“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

Monday, 29 December 2014

"I know what love is"

Yesterday, I watched Forrest Gump for the very first time with my kids, and was blown away by it. I was utterly captivated from first to last. Tom Hanks is superb, and never steps out of character for an instant. The reviewer in The Radio Times calls him "the semi-literate Everyman who drifts through recent American history", which sort of describes him, but it misses his beautiful simplicity.


What sticks with me is his oft-quoted: "Mamma said: 'Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.'"

And he never does know. He is the ultimate example of somebody who goes with the flow, so long as it doesn't interfere with his loyalties and principles, which are fierce and fundamental. He never quite realises the incidental impact his actions have on others.

Among other things, and purely by accident, he teaches the young Elvis Presley to dance, participates in civil rights history at the University of Alabama, gives John Lennon the lyrics to Imagine, and helps to trigger the scandal that was Watergate.

His impact on those he loves is much greater, but again, how much of it is deliberate, and how much is just a by-product of his character, is open to question. He only ever wants to be happy with the people he loves and respects, and who have been kind to him. And the results are extraordinary.

In a way, I quite envy him. As he says, "I'm not a smart man - but I know what love is." There are worse ways of going through life.





I

Friday, 26 December 2014

Excuses to Celebrate

Father Christmas brought my daughter a rather wonderful calendar. Which was chosen on the strength of its front cover, which reads: "To do: 1. Change world 2. Eat pizza"


But oh my goodness, it is so much more wonderful than that. The creator, Rachel Bright of Bright Soul Ltd., has included a lot of funny (or quirky) days to celebrate throughout the year. So I've copied some of them into an exquisite Illuminated Book of Days which my dearly beloved gave me for Christmas. Here are some of my favourites:

  • Start a trend day
  • Give a compliment to a stranger day
  • Get out of your comfort zone day
  • Plant something and watch it grow day
  • Simple pleasures day (immediately followed by)
  • Complicated pleasures day
  • Wild abandon day
  • Treat your body like a temple day
  • Make something from scratch day
  • Be lovely to everyone day
  • Notice small things day
  • Start getting excited about Christmas day (3rd December)
I intend to post notices about these on Facebook, throughout 2015, as and when they arise, as I think they're a lovely idea. And no more random than saints' days, or Fair Trade Fortnight, or One World Week.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Silent Night, Holy Truce

Today I, and other ministers and worship leaders across the country, will be leading a Christmas service with a difference. I will be commemorating that special day in 1914, when ordinary soldiers at the Front "all the way from the North Sea to Switzerland" decided that their common humanity, their common Christianity, was more important than continuing to fight each other.


The Martin Luther King Peace Committee sent round a marvellous resource pack, entitled Silent Night, Holy Truce, from which I have obtained most of the material for the service. And I would like to share some words from this, and to reflect on them:

"Although the most famous, the Christmas truces weren't isolated incidents. They followed weeks of unofficial fraternisation by soldiers who discovered that, rather than being monsters, the other side were men like themselves, with a preference for staying alive rather than dying. Common humanity oftentimes broke through the propaganda images perpetrated by both sides. Throughout the entire war, many combatants managed, through the so-called 'live-and-let-live' system, to reduce discomfort and risk by complicated local truces and tacit understandings that enraged the high commands on both sides. Nonetheless, the truces are a key moment in the history of the period that reopened the possibility of a Europe based on peace and solidarity rather than imperial violence and nationalism.

We argue that the impromptu Christmas worship services held in no-man's land offer a glimpse of the church as it is meant to be, a new nation of peacemakers uniting former enemies in love and friendship as they celebrate the birth of Jesus."

And we Unitarians today can witness for peace too. Many individuals and congregations are members of the Unitarian Peace Fellowship, founded in the darkest days of the First World War. Members of the UPF "witness for peace and against the futility of war. Today our vision includes the ethos and values of the Charter for Compassion. The surest route to peace is through the compassion of human beings for each other, and for all living things. We support and encourage Unitarians in their witness for Peace and Compassion, locally, nationally, and internationally."

In this year of the centenary of the "war to end all wars", various countries around the world are in a state of bitter conflict with each other, or with themselves. The recent tragic massacre in Peshawar is just the most recent example of this. The efforts of everyone who believes in the possibility of world peace are needed, now more than ever. So that the sacrifice that the men in the Great War made, should not be altogether wasted.

I wish you a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy and Peaceful New Year.









Saturday, 13 December 2014

The Gift of Life

Yesterday I did something very simple, which I should have done years ago. It didn't cost anything, it hardly hurt at all, and it didn't take very long. But it could make a huge difference to somebody else.


Yes, I gave blood. I used to be a regular donor, back in the 1980s, but kept passing out after donating (I weighed considerably less in those days) so in the end they told me to stop going. Life went on, and I forgot all about it. Until a friend posted on Facebook that she had given blood, which gave me the nudge needed to go online and investigate.

I have to say, I was incredibly impressed by the professionalism of it all. I had to fill out a long form, and was then questioned about my answers. For example, we had been on holiday to Turkey in March, and they wanted to know which part I had visited, and which airport I had flown out of. I've also just been referred for possible minor surgery on my knee, so there were questions about that. I had to drink a pint of water before donating, and also have a finger-prick blood test, to see whether my iron levels were sufficiently high. Only when the staff were satisfied that I was fit to donate, was I led to a special reclining chair. The actual process took about eight or nine minutes, and I was given a bandage to roll around my hand to stimulate blood flow, and also told to clench and unclench my buttocks constantly (apparently this helps keep the blood pressure low). Between the bandage rolling and the buttock clenching, time passed fairly quickly. It was like trying to rub your stomach and pat your head at the same time. Hilarious!

Then I was returned to the upright position very slowly and waved over to another part of the hall, where I was given a cold drink and told to help myself to any of a selection of high-carb snacks. When they were sure I was OK, and was feeling fine, I was allowed to leave. And was given a little leaflet Important Safety Information after you have given blood. The standard of care at every stage was impressive.

As I say, very professional. So I'm booked in again for the beginning of May - you're allowed to give blood every four months. I'm just glad to have done it, and only wish I hadn't waited so long. Donations drop over the Christmas / New Year season, which is sad, as it is one of the times of peak demand.

If you are fit and healthy, why not give it a try? The website is www.blood.co.uk  This is a case in which the advertising slogan "every little helps" really is true. Apparently, one donation could save three lives.


