear fruit.
Make us aware that we are the guardians of the earth; that it is the only one we have; and that it is our duty to preserve it for future generations.
Help us to make wise choices, so that we can save what we still have; and try to put back something of what we and past generations have squandered.
Remind us that we are the lucky ones, with full bellies, clean water and full store cupboards; help us to remember that for the vast majority of the world’s people, such things are a luxury beyond imagining.
Help us to turn our prayers into action; to put our money where our mouth is; and to strive for a fairer world.
Creator of all, hear our prayer. Amen

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Moving Forward With Hope

Today is the 10th anniversary of the acts of mindless violence which have come to be known as "9/11", and there has been much coverage of it in the media. All day today in the US, special ceremonies are taking place at Ground Zero in New York, where the twin towers of the World Trade Center used to stand, which has become in a very particular way, hallowed ground.

One of the two memorial pools

Today a memorial is being dedicated, based on the footprints of the twin towers. The holes have been turned into memorials to the nearly 3,000 dead, their sides engraved with their names, which are movingly arranged by friendship or association, rather than alphabetically.

Rev. Donna Schaper, Senior Minister at Judson Memorial Church, near Ground Zero, shared a hopeful reflection on the Daily Devotions website yesterday, which sums up my hopes for the future. I choose to share her words, rather than writing my own, as this feels more fitting on this particular day:

"Across the street from Judson Memorial Church, on the South End of Washington Square Park, a seven-storey Spiritual Life Center is opening at New York University. Jews, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and more will cohabit a space. Students will learn a new way of campus ministry. We joke about whether such ecumenicity is too close or too far from ground zero. Framed between this new building and our own rises a new smaller tower at the World Trade Center. From the arch at Washington Square Park North, you see all three buildings, as though they were always there, as though we hadn't lived through a decade of emptiness in the sky or immature religion on the ground, and Americans, Afghanis and Iraqis uselessly dead in wars no-one really understands. The artists and architects have given us what we couldn't find ourselves. They have shown us a new sky and a new scape. From these we will also draw a new spirit, a mature religion, and a revenge-free way of living under one sky.

God of earth and air and sky and water, God whom no one faith can capture, draw near and let this next decade be one of remembering how much we love each other. Help us beyond high-priced, useless revenge into free and abundant relationship. Amen."

May it be so. Amen