“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

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Honesty - always the best policy?

I have been brought up to believe that honesty is the best policy. It was drummed into me as a child that one should always tell the truth, and that telling lies or acting dishonestly was wrong. The Quaker Advice no. 37 asks:

"Are you honest and truthful in all you say and do? Do you maintain strict integrity in business transactions and in your dealings with individuals and organisations? Do you use money and information entrusted to you with discretion and responsibility?"

And Alfred Hall, in Beliefs of a Unitarian, writes: "Unitarianism is not a system of creeds or beliefs. It is more than anything else an attitude of mind. It is a fresh way of looking at life and religion. ... Its method is that of appeal to reason, conscience and experience generally, and above all to elemental principles of truth and right which are implanted in the human heart at its nobles and embedded in the universe."

So not much room for equivocation then.

I wonder. Perhaps being honest and truthful is generally the best policy, but sometimes, just sometimes, telling a white lie, or even a whopping, great black lie may be the right thing to do. To cite just one example, look at the Dutch, German and other citizens during the Second World War, who hid and protected Jews, and saved their lives, by lying to and deceiving the Nazis.

And I honestly (there's that word again) do believe that sometimes telling a white lie in order to avoid hurting someone's feelings is definitely the best policy. Perhaps the key to knowing when to bend the truth is to use your reason and conscience, and to put what you believe to be right over the simple yes/no of telling a lie or telling the truth. I can see the dangers of this - if we do this, we are having to judge what is right or wrong in each individual case, and sometimes, we don't have enough information at our disposal to make the best decision (or what turns out to be the best decision in the long run).

I don't have any answers. Perhaps the best that any of us can do is to follow the best that we know, and to hope and pray that we will be guided to do and say what is right. May it be so.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Living at the Edge

I've just returned from an amazing week at Summer School, with my spiritual batteries re-charged. The theme for this year was 'Living at the Edge' and the workshop I was in was called 'Recovering Who You Are' and was billed as a reflective writing workshop, taking stock of our lives. Which it was. It was wonderful.

And of course, in the afternoons and evenings there were many other inspirational and fun things to try. But the culmination of the week for me was a Walk to the Edge with Nancy Crumbine and Julie Dadson. The Edge in question was Froggatt Edge in the Derbyshire Peak District, and we were invited to stand at the edge and either ask a question or discard something from our lives. It was an incredibly powerful ritual. It reminded me of that bit of the film Gone with the Wind when Scarlett stands in the ruined fields of Tara after the Civil War and swears "As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again."

On the face of it, standing at Froggatt Edge on a sunny Summer afternoon, with a couple of dozen fellow Unitarians, just wouldn't compare. And yet it did. I threw my promise to the wind and the fields and the limestone and the heather, and I intend to honour it.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Reason and Passion

I love the words of Kahlil Gibran, when he writes: "Your soul is oftentimes a battlefield, upon which your reason and your judgement wage war against your passion and your appetite." I think that this is so true of all of us - at some times we are cool and logical and reasonable, and at others we are fiery and illogical and passionate. And that is as it should be.

In their early years, one of the names that Unitarians were known by was "Rational Dissenters". I looked this term up in Wikipaedia, and was interested to find the following description: " Like moderate Anglicans, they desired an educated ministry and an orderly church, but they based their opinions on reason and the Bible rather than on appeals to tradition and authority. They rejected doctrines such as the Trinity and original sin, arguing that they were irrational. Rational Dissenters believed that Christianity and faith could be dissected and evaluated using the newly emerging discipline of science, and that a stronger belief in God would be the result."

And I absolutely agree that what we believe and how we behave should be subject to our reason and conscience. Yes. But I also believe that there is more to life than being  perfectly reasonable and logical.  Yes, the final authority for an individual's faith should be their own conscience. But I think that this involves our hearts as well as our heads. When I first became a Unitarian, over 30 years ago, I was "converted", if you like, by reading the first section of Alfred Hall's book Beliefs of a Unitarian, when he wrote:

"But above all, it must be known and understood by Unitarianism is not a system of creeds or beliefs. It is more than anything else an attitude of mind. It is a fresh way of looking at life and religion ... It lays the stress on the reliability of the human mind to judge for itself ... Its method is that of appeal to reason, conscience and experience generally, and above all to elemental principles of truth and right which are implanted in the human heart at its noblest and embedded in the universe."