Thursday, 11 December 2014

Letting Go

On this day, two short weeks before Christmas, many of us will be feeling stressed out and tired, as we rush around, trying to get everything "just right" for the season. But I'm going to try something else, just for once, and just let go.

It is very easy to spend our lives chasing after the next thing that needs doing, the next goal that presents itself to us, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. As biological animals, we move forwards through time, and it is natural for us to look to the future. But I am afraid that this is often at the expense of appreciating what we have in the present. This is certainly true in my case. I always have a to-do list on the go, and have to consciously include a weekly half-day Sabbath on it, so that I can let go, and spend some time just being. If I miss that half-day, I am noticeably tenser, and more fratchety.


This is why I adore the words of the poem Camas Lilies by Unitarian Universalist minister Lynn Ungar, which I came across the other day: "What of your rushed and useful life? Imagine setting it all down - papers, plans, appointments, everything - leaving only a note: 'Gone to the fields to be lovely. Be back when I'm through with blooming.'"

"Gone to the fields to be lovely. Be back when I'm through with blooming." Such a fabulous reminder that actually there are other things than the current task, which are just as important, if our lives are to be rich and meaningful, rather than rushed and pressured.

I am slowly coming to recognise that many of the pressures in our lives (certainly many of the  pressures in my life) are self-inflicted. It is my distracted self who chases after material possessions, who needs to be in control, who perpetually worries about the next thing, who strives after perfection, and who finds it hard to let go of old regrets and grievances. I'm doing it all to myself.

I'm beginning to realise that the starting point for breaking out of all this pressure, for getting away from all this self-inflicted stress, is Just Letting Go. Relinquishing control, stepping out of the centre, sitting still, and letting nothing happen. It involves trust - trust that things will work out without my help, trust that God has got my back.

And it's a slow process. I'm sitting for half-an-hour every morning, trying (or not trying) to just be, and trusting that eventually I'll get something out of it. Trying to let go of the need to succeed. Just breathing, and listening to the silence.





Sunday, 30 November 2014

My Unexpected Friday

Over the last few months, an old friend and I have established a very pleasant routine. We meet at 10.30 am on the last Friday of the month for coffee and cake in town, and spend an enjoyable couple of hours exchanging news about our lives - the books we've read, how our respective jobs are going, and how our husbands and children-no-longer-children are doing. It is a very civilised custom.

So this Friday just gone (28th), I innocently drove into town, and was surprised to have to go all the way up to Level 4 of my normal car park, instead of finding a space further down. But I put it down to the imminence of Christmas - maybe people were trying to get their present shopping done before the rush.


I had read about Black Friday on Facebook, but had genuinely not appreciated the fact that the British retail industry and the media between them had persuaded the gullible British public to buy into this quintessentially American Day (we do not, after all, celebrate Thanksgiving).

So my friend and I enjoyed our usual coffee and chat, after which I wandered into M&S to spend a voucher I had recently been given by generous friends.

Which was when the penny finally dropped, and I realised that Black Friday had come to the UK. There was a very good sale in the Per Una section of M&S, and I picked up three items of clothing for the usual price of one, which was very satisfactory. And although it was quite busy, it was not manic.

It was not until I got home and logged onto Facebook that I realised what kind of collective insanity had apparently taken hold of a large section of the British population. Shocking scenes of people fighting over (and *with*) 42" TVs were being reported. It was like the Boxing Day sales had come early and madly.

You may think it hypocritical of me to comment, as I benefited from Black Friday myself. My defence is that it was purely accidental, and that I only spent the voucher I had been given, which I would have spent that day anyway.

The question I am left with is why?

Why have British retailers decided to import this American custom, at a time of year when a lot of people are buying stuff for Christmas anyway, at full price?

Why are British people so willing to be influenced by the media? Yes, I get that there were some very good bargains to be had, but fighting in the aisles? Over consumer goods?

It makes me sad that, as somebody remarked on Facebook, if you camp out for a social justice issue (remember Occupy a few years ago?) you are seen as a leftie drop-out, but if you buy into a media-induced retail frenzy, losing your veneer of civilisation along the way, that is perfectly acceptable.


Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Big Brother Is Alive and Well

The other evening, I was relaxing with my significant other, after a very busy weekend, idly leafing through the paper. When my attention was caught by a headline on the front of the Weekend section (we buy one paper on a Saturday, and it lasts us all week). It read: "Teenwatch: How to spy on your children."


The article, which I read with mounting horror, explained about new technology that parents can use, to "keep kids under surveillance 24/7", including software that can monitor their online lives, including monitoring and reading calls and texts and e-mails, looking at their browsing history online, hidden CCTV cameras around the house (even in the teenagers' bedrooms - ewww!), electronic wristbands that they have to wear when they are out of the house in the evening (like tagging prisoners) and an app called Ignore No More, which "disables their phones remotely if they do not answer me." There is even a device marketed by Teenwatch, which you attach to your teenager's car, and can monitor if he/she brakes sharply or swerves. (I've checked on Google, and these apps are Real!)

Oh. My. God. Even Orwell could not have dreamt this stuff up. What in God's name is going on? I shared some of the article with my husband, and he was as shocked and horrified as I am. I mean, what the blimmin' heck happened to respect for privacy? To trust? Do these parents *really* not realise that all they are doing is making their children hate them, and wish to deceive them? If we had ever tried any of this on our two (not that I would ever have dreamed of it) I am *sure* they would have left home / tried every way possible to get round the devices (for example, by buying a cheap pay-as-you-go mobile for use, and not sharing the number).

Or if the children are accepting this, because they too have bought into the lie that we live in a terrifying world in which nobody can be trusted, then that is even worse. I tremble for the future, if this is what it is going to look like ...




Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Poppies for Remembrance and for Resolution

Throughout the country on Sunday, and yesterday, people wore a poppy to mark Remembrance Sunday / Armistice Day. It is one of the most potent symbols we have. I wore two poppies on both days - one red, and one white. And I would like to explain why. What colour poppy you wear, and indeed, whether you wear a poppy at all, seems to have become more and more politicised in recent years, which I find very sad.


 The red poppy is the more traditional one, sold by the Royal British Legion throughout the land. According to their current publicity, by buying and wearing a red poppy, the wearer is choosing to help bereaved families, wounded service men and women, younger veterans seeking employment and housing, and older veterans needing age-related care, to Live On.

