“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

Sunday, 31 December 2017

A Challenge for the New Year

This morning I was finally re-connecting with the computer, having had a few days away from it over the Christmas period, and catching up with the daily meditations from Richard Rohr's Center for Action and Contemplation, which usually give me a nice, spiritual start to my day.

And I came across this passage, from The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness: Preparing to Practice, by Rabbi Rami Shapiro, which Richard Rohr quotes, and which has really resonated with me, as a challenge for the coming year:

"Will you engage this moment with kindness or with cruelty, with love or with fear, with generosity or scarcity, with a joyous heart or an embittered one? This is your choice, and no-one can make it for you. If you choose kindness, love, generosity, and joy, then you will discover in that choice the Kingdom of God, heaven, nirvana, this-worldly salvation. If you choose cruelty, fear, scarcity, and bitterness, then you will discover in that choice the hellish states of which so many religions speak. These are not ontological realities tucked away somewhere in space - these are existential realities playing out in your own mind. Heaven and hell are both inside of you. It is your choice that determines just where you will reside."

"Heaven and hell are both inside you. It is your choice that determines just where you will reside." Wow. For 2018, I resolve to try to engage with the world, with each moment, with kindness, love, generosity and joy.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

It's A Wonderful Life

I've just been watching one of my two* favourite Christmas films, It's A Wonderful Life. It stars James Stewart as the central character, George Bailey, who lives in the first half of the last century in the small town of Bedford Falls, runs the local building society, and lives in a ramshackle house on the edge of town with his wife and children.

Trying not to spoil the plot, I'll just say that as the film begins, George has hit rock bottom, and wonders bitterly whether he has wasted his whole life. All his contemporaries, and his younger brother, have left the town and got on, got ahead, but chance and circumstance, combined with a strong sense of duty and honour, have kept George in Bedford Falls.

He is on the point of suicide, believing that it would be better if he had never lived, when his own personal guardian angel, Clarence, intervenes, and proceeds to show George the many ways in which he has made a difference for the better. There is a wonderful happy ending - hence the title It's A Wonderful Life.

When I watch it each year, I always wonder, like George, how or if my life has made a difference to the people with whom I share it. And end up being reassured by the film's message: that if you do the best you can, and follow the best you know, it will all work out right in the end.

I'm not as unselfish as George Bailey, but I share Brene Brown's aim of living wholeheartedly. In the Introduction to her wonderful book, Rising Strong, she writes:

"I define wholehearted living as engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It's going to be at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn't change the truth that I am brave and worthy of love and belonging."

I believe that if we can do that - strive to live wholeheartedly, then, like George Bailey, we will be able to lead lives where we can make a difference, for the better. Merry Christmas!

*the other one is Love Actually

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Quiet Interval of Peace

I've just spent a week in the beautiful Welsh village of Trawsfynydd. Its setting is beautiful, above a deep blue lake, with the green and brown mountains and hills, noisy with sheep, all around. Last night, on my return, I felt moved to write a sestina about it:

Trawsfynydd: A Sestina

I have this bless├Ęd interval of peace,
A pile of books and notes and files to read,
The hours stretch out before me like a path,
A week out of time to do some writing.
Inside the cottage all is very still;
Out in the world, the sky is dazzling blue.

Unsettling my mind, I’m yearning for blue –
The hills lure me out with promise of peace.
I walk to the lake, its quiet waters still,
The beauty of God is there to be read.
Yet somehow I must get back to writing …
I sigh and retrace my steps down the path.

And muse as I walk down the soft, green path,
Turning my back on the water so blue,
On my research, that I should be writing;
Instead I’m possessed by a deep, quiet peace,
Which bids me forget what I need to read
And start on this poem in quietness still.

So I get out my journal, sit quite still,
Fall into reverie, follow the path
Of my thoughts as I write, re-write, then read,
Begging the muse to come out of the blue
Bestowing on me her blessing of peace
As words start to flow, and I am writing.