So Hall was saying that what is in our hearts is as important as what is in our heads. Yes. I also believe that there are some things in life that are beyond reason - how we love, how we feel compassion for others, and also, to some extent, what we believe, what gives our lives meaning. I think that both reason and passion are important - I am increasingly finding that while I can reject certain beliefs on the grounds of reason, there are some aspects of "doing religion" or having faith that are beyond reason. For example, I have a growing awareness of God or the Spirit at work in the world. This is on the basis of intuition, not reason, but I believe it is real.

Head and heart together, reason and passion. May we use all our faculties to find wholeness and completion and meaning in our lives.



Thursday, 8 August 2013

Crafted with Love

For the last couple of months, I have been stitching away at a beautiful cross-stitch project. It's called Indian Summer Reflection; it was designed by Martina Weber of Chatelaine Design, and it is exquisite. It's in the form of a mandala, and I'm working from the centre outwards. Last night, I got to a certain point, and decided to take a photo of it and post it in a stitching group I'm a member of on Facebook. But because I'm not particularly au fait with posting photos and such, I posted it to my own timeline first, then shared it with the group.

And received a beautiful benediction from a Facebook friend: "patiently creating such a lovely mandala is a great way to honour your life, your achievements and who you are."

Which made me think about the power of creative art of all kinds to transform lives, not only those of people who see the finished work, but also those of the crafters and artists. I certainly feel at peace when I am stitching and try to stitch mindfully.

And then, by that marvellous serendipity that I am learning to recognise as grace, another friend posted these words by Kent Nerburn, from his Letters to my Son:

"I can measure my life by the moments when art transformed me—standing in front of Michelangelo’s Duomo pieta, listening to Dylan Thomas read his poetry, hearing Bach’s cello suites for the first time.
But not only there.

Sitting at a table in a smoky club listening to Muddy Waters and Little Walter talk back and forth to each other through their instruments…standing n a clapboard gift shop on the edge of Hudson Bay staring at a crudely carved Inuit image of a bear turning into a man.
... It can happen anywhere, anytime. You do not have to be in some setting hallowed by greatness, or in the presence of an artist honored around the world. Art can work its magic any time you are in the presence of a work created by someone who has gone inside the act of creation to become what they are creating. When this takes place time stands still and if our hearts are open to the experience, our spirits soar and then our imaginations fly unfettered.

You need these moments if you are ever to have a life that is more than the sum of the daily moments of humdrum affairs. 
If you can create these moments—if you are a painter or a poet or a musician or an actor [or a dancer]—you carry within you a prize of great worth. If you cannot create them, you must learn to love one of the arts in a way that allows the power of another’s creation to come alive within you."
 And I felt as though God himself had reached down and pasted a star on my forehead.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Dance of the Butterflies

The white buddleia bush in our back garden is alive with butterflies - cabbage whites, peacocks, red admirals and others I cannot name. They spend the hours of sunlight swirling and diving around the bush, feeding ecstatically on the white flowers. It is a wonderful sight.

Cover Photo
(photo: Maz Woolley)

Every year, for a few short weeks, this beautiful visitation happens. This morning, I was doing the washing up, gazing through the kitchen window at the butterflies' graceful dance, and wondering why they like the buddleia so much. I know that it is nicknamed "the butterfly bush", so I googled the question and found:

"They love Buddleia because it produces nectar that has a higher content of sucrose, glucose, and fructose than many other garden flowers; in particular Buddleia generally has a higher sucrose level (two or three times higher than fructose or glucose) and that is what attracts butterflies. However, Buddleia do not produce much nectar, which is why we see butterflies spending so much time on a particular plant. It is also worth mentioning that usually only the larger butterflies visit Buddleia, this is because the tiny individual flowers of Buddleia are relatively long and the smaller butterflies simply can't reach their proboscis far enough into the flower to extract the sucrose laden nectar." (from the Buddleia.net website)

So butterflies are sugar junkies, and love the buddleia because it produces sugar-rich nectar. I am so glad that it does, because their beautiful dance lifts my heart, and makes me rejoice to be in the world.