And that is great, and I would support all those aims. I believe that we should honour the fallen, from all wars, and from all countries. In the words of Chris Goacher, "We gather in thankful remembrance of those who have sacrificed their lives for the freedom and safety of others." But I believe that we also need to find a better answer to the question posed by Canon Dick Sheppard, in 1936: "Of what would they wish us to think? Not that they were heroes; not that there was any special virtue in the manner of their dying; not of the tragedy of youth snuffed out; not even that we loved them, and still remember. They would wish us to think of what they died for."

The dead of the First World War died in a "war to end all wars." And yet, twenty years later, precisely because of the way the politicians made the peace after 1918, Europe and the world were embroiled in war once again, and all the sacrifice came to naught.

I am a pacifist, but I do believe that part of the meaning of Remembrance Sunday is that we should also remember the men and women who are currently serving in the armed forces, the world over, and acknowledge the high price they pay to defend us. Many do not return, and of those who do, many bear the physical and mental scars of conflict for the rest of their lives. And so do their families. And that deserves my respect.

What I am not so happy about is the adoption of the symbol of the red poppy by far-right organisations such as Britain First, or about the cynical fashion in which the present government is using it to make themselves look good. Nor about the underlying nationalism that has come to be associated with it. Nor am I happy about folk being criticised for not wearing one - surely it should be a matter of conscience? After all, nobody is criticised for not wearing (for example) a pink ribbon to support breast cancer awareness, or a Pudsey Bear badge to support Children in Need, so why should the poppy be different?

The white poppy is a symbol of peace. White Poppies for Peace made their first appearance on Armistice Day in 1933. With the rising domestic and international tensions at the time, concern grew that the war to end all wars, in which so many had died, would now be followed by an even worse war. The white poppy was an expression of that concern, and became a symbol of our inability to settle conflicts without resorting to killing, but more importantly, a symbol of hope and commitment to work for a world where better, more peaceful answers could be found. The white poppy’s aim is to promote debate and rally support for resistance to war. And as Secretary of the Unitarian Peace Fellowship, I am proud to wear my white poppy.


Some Unitarians today also wear a purple poppy. These are sold by Animal Aid, who explain "Throughout history, animals have suffered and died as a result of human conflicts. Animals killed as a result of human conflict are not heroes but victims. They do not give their lives, their lives are taken." I honour this position too, and may well wear a purple poppy next year, alongside the red and white.

The point of all this is, it doesn't matter so much what colour poppy you wear. What matters is whether wearing one and remembering the fallen, makes you want to work for a better world, in which veterans are looked after and respected, and governments really try to work for peace, instead of reaching for war as an off-the-shelf solution to the latest international problem.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Belief and Faith

"Belief" and "faith" are two words that are much used in religious circles.


The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines belief as "trust or confidence (in); acceptance of any received theology; acceptance (of thing, fact, statement, etc.) as true or existing."

It defines faith as "1. reliance on or trust in; belief founded on authority. 2. (Theol.) belief in religious doctrines, esp. such as affects character and conduct, spiritual apprehension of divine truth apart from proof; system of religious belief."

So are they much of a muchness? Well, no, according to a fascinating book I've been reading this week, called Writing the Sacred Journey. The author, Elizabeth J. Andrew, points out that what you believe and how you orient your life (what you put your faith in) can be two very different things. She writes: "Belief can be an extension of faith, but it can also exist in our heads and our verbalised convictions, quite separate from the true alignment of our hearts."

To take an example from my own life, I believe that our planet is endangered because of our profligate use of, well, just about everything, but I do not always make the most eco-friendly choices when I'm shopping, perhaps because I'm in  a hurry, or it's less convenient, or the greener product is more expensive. In which case, my actions are contrary to my stated beliefs.

I think that this is an important distinction to make, and to be aware of, as for me, the whole point of our spiritual and religious journey is to move towards living as authentically as we can, in accordance with our most deeply held beliefs and values. Whenever we *say* that we believe something or believe in  something, but our actions are quite different, there is a dissonance between belief and faith, and we are not living authentically, as I believe that God / the Spirit wants us to.







Thursday, 30 October 2014

Jello Neclu

I am wondering when I should get measured up for the zimmer frame. I was out with my daughter today, and somebody texted me. I answered in my customary one-fingered, slow, fashion, and she had hysterics. She pointed out that it would be so much easier if I used both thumbs, and suggested that I tried to send her a text using that method.


So I tried to input "Hello Becky". Except that it came out "Jello Neclu". Oh. 

Also, she is 20 years old this month, which means I am no longer the mother of any teenagers, but the mother of two young people in their twenties. And my knees hurt, and I stiffen up if I sit in one place too long, and I don't have as much stamina as I used to have. Oh dear.

I honestly feel that Jello Neclu really sums up the difference between our generations. Any mobile phone skills that I possess have been acquired over time, and with some difficulty. Whereas my daughter and son seem to be attached to theirs by an invisible umbilical cord, and use them for everything, all the time. And to acquire instant proficiency with each new one they get. 

And I keep mine on all the time, solely so that if either of them wants to get in touch, they can. 

They keep theirs on all the time because they are their lifeline to the wider world.

I do believe that mobile phones are a blessing for keeping in touch with a few special people when you're out and about. But that's it, really. And I cannot help thinking that the time they spend glued to their mobiles might be better spent looking at and interacting with the world around them. I guess I'm just old and out of touch.


But I do love my Sabbath mornings, when I don't turn on the computer, put my mobile on silent, don't have the radio or TV on, and spend the time reading, journalling, stitching, walking in nature. Just being. Not in reaction to anyone else, just being me. 

It is precious time, time, to be mindful, time that I couldn't get if I was stopping every few minutes to answer a text or an e-mail or respond to a Facebook update. I love doing these things, but I also love my time alone, just being. 

Just. Being.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

When Will We Ever Learn?

It is easy to preach peace in time of peace and war in time of war. What is harder is to decide once and for all to repudiate war, and to stick to it, no matter what. Is there ever a 'just war'? I honestly don't know. But I know darn well, that even if the war starts off as fulfilling the Just War criteria, it doesn't stay that way for long.


 Listen to the words of Martin Bell, writing on the Movement for the Abolition of War website: "We have reached a state of affairs where for our own survival, and that of our planet, we cannot afford a future like our past.  We face new forces, of global warming and nuclear proliferation, which threaten our future as never before. I suggest there is a further danger, perhaps less obvious and unperceived, but just as far-reaching in its implications: this is that, for those who govern us, war has become not a last, desperate resort when all else has failed, but a policy option to be plucked off the shelf like any other. We have seen this most recently and appallingly in the war in Iraq. ... It was a war of choice - just as the Great War of 1914-18 was a war of choice."