Bliss happens. I would not exchange writing
The joy of creation, that serves to still
My restless heart and restore my lost peace,
Placing me firmly back on the right path.
Words down on paper – why was I so blue?
I pull the files towards me, start to read.

I read and take notes, then once again read,
Nothing now stops the flow of the writing.
I glance outside, the sky is now dark blue.
I look at my watch, quite unready still
To stop work just yet, now seeing the path
To fulfilment, and a deep, grace-filled peace.

No more time to read, it’s time to be still;
No more swift writing, I’ve mapped out the path,
With quick strokes of blue, time to trust in peace.

Not the best sestina in the world. But it has satisfied a very deep need in me, to translate what is in my heart into words on paper. Writing is such a glorious satisfaction. I feel so very blessed.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Every Picture Tells A Story

A friend of mine shared the picture below on Facebook:

And my mind instantly interpreted it as the front bean hugging the rest. Then I looked again, and perhaps it is trying to hold the rest back, or to protect them from whatever is behind it. Or has just jumped from on high, and landed on them, squashing them flat. It is amazing how the human mind can interpret pictures in so many different ways. Hugging? Crowd control? Protective parent? Flattener? This little bean could be anything!

It made me wonder how often we judge situations in an instant, rather than standing back and taking a "long, loving look at the real". Every time we see something, or hear something, our mind jumps to an instant conclusion, which is very often wrong.

I am grateful to my friend, who was only sharing her garden's produce, for the reminder, to look at least twice, before jumping to conclusions.

Friday, 23 June 2017

The Next Right Thing

It's a funny old thing, life. Every morning we get up, wash, eat breakfast, and then face the day ahead. But how often do we actually appreciate each day, moment by moment? And how do the choices we make, moment by moment, affect how our days go?

Wayne Muller, in his wonderful book A Life of Being, Having and Doing Enough, asks: "What is the next right thing for us to do? Where in this moment, shall we choose to place our time and attention? Do we stay or move, speak or keep silent, attend to this person, that task, move in this or that direction?"

I don't know about you, but to me, this seems to be such a simple approach to life, much less stressful than being worried about a thousand possible alternatives. You just concentrate on the Next Right Thing - give that your time and attention, and then go on to the next one.

But I'm very conscious that "simple" does not mean the same thing as "easy". This moment by moment approach to our lives *is* elegantly beautiful in its simplicity, but it is by no means easy to do. Because it means that we have to be conscious, awake, moment by moment, so that we make our many small choices with awareness, rather than blindly, depending on how we are feeling at the time. Actively considering each choice, moment by moment, actually sounds quite like hard work.

But it is the most important work in the world.

Because if we look at our lives, really examine them, we can see that they *are* the result of all the choices we have made, in the past days and months and years. It is a gradual, moment by moment process, yet the results of it have shaped our lives. All of us are where we are now, today, because of our past choices. And where we end up, tomorrow and the next day, will depend on the choices we make today.

Samuel A. Trumbore wrote: "Each moment of wakefulness has so many gifts that offer energy and delight. Yet too often they seem unavailable, as the weight of our troubles press down on us ... Even in moments of great danger, the direction of attention is a choice. Fear can dominate the mind, binding it like a straitjacket. Or love can unbind it, and open it to resource and opportunity. ... Holding reality and possibility together is the holy, hope-filled work of humanity."

May we all choose love, may we all choose to follow the Next Right Thing.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

The Gift of Laughter

I have been feeling quite sad just lately. Two important parts of my life are coming to an end (which is right and good, but still makes me sad) and my prevailing mood has been one of gentle melancholy, which has made normal functioning feel like pushing a rock uphill. I've kept on keeping on, but it has been an effort.

So this evening, I took Terry Pratchett's wonderful book 'A Slip of the Keyboard' off the shelves. It is a posthumous collection of his non-fiction pieces, and is full of gems. I was reading it with quiet amusement, chuckling to myself occasionally - he writes so beautifully, on a wide variety of topics.