It is now generally accepted that World War One was a senseless waste of human life. But most folk would argue that World War Two was justified, on the grounds that Hitler had to be stopped. However, like most wars, this too soon got out of hand, and both sides bombed civilians indiscriminately, culminating in the unprecedented horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


And today, this country, the United Kingdom, is one of the major players in selling armaments to the world, being the second biggest exporter after the United States. For example, as Jo Lewington writes: "The tension between India and Pakistan makes South Asia one of the most volatile regions of the world, yet the UK supplies arms to both countries. UK Government officials and ministers, of both major parties, actively promote these sales, with personal interventions and an active presence at arms fairs in both countries." We are also one of the two leading exporters of arms to Israel. Not a record to be proud of.

Which makes it ever more important that the witness for peace should be heard.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Such Sweet Sorrow

It is never easy to say goodbye, and to move on, even when it is necessary, and when what you're moving on to is going to be really good. But such is life.


For a reason which I don't need to go into here, I'm stepping down from my role as Secretary of the Unitarian Association for Lay Ministry, which I've held for the past six years. That November evening in 2008, a few members of the nearly defunct Unitarian Association of Lay Leaders met at Great Hucklow, determined to keep the association going. Because we knew how important it was for lay worship leaders to have someone they could turn to, for advice and support.

At that AGM in 2008, it was decided that a name change was required, to reflect the Association's broadening remit. Our new name, Unitarian Association for Lay Ministry, was chosen to indicate that we see our principal role as that of supporting lay ministry in all its forms, not just those with pastoral oversight for a congregation.

The six years since then have been an exciting and enriching experience for all concerned.  Membership has nearly trebled to over 60, and as David Monk wrote on the History page of our website "We communicate with each other, support each other, learn from each other, and continually pull together in seeking to achieve our objectives." We have also been consulted about changes affecting lay worship leaders and congregational leaders, and have made the views of our members known. We have a good website and a twice-yearly newsletter. Our annual conference usually attracts about 25 folk, and our close links with the Worship Studies Course ensure that we remain fresh and up-to-date.

So it's going to be hard to walk away, and let other folk step in. I am so very proud of what the Association has accomplished in the last six years, and confident that it will go on from strength to strength, as more and more trained worship leaders from the Worship Studies Course Foundation Step join us.

As Tim Radford wrote in The Guardian in 2005, "In a here-today, gone-tomorrow world, there is a certain satisfaction in having existed at all. The exuberant joy of being is tempered by the wistful knowledge that nothing is forever. The Romans had a phrase for it: ave atque vale, hail and farewell. ... Parting, neuropsychologists say, is a stretching of emotional bonds: the sorrow is tinged with the sweetness of the memories."

And so I have found. And so I feel now. Ave atque vale indeed.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Keeping On Keeping On

Yesterday evening, I was travelling home from London, after a long day. When we pulled in to Northampton station, I realised with dismay that I would have to climb the long steep flight of stairs to get over the footbridge onto Platform 1, and hence to the exit. And my feet were hurting, because I'd been for an interview, and had had to wear posh shoes ... so I was feeling a bit sorry for myself.


I was about one-third of the way up when I spotted a small boy (who couldn't have been more than three years old) toiling up the stairs ahead of me. He was wearing a little rucksack on his back with the Superman logo on it, and was climbing the stairs steadily, in spite of the fact that each one was probably at least knee-high to him, so a lot of hard work. But I had the sense that he was up to the task, and would carry on until he reached the top, without stopping, without complaining.

And I thought "Superman indeed!. If he can do it, so can I." His example of steadfast determination made my day. And I am grateful.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Love Made Visible

One of my favourite quotes from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran concerns work. He wrote:

"And what is it to work with love?
It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.
It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.
It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.
It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit. ...
Work is love made visible."


In our complex 21st century society, we tend to buy most of our possessions from shops, which have in turn been supplied by factories, which mass-produce thousands of x and millions of y. So it is always a treat to buy something that has been made by a pair of human hands, with care and affection. This week I bought a simple wooden bowl, which had been hand-turned by a local artist. And it is beautiful. And more precious, because it was made with that care and affection.

I have also just finished crocheting an afghan blanket for my daughter, and was reminded of the quote from The Lord Of The Rings, when the Lothlorien Elves say to Pippin (about the elven cloaks): "We put the thought of all that we love into all that we make." I have certainly crocheted it with love, thinking about my daughter a lot as I made it.

But the same attitude can be brought to any task undertaken by humankind. It can be done carelessly, hastily, in a slipshod fashion, with no care for the outcome. Or it can be done with love and attention, for the sake of the work itself, and for the pride of creation and the joy of creativity. And that is good.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Broadening the Heart

It is said that reading broadens the mind, and that is good and true. But there are a few special books (probably different ones for each person) that broaden the heart. I have blogged about this on here before, and what I said then still rings true for me: "Few things give me greater delight than the discovery of a new book that makes me think; that makes me see the world and everything in it in a new light."


And it's happened again this week. At our Ministerial Fellowship conference, folk bring books to sell, in aid of the Ministerial Students' Fund. And I picked up Wishful Thinking: a Seeker's ABC by American writer and Christian theologian, Frederick Buechner. I picked it up because American writers and friends whom I respect had quoted him, and I had liked these quotations.

But I wasn't expecting to discover another Ah! Book, one that has the power to fundamentally change how I see the world. And this has. It is an alphabetical listing of short pieces on a wide variety of religious and spiritual topics. Often an entry is just a few sentences. Take the one on Anger, for example, on page 2:

"Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back - in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you."

I read it, and the way that I see the world changes. And that is such a gift. And I am so very grateful.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Happy Birthday to Me - Being Sober Rocks!

Well, I did it! 15 months ago today, I stopped smoking. And one year ago tonight, I had my last glass of wine.

My Choose Life tattoo - done to celebrate six months sober
And now that I've got here, how do I feel? Pretty meh, actually, which is a shame, because it is a Fantastic Achievement. This time last year I was frightened about how much control drink had over me - it was a strong daily habit that took some courage and guts to break, and to keep on breaking. For a whole year, in the face of many opportunities and provocations to start again.  Not to mention downright encouragement from well-meaning but misguided idiots, who say things like "Just one wouldn't hurt" or "If you just have a drink today, you can go back to being sober tomorrow."

No, I can't, actually. It's exactly like giving up smoking - you either do or you don't. For me, there is no pleasant half-way-house of "the occasional glass at a weekend". I *know* myself well enough to know that if I once started again, it would soon be back up to between half and one bottle of red wine a night, just like the old days.

So I'm going to stick to my resolution, and remain AF, and maintain my self-respect. I've got through the crucial first year - First Christmas, First Holiday, First GA Meetings, First Summer School, the kids leaving home, and I've Done It. And that is something to be proud of, and to celebrate.

I guess the reason why I don't feel much like celebrating is two-fold:

1) the automatic way it occurs to me to celebrate in this drinking culture of ours is *still* by having a drink. Not Good. In the past year, these are the times I have found hardest - when there has been something to celebrate, and the automatic reaction of all concerned has been "Let's drink to that" (whatever it is). And I feel very left out and kill-joyish. Which I'm not. I'm just someone who has had to take a different path. I've also found I get pretty bored at social functions, when all around are getting slowly pissed, and loud and happy with it, and I'm just sitting there. Not so bad if I have access to my beloved Becks Blue AF lager, but dire otherwise.

2) Contrary to my expectations, I haven't lost any weight. Unlike friends who have travelled the same route as me, and lost shedloads of weight, my weight has remained the same. (I know fine well why - I replaced an addiction for red wine with an addiction for Cadbury's Dairy Milk). Not as dangerous, but not conducive to losing weight.

But I have NEVER regretted my decision to go AF, and am *exceedingly proud* to have made it through the first year, with a lot of help from fellow Soberistas. There is still the odd hard day, but they are few and far between, and I am never in any serious danger of caving in, and drinking again. 

And that is my life. I'm sober, likely to stay that way, and enjoying every day of it.


Friday, 29 August 2014

Exploring pleasures, treasures, hopes, and dreams

Last week I was at Summer School. This is an annual week of spiritual exploration and learning for Unitarians, held at the Nightingale Centre at Great Hucklow towards the end of August. In terms of spiritual growth, it is the most precious week of the year for me.


And when you arrive on the Saturday afternoon, you never know how the week is going to turn out. You just know that you will not leave as the same person you arrived. As part of our Sunday Service, Michael Dadson had us singing:

"Open up a Hucklow bubble, wide enough to hold the week.
Open a space like a smiling face, hold it with unsuspecting grace.
No-one knows what's coming - only when it's here!
Open up a Hucklow bubble, for the blessings of the week!"

And it *is* a bubble - a week out of your ordinary life, during which amazing things happen. The theme for this year was The Authentic Self, and we were led on a rich and satisfying exploration of who we really are, when you strip away all the roles, all the poses, all the superficial stuff. The theme talk speakers and engagement group leaders invited us to dig deep, and there was a dazzling variety of optional activities in the afternoons and evenings which supported the process. Among other things, I enjoyed learning to write Haiku, zen-doodling, mindful colouring, walking a labyrinth (probably the highlight), walking in the beautiful Derbyshire Peak District, and singing wonderful Unitarian hymns and songs.

And, also as usual, I have learned a lot about myself, and have also learned some things that I am able to bring home and incorporate into my life and my ministry. I have made some new friends, and grown closer to old ones. And I have made four commitments, which I hope to honour:

1. I commit to loving my whole self.
2. I commit to letting go of ineffective anger.
3. I commit to recognising the Spirit at work in my life and to writing about it.
4. I commit to being more serene and peaceful.

Summer School is one of very few places that I get the chance to do this sort of work, and it is very precious. I've said before and I'll say again: Hucklow at Summer School time reminds me of Rivendell, as Bilbo describes it in The Hobbit: it is "a perfect house", whether you like going deep, sharing joys and concerns and laughter, arty-crafty-creativity, new spiritual practices, walking in the beautiful Peak District, singing, storytelling, good company, playing games "or a pleasant mixture of them all." It is very, very special.




Friday, 15 August 2014

Finding Things In Common

It is fashionable in Unitarian circles to put the emphasis on our individuality as Unitarians. Each of us, we are told, is on his or her own unique spiritual and religious journey, following the dictates of his or her individual conscience. Even the title of my very favourite Unitarian book emphasises this individuality.


And that is good. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

BUT

Sometimes, just sometimes, when a stranger asks me the question "What do Unitarians believe?", it would be *so nice* not to have to use endless disclaimers, and to just boldly proclaim: "Unitarians believe x, y, and z."

No qualification, just statements. This is what Unitarians believe / stand for. Full Stop.

Which got me wondering - *are* there things which we can unite around? Stephen Lingwood, on his Reignite blog a few weeks ago (July 17th to be precise) , and later in The Inquirer, listed eleven theological commitments, about which he believes that Unitarians could agree. And I, for one, would agree with them, and with him.

I wonder whether we could start a conversation going, perhaps on Facebook, perhaps elsewhere, discussing all the propositions / beliefs / standards which Unitarians have in common, or at least are prepared to concede as valid viewpoints, even if they do not personally share them. We could even formulate our own 95 theses, as Matthew Fox did a few years ago.

Here are five to start us off:

1. The right of the individual to freedom of belief is sacrosanct, so long as that belief does not harm anyone.
2. Being alive is a process of continuous and continuing revelation, so the mind and heart should be open to new ideas.
3. Every individual has the right to seek truth and meaning for themselves.
4. The best tools to do this are an inquiring mind and one's own reason and conscience.
5. It is the responsibility of Unitarian communities to provide and hold a sacred space in which religious and spiritual exploration can take place.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Hoping for Peace

This week has seen a number of significant and tragic anniversaries: 100 years ago on Monday, Britain declared war on Germany, and World War One started. 70 years ago on Monday, a Jewish family hiding in Amsterdam were betrayed, and Anne Frank and her family were sent to concentration camps. And 69 years ago on Wednesday and tomorrow, the Americans dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


It is now generally accepted that World War One was a senseless waste of human life. But many folk would argue that World War Two was justified, on the grounds that Hitler had to be stopped. However, like most wars, this too soon got out of hand, and both sides bombed civilians indiscriminately, culminating in the unprecedented horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

There may not have been a World War since 1945, but there has never been World Peace. And of course horror is being piled upon horror in Gaza, as I write this. And the rest of the Middle East is also unquiet, to say the very least. Not to mention Africa, and other parts of the world. As a human race, we seem to have learned nothing about living together in peace.