Then came a sentence which made me laugh so much that the tears were rolling down my cheeks: "That was because we realized that the Race for Space had been a mad bout of international willie-waving."

I am giggling again as I type - it is possibly the best description of international power politics that I have ever come across. It took several minutes for me to control my mirth sufficiently to explain to my bemused husband what was so funny.

But since then, I have felt so much better, so much lighter. Truly, a good laugh restores the soul. Thank God. And thank Terry.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Embracing Equality

I have been watching the new BBC3 series Queer Britain with fascination. I have many LGBT friends, who are just that - my friends - simply because I like them as unique individuals.

But the topics which each of the programmes have covered - faith, body image, homelessness, and ethnicity, have never been so clearly defined for me within the LGBT context. So I have learned much, and have new insights about what it means to be an LGBT person in the UK today.

Some of the stories have been heartbreaking - it seems that discrimination in all its nasty forms is alive and well, not only among heterosexuals, but also within the LGBT community. The issues of body image and race have great potency - one black lesbian woman commented sadly on the latest programme: "I feel like a triple minority - black, lesbian, and female."

And I thought: "Sh*t! She's right - I get that." Because as a straight, white woman, I am only too aware that I shelter behind two bastions of often unconscious privilege, but can understand from the inside what discrimination against women looks like. And can understand what having body image issues feels like, although I had not formerly appreciated their particular significance for many LGBT folk.

Ultimately this is all about judging people by how they identify themselves or how we identify them - by what they look like, how they dress, the colour of their skin, their age, and their sexual orientation. Whenever we judge people by what they *are*, rather than for their behaviour, we are guilty of being non-inclusive, on the grounds of gender, sexual orientation, skin colour, age, size and [dis]ability, to name the most common nasty behaviours. Which seem to be all to prevalent in UK society today, no matter what we look like or whom we are attracted to.

Why do we do this to ourselves, to each other? We are all human beings, each one unique, each one worthy of love and justice and respect, each one with unique gifts to offer. As my friend Yvonne remarked when I shared this post with her: "everyone is an unique combination of beauty and diversity, and we should celebrate that. And each form of oppression of that beauty and diversity is different, with its own distinct history which is different in different places, which is why we need feminism, and LGBT liberation, and Black liberation, and the disability rights campaign, ... rather than a single munged-together "human" campaign."

We need to be aware of ourselves and each other as "unique combinations of beauty and diversity" and to respect and appreciate the struggles that each of us goes through to be recognised as such.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Coming Together in Peace

When something dreadful, like the Manchester Arena bombing this week, happens, we have a choice about how we are going to respond. It's quite a simple choice, really, and it's made a quite a deep, often sub-conscious level. We can choose to respond with fear or hatred, or we can choose to respond with love.

Many followers of this blog will know that I am currently undertaking a survey of Unitarian beliefs and spirituality, which I will be writing up over the summer. Two of the questions are:

"What do you believe about the nature of evil?" and "What does the concept of sin mean to you?"

I believe that in the violent world in which we live, it is vital to think these things through, so that we can respond appropriately, when incidents like the Manchester bombing happen.

So let's think about the nature of evil. My own belief is that nobody is born evil. Who could believe that an innocent babe, fresh from the womb, is evil? Nevertheless, through a combination of factors, such as upbringing, poor environment, bad nutrition, mental instability, addiction, brain-washing, people are driven to do acts which we judge to be evil. Almost all my respondents so far are very clear that *no-one* is evil in the beginning, but that the capacity to do evil is within every human being, and must be kept in check, by each and every one of us. Evil comes from an absence of compassion, an inability to feel with the other. It is about the deliberate choice to do the wrong thing, not the right one. Which many people would define as sin.

But people are not evil. Only the acts they do are evil. It is important to hold on to that distinction. I have to wonder what lies the Manchester suicide bomber was told, that he would believe that blowing himself and other people up was the next right thing to do. I feel for his family, who are surely grieving for a beloved son, a beloved brother.

For me, the lies that the suicide bomber was surely told are the real sin, the real evil. Sin is a falling short of the standards we know are right, that we should be aspiring to. Many of my respondents defined the concept of sin as this falling short, as making the wrong choice, as separation from God, from good. Again, they were very clear that this is a learned thing - every respondent so far was totally against the idea of 'original sin' - that human beings are born flawed.

And we need to hold on to the other side of things too - the outpouring of love and compassion and support that we have seen in the last few days. On the night of the bombing, Twitter was filled with offers of support - of a room for the night, of food, drink, safe transport home, anything that people could think of. The emergency services did their usual splendid job, and taxi drivers of all religions and none turned off their meters, and showed up at Manchester Arena to offer a free ride home to anyone who needed it. Local hospitals have been flooded with offers to give blood.

The British Red Cross, in conjunction with the Manchester authorities, has now set up a 'We Love Manchester Emergency Fund', and money has been pouring in to support the families and friends of the victims. Because once this horrific story fades out of the news, which it surely will, these people are still going to be bereaved, still going to have to live with the consequences of that young man's evil deed. In less than a week, over £5.6 million pounds has been raised. My own small congregation at Banbury gave £50 yesterday. Every penny will be needed.

Tolkien, as ever, has it right. In The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo comments "I wish it need not have happened in my time" To which Gandalf responds: "So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."

"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us." May we decide well, and respond with love.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Knowledge vs Wisdom

For many young people (and some not-so-young) May and June are the most stressful months of the year. It is the time of year when all their accumulated knowledge, gained by hard work in classroom or lecture theatre or library, is tested. And on the results of those exams, their entire futures often depend.

It seems so unfair that our academic year is structured to end in the Summer, although I understand why it does: in former times, children had to be available during the Summer months to help with the Harvest.

But it is so hard to have to be indoors, either revising, or in an exam, when outside the sky is blue, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and there are so many fun things they would rather be doing. I can remember sitting my O and A levels in a sweltering, airless gym, wishing I could be anywhere else.

Looking back across the many years since then, I wonder at how little of the knowledge and facts I crammed into my brain in those days has come in useful in later life (except in pub quizzes!). Admittedly, I am eternally grateful to Mr. Griffith-Jones, the English teacher who passed on his love of good literature, but otherwise, not much else has had any lasting meaning for me, or influence on me.

It makes me wonder whether we are teaching our children the right things in school. I think that perhaps there is too much emphasis on gaining knowledge, on the accumulation of facts, and not enough on learning the important lessons of life, through gaining wisdom.

Perhaps wisdom cannot be learned through study, but only through the experiences of our lives. Wisdom is more about being awake, about paying attention to what is going on around us. Wisdom is more a way of living in the world; of responding to it, following the best that we know. it is about working out what we believe is right and good and true, and then trying to live wholeheartedly, with all of ourselves, as Brene Brown would say.

There are many great teachers of wisdom around, if we could only learn to wake up and pay attention to them. We may learn wisdom by reading the words of wise men and women, or by listening to the worship leader in church or chapel on a Sunday; but I think that a surer route is through our own life experiences.

There is nothing to beat actually experiencing something to teach us the wisdom it holds. For example, a child can be told repeatedly that fire burns, but it is only when she sticks her finger in the candle flame that she learns.

The opportunities to gain wisdom are all around us - in the wonders of Creation, in our interactions with one another, and in the things we see, hear, smell, touch, and taste.

Let us resolve to be awake and pay attention.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Losing Track of Time

It has been a crazy busy few weeks - I've had several major events to prepare for, organise, and partly deliver, including the Spring Training Day on How Unitarians Do Communion, the District AGM, and, just last week, the 2017 Annual Meetings of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches. During which I had two slots to look after, and two stalls to help mind. As well as keeping track of requests for and responses to my survey of Unitarian beliefs and spirituality, which was launched towards the end of March.

And these are just the highlights. There has been all the "normal" stuff to do as well - leaders no worship, pastoral care, spiritual direction training and sessions, putting newsletters together, and all the other stuff involved with ministry. Then there is the non-ministry stuff: domestic tasks and self-care, including going to the gym four times a week, and trying to find the time to do some creative writing and art.