I believe that it is the responsibility of the living to make meaningful the sacrifices of the dead. Faith groups and others the world over are attempting to influence their government and fellow citizens to work towards a more peaceful happier world, in which war would no longer be necessary. We just all need to work together, and to keep at it, until humankind finally realises that peace is so much better than war, for everyone. There are so many ordinary people getting together, the world over, to work for peace and reconciliation. Let us hope that their voices are heard.

Most wars are allegedly fought to bring peace - a most ingenious paradox! We should remember the dead, but also pledge ourselves to make our world a better place - to end all wars, to relieve world debt, to feed the hungry, to find a cure for AIDS, to stop destroying our environment. It is still a beautiful planet, or it could be, if we could only learn to live together in peace.


Amen, Amen.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

And the Wheel of the Year Turns

Lughnasadh (the Pagan festival of First Harvest) is coming right on time this year - it is due to be celebrated next Friday. And this past week has seen the fields around my village change from golden fields of corn and barley and rapeseed to brown, ploughed-in fields of stubble. The weather has been perfect for Harvest, and the farmers' only complaint must be of the lack of hours in the day. They are starting early and finishing late, and the roads around the village are full of tractors and other agricultural vehicles which we hardly see for the rest of the year. It doesn't pay to be in a hurry!


I have always felt immensely privileged to live in the countryside, where I can still be in touch with the changing seasons of the year. Every year the same, and every year different. It evokes feelings of awe and gratitude, as I watch the first green shoots growing strong and high, flowering, and then ripening. Then the crops are harvested, and the countryside exhales, and settles down for its winter dormancy. Every year the same, and every year different.

And on the village allotments, the runner beans are ready, so are the courgettes, and the raspberries and the salad vegetables, and the maize is coming on nicely. There too, it looks like being a bumper harvest. All the back-breaking work of digging, weeding and anxiously tending has paid off. Every year the same, and every year different.

It is also coming up to the season of exam results, as GCSE, AS and A2 students wait to discover whether their hard work over the past year has paid off. Some students will be delighted with good results, others will be devastated by unexpected failures, and will have to scrabble around for Plan B. Every year the same, and every year different.

So I pray for a goodly crop of exam results this year, and some happy students ready to move on to the next phase in their young lives.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Passing the Buck

Three separate news items have caught my attention this week - all of which are varying aspects on taking responsibility for your actions.

image posted by Harshdeep Kaur
The first is the escalating situation in Palestine, as Hamas continue to attack Israel, and the Israelis continue to attack the Palestinians, and unarmed civilians die by the hundred, and the only winners are the international arms trade, including the United Kingdom. A few brave individuals are working for peace, and being vilified by both sides for their trouble. I have no answers to this - ultimately, the situation will continue to worsen, so long as neither side will sit down and listen to the other.

The second is the tragedy of the Malaysian Airlines plane, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, which was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. The Ukrainians and Russians are both playing the blame game, refusing to admit responsibility, and partially blaming the pilot for flying so close to an area deemed unsafe for civilian aircraft. The prospect of an open international air accident investigation is also being blocked. In the meantime, nearly 300 innocent civilians have lost their lives, and their families are in mourning.

The third, which I heard with some bemusement this morning, was that the widow of a lung cancer victim in the US had successfully sued a tobacco company for billions of dollars, for not warning her husband of the dangers of smoking. I have to admit that this one made me gasp in disbelief - I don't think the tobacco company was forcing her husband to smoke - he *chose* to smoke, and must surely be responsible for that choice. But I understand that they are appealing against the verdict.

Three different situations; three incidents of evading responsibility. I know it takes more courage to hold your hand up and say "It's a fair cop; it was my fault - I'm sorry." But until people start to do that, the world will continue to become a more violent, nastier place, and the innocent will continue to suffer. All we can do, as individuals, is to work for peace and justice, wherever we are.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Hatred or Forgiveness?

I really don't like the word "hate" and all that it stands for. Years ago, I would have said "I hate x or y or z", whether I was talking about black pepper or the latest government idiocy or nuclear weapons, but as the years have passed, I have become more and more wary of its insidious power, and try to avoid using it.

image: expeditionwellness.com
So when a friend posted the following on the UK Unitarians' Facebook page today, it really caught my attention: "A 4-word slogan appeared in my inbox today. The third word was HATE. Is it within our theology and values to hate anything, even really nasty things like genocide, governmental terrorism and bullying? At Golders Green we are trying to reach a consensus "Vision" statement about our purpose as a congregation, and the present draft includes "guided by conscience, kindness, and compassion". With those values, we could "oppose" or "resist" evil ... but "hate"?? What do people think and feel?"

My response was to say "Hate diminishes the one who hates. I agree that one should oppose and resist evil, but not hate." To my surprise, somebody else responded that they were "fine with 'hate' - for me it denotes a passion that the other words do not."

By coincidence, there has also been a lively thread over on the Unitarians Facebook page today, concerning a new anti-Zionist Facebook group. I was one of several friends who commented against it, saying that I "would not support a group based on hate, rather than compassion. My feeling is that the most important thing that Unitarians can do as an open, inclusive community is to try to live by the Golden Rule, and spread compassion from where we are." But in no time at all, the thread has become very heated, with some real verbal vitriol being spewed around. Proof, if any were needed, that the path of hatred is a negative one.

I believe that one of the major reasons for religious intolerance and religious strife (or at least for intolerance and strife in the *name* of religion) is fear of the unknown. The vast majority of people know very little about other religions, and it is part of human nature to fear the unknown (or the different). Ignorance breeds intolerance, which in turn breeds fear and hatred, which can easily turn into all-out violence. Unfortunately, many unscrupulous politicians who sit at particular points on the religious divide, see it as their job in life to foment intolerance and fear, so that they can whip up "their" people to commit acts of aggression and violence in the name of religion or a particular political path or whatever. The links between states and religions are very strong; the dividing line between tribalism and nationalism is a very thin one.

Karen Armstrong launched the Charter for Compassion in 2009, because she believed that there was a better way to conduct human affairs than violence, and that the practice of compassion is crucially important in the work of peace. Desmond and Mpho Tutu understand this too - I am currently reading their The Book of Forgiving, and have been struck by their belief that "The quality of human life on our planet is nothing more than the sum total of our daily interactions with one another. Each time we help, and each time we harm, we have a dramatic impact on our world. Because we are human, some of our interactions will go wrong, and then we will hurt, or be hurt, or both. it is the nature of being human, and it is unavoidable. Forgiveness is the way we set those interactions right. It is the way we mend tears in the social fabric. It is the way we stop our human community from unravelling." Their Fourfold Path is shown in the image above.

By forgiving each other. Not by hatred. It's not an easy path, but I do believe it is the right one.




Sunday, 6 July 2014

The Thrill of the Game

I have just finished watching the Mens' Singles Final at Wimbledon, between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. It was truly nail-biting - a five-set match with some marvellous ups and downs. First one man was winning, then the other. By the fifth set, I genuinely didn't care who won - they had both played such fabulous tennis that they both deserved it. It was a delight and a privilege to watch tennis being so well and so daringly played.


After four gruelling hours, Djokovic finally won. And paid generous and moving tribute to Federer in the post-match interview. I know it was easy for him to be generous when he had won, but to thank Federer for "letting me win" was both funny, and moving.

I couldn't help contrasting it to the lack-lustre Women's Singles Final yesterday, when Petra Kvitova wiped the floor with Eugenie Bouchard in two sets in under an hour - I found it quite dispiriting to watch. Kvitova's tennis was just in a different league to Bouchard's - all credit to her, but no fun to watch.  Hopefully Bouchard will have a chance another year.

It has made me realise (again) that so far as I am concerned, it's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game that matters. Both Djokovic and Federer demonstrated this over and over again - if one of them lost a game, they just picked themselves up and battled on, refusing to be downcast or put off. They didn't let setbacks affect their game, they just strove to be in the present moment, concentrating on the game they were playing. Which was what made it such a treat to watch. Even in the fifth set, there were long rallies, with multiple daring strokes.

And this is true not only in tennis, but in life. I hope that when life kicks me in the face, that I will remember today, and have the courage to follow their example, and pick myself back up and carry on, giving it my best.





Saturday, 28 June 2014

When Virtual Becomes Real

Our little cat Luna has been very ill. It started last Saturday, when she was noticeably off her food, and quieter than usual. By Sunday, we were sufficiently concerned to take her to the vet, and again on the Monday. She was given antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, and we were told to keep an eye on her. My husband texted me on Wednesday morning to say that she was no better, so when I got home from my conference in the afternoon, I took her straight back to the vet, who admitted her as an in-patient. That night, she had a 3cm section of impacted bowel removed. Had it not been, she might not have survived. The next day, we went to visit, and she was like a different animal; and on Friday evening, I brought our little one home, well on the way to recovery.

She is currently sitting on top of the wardrobe in the spare room, no mean leap for a cat who is supposed to be "taking it easy". But it's one of her favourite spots, and I guess she wouldn't have done it if she had felt too sore.


During the whole sad time she was in hospital, and I was so worried that we were going to lose her, I have been unutterably moved by the warmth and caring of my community of Facebook friends, who have been commenting and sending love and sympathy for the last 48 hours or so.

I have noticed this before on Facebook - if anyone is in trouble, or in grief, or anxious, or worried, friends *do* rally round, offering words of sympathy and comfort, and warm virtual hugs. And it really does help.

The feeling of connection is very real. I know that it is fashionable to say that the social media and mobile phones between them have ruined genuine communication between people. There are endless images of people standing or sitting "together" with their heads down and their thumbs busy, texting away, and not noticing the world and the people right next to them.

BUT this is the other side of it. And I am very grateful. And moved. And feeling blessed.

Friday, 20 June 2014

The Gift of Laughter

In one of Anne McCaffrey's books, somebody (I think it's Lanzecki in The Crystal Singer) says "A man can sleep any time. But a laugh restores the soul." And I have just been chuckling away at a post on the Tolkien Society page on Facebook, where members were invited to do bad mis-castings for characters in the Peter Jackson films. Of course it very soon got out of hand, and many other cultural references found their way in, from Monty Python's Holy Grail, the Wizard of Oz (Sauron being killed by Edoras falling on his head) and even Dallas (Melkor coming out of the shower and finding it was all a dream). And I will long remember the image of the Nine Riders on black Harleys, with Riders on the Storm by the Doors in the background. And Orc munchkins. And Samwise Gamgee in sparkly red shoes, saying "There's no place like home, Mr. Frodo." It made me laugh out loud, and suddenly the world seems a brighter place.


"A laugh restores the soul." Yes. This is certainly true of the laughter that arises from the joy of sharing something funny with others, or as a side-effect of being happy anyway. But laughing *at* others rather than *with* them has always struck me as a cat of an entirely different colour. I am sometimes accused of having a sense of humour deficit, because I don't often find people falling over / failing to do something / otherwise being made a fool of, very funny. So while I do find many of the posts on Facebook very funny, and indeed, share many of them, some I just don't. This laughing at other people's misfortune *feels* the same way to me as cruelty to animals.

I guess it all comes down to compassion in the end - putting yourself in the other person's shoes, and imagining how they must be feeling. So while I love to laugh, and find that a good giggle brightens my day, I'm selective about what I laugh at.

Friday, 13 June 2014

A Walk in the Woods

It is going to be difficult to write this without resorting to cliches. On this warm and sunny morning, I decided to go for a walk in the woods. I am very fortunate in living five minutes' walk away from a footpath which leads to Salcey Forest. I was only out for about 40 minutes, but it has left me full of awe, full of wonder, full of gratitude.


The combination of weather during the last few months - sunshine and rain in just the right quantities, meant that the verges of the path were a mass of green and flowers. I walked mindfully, opening my eyes and ears to the world around me. There was cow parsley over six feet high, clover, buttercups, many other shy woodland flowers I could not name, and a riot of wild roses; and the air was full of bird song. The sky overhead was blue with wispy white clouds, but the height of the bordering hedges meant that the path was still in shade, very pleasant to walk in on this warm morning. Every so often, there would be a break in the hedge to my left, and the sunlight came pouring through, painting everything it touched in brighter hues. The path is narrow, only wide enough for one person (or one horse - it is much used by the local riders) and I had it to myself. One cyclist passed me on the way out, and one runner on the way back. Apart from that, it was me, alone with God's creation. And it was glorious. And I give thanks.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Taking the Longer View

A few days ago, the first public meeting of a newish (they were founded in September 2013) Unitarian group, the Fellowship of Non-Subscribing Christians, was announced. The meeting will be held at Stalybridge Unitarian Church in a couple of weeks' time.


Some Unitarians (sadly) have rushed to condemn this new group, fearing that its influence on our General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches will be divisive. This knee-jerk reaction, condemning the new group 'sight unseen', worries me. It does not seem very Unitarian to me, that we should not be more like the Quakers "open to new Light, from whatever source it may come." Surely it is this openness to new ideas that is the hallmark of our much-vaunted Unitarian tolerance?

Or it should be. As I have written elsewhere: " This openness to a process of continuous and continuing revelation is what has kept Unitarianism green and growing down the centuries."

In J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, when Frodo first learns that through Gollum, Sauron has discovered that the Ring is now in the Shire, he exclaims: "What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature when he had a chance!" Gandalf responds: "Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need." Frodo retorts that he does not feel any pity for Gollum, and Gandalf again advocates a more compassionate view: "Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends."

There is so much truth and wisdom in this advice. He is saying that we shouldn't judge new things too quickly, because they might just turn out to be a force for good. So I agree with a colleague who is counselling a more charitable, open, considered approach, and who suggests that we simply wait and see what happens.

Friday, 30 May 2014

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today

It was twenty years ago today that the United States and Russia ceased targeting long-range nuclear missiles at each other. And yet, twenty years later, both still maintain considerable nuclear arsenals, at enormous expense, and now at least eight more countries (the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel and Iran) have nuclear weapons. What is wrong with the world?


According to the Institute for Economics and Peace, an independent, non-partisan, non-profit research organisation dedicated to shifting the world's focus to peace as a positive, achievable, and tangible measure of human well-being and progress, "We are in an epoch different to any other epoch in human history. The problems we are facing are global in nature. They include climate change, ever decreasing biodiversity, full use of the fresh water on the planet, and, underpinning all these - overpopulation. Without peace we will be unable to achieve the levels of cooperation, inclusiveness and social equity required to begin solving these challenges, let alone empower the international institutions needed to regulate them."

And yet wars go on, continuously, all over the world. And their cost is enormous, not only in economic and pragmatic terms, but also, most importantly in human lives and the effects on the rest of creation.

They produce an annual Global Peace Index each year in June, and last year's makes grim reading. According to an article by Christina Smith in the latest issue of the Unitarian Peace Fellowship newsletter, "The total economic impact of containing violence is equivalent to 11% of global GDP (Gross Domestic Product) or US$ 9.46 trillion. If the world would reduce the cost of violence by 50%, it would generate enough money to repay the debt of the developing world, provide enough money for the European stability mechanism, and fund the additional amount required to fund the Millennium Development Goals."

So why, oh why, don't governments DO something about it? The 2014 Global Peace Index will be released on 18th June - let us see whether the last twelve months have made the world a more violent or a more peaceful place. And in the meantime, everyone who cares about the future of our world and its inhabitants should make their voices heard - peace is in our hands.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

The Fourth R

It is commonly held that there are Three Rs that all children need to learn (even though, confusingly, only one of them actually starts with the letter R!): Reading, Writing and [A]rithmetic.


And I agree, these are essential life skills. Being able to read, write and do basic maths are important skills for coping with life in our complex 21st century world. And I, personally, find both reading and writing immensely pleasurable, and know that my life would be much diminished without them.

But I would add a Fourth R: Running (or any kind of physical exercise of the person's choice). Because I also believe that in order to be happy and fulfilled, we need to look after our bodies as well as our minds. I go for a relatively short (20-30 minutes) run three times a week, and for one or two two-mile walks every day (one with a friend in the morning, one with my other half in the evening). And the feeling of physical well-being from doing this modest amount of exercise is huge! Especially the running - when I get back from a run I feel euphoric and satisfied and at peace. No drugs involved!

If I could wave a magic wand, I would wish for everyone to be able to find a form of physical exercise that they enjoyed, and that they could stick to doing long term, because I have experienced directly how much running (and being out in nature on my walks) feeds my spirit. And that is so precious. 

Friday, 16 May 2014

What's in the Temple?

In his poem What's in the Temple?, Tom Barrett poses three questions: 

If you had a temple in the secret spaces of your heart, what would you worship there? 
What would you bring to sacrifice? and 
What would be behind the curtain in the holy of holies?" 



I think that the first question, "what would you worship there?" is quite a challenging one for Unitarians, as we do not presume to define God / the Sacred Divine for others, and some of us do not believe in an external divine other at all. Our Unitarianism these days is a wonderful “free faith based on the inner authority of the enlightened conscience.” And our consciences are enlightened by not only what we think and believe with our heads. Intuition and feeling are also considered important, thanks initially to James Martineau, the great 19th century Unitarian theologian. And our beliefs may change over time, as part of a process of continuous and continuing revelation.


So my answer to the first question might be: I would worship the God I believe in, whom I have come to believe in through exercising my reason and conscience, and through bouncing ideas off other Unitarians. And that the God I believe in is a personal God, who exists both "out there" as well as "in here", and whose divine principle is Love. But that is just my answer, as a unique Unitarian, and this belief might change over time.
At first sight, the second question "what would you bring to sacrifice?" may seem to have little relevance to modern Unitarians. But I think that if you understand the word "sacrifice" in terms of giving something up, it makes a lot more sense in a Unitarian context. Because our Unitarian faith should not be practiced lightly, without commitment, and making a commitment to something often involves sacrificing some part of our old lives. 

My answer to this second question would be, in the words of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross "all that is not truly me, all that I have chosen without choosing and valued without evaluating, or accepted because of someone else’s extrinsic judgment, rather than my own; and all my self-doubt that keeps me from trusting and loving myself or other human beings." This is a work in progress; to fulfil it will take my whole life.

Barrett's last question was "What would be behind the curtain in the holy of holies?" The holy of holies was the innermost sanctuary of the Temple in Jerusalem, and was separated from the rest of the Temple by a curtain or veil. According to the Hebrew Bible, only the high priest could go in there, and he only once a year. The holy of holies was said to contain the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the ten commandments given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai. This was the most holy and precious object in Temple Judaism.

So the answer to the question what would be behind the curtain in the holy of holies refers to that which is most precious to each of us, which we prize above all other things. Or perhaps what we appreciate most about our own faith tradition, in my case Unitarianism.

For me the important thing about Unitarianism is that we are united in our diversity; united in the mutual provision of this safe and sacred space, in which we may explore our diverse beliefs and faiths, knowing that our doubts and questions and beliefs will be held and respected, and that we will be welcomed just the way we are.

And it is precious. This way of being united in diversity - a way of being religious and spiritual that involves mutual respect and acceptance and love - is what would be behind the curtain in my holy of holies.