I normally keep on top (or at least nearly so) of all this by means of a very detailed weekly To Do List, which is written on a Sunday evening for the week ahead. Each task, whether for work or not, is assigned to a particular day, and I tend to "front-load" the week by having Monday and Tuesday as my desk work days (unless something comes up, Wednesday (if I can manage it) as my rest day, leaving Thursday and Friday more flexible, for whatever comes up or is needed. Saturday and Sunday are generally work days. Then it all starts again.

I share all this by force of contrast to my current situation. It is earlyish on Tuesday morning, and I'm sitting up in bed in a Welsh barn with a notepad balanced on my knees, listening to my husband in the shower and to the farm sounds outside the window. I've no idea what we are going to do today, and quite honestly, I don't care, so long as we are together and enjoying ourselves.

Presently, I will get up, prepare for the day and eat some breakfast. Then we'll decide what we fancy doing, according to what the weather looks like, and how we feel.

My normal watch is very accurate, and I know to the second what time it is. Each working minute is meticulously recorded, so that I know I'm giving the District good value for the stipend they pay me. I am conscious of the time, almost all of the time.

But not this week. I have a special watch, which I only use on rest-days and holidays. It came from Belarus, and only has (by design) one hand. The dial show the twelve hours in their usual configuration, but the space between each number is divided into four, indicating quarter-hours,  then each of those (very small) spaces are further divided into three, indicating five minutes. In practice, when I've not got my glasses on, I can't really see the five-minute markers clearly, so I generally only know the time to the nearest 15 minutes, as in "it's somewhere between quarter-past and half-past".

It is surprising how liberating this is. I normally do a fair impression of the White Rabbit from 'Alice in Wonderland', rushing from one task to the next, always busy. But when I use my holiday watch, I am tacitly giving myself permission to lighten up, to follow my heart and gut, to do what I want, rather than what I ought.

"What is this world, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?" Asks W.H. Davies. So I am standing and staring, losing all track of time, and nourishing my soul.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Creative Time

For most of my adult life, I have considered myself to be a "morning person" - somebody who gets their best work done between breakfast and lunch.

But in recent years, and particularly in recent months, I have found that while I do my best work-related work between breakfast and lunch, the creative part of my brain seems to be developing a strong preference for the middle of the night - usually between 2 and 3 a.m.

So I googled "When is the best time to write?" and came across a fascinating article by Cathy Presland, on the blog 'Author Unlimited'. The scientific opinion seems to be that the best time to write is first thing in the morning, before you've showered, had breakfast, anything, because it is when your willpower is at its strongest.

But the part of the article which interested me was the argument that "The area of the brain that is linked to creativity is most active during and immediately after sleep. As you wake up and get on with your day, then this creative condition leaves you and the analytical side of your brain kicks in."

It seems that it depends on how your brain works. Some people find writing late at night works best for them; others, like me, prefer to be creative early doors (or even in the middle of the night) and would rather edit and do research later on in the day.

I would be fascinated to hear how other creative writers divide their time - do you do your original writing in the morning, and edit / do research in the afternoon? Or do you write creatively late at night, and edit / do research the next morning?

Monday, 20 February 2017

Words and Meanings

On Saturday I attended a wonderful Inter-Faith Peace Blessing in Birmingham. There were well over a hundred people there, from most of the many faith communities in Birmingham, and it was a joy to be in the same space as so many people from different faith traditions.

The theme of the occasion was 'One Family Under God', and I had understood this to mean that members of all faith traditions could join together in worshipping God, respecting one another's traditions and beliefs.

However, it turned out that it was more a celebration of the family as the place where you learn true morals and values - integrity, peace, responsibility, honesty, and so on. Now I would be the first to agree that the family unit is incredibly important in our society, as the source of the moral and ethical teachings which help us all to become responsible, tolerant members of our multi-faith society. Several of the speakers testified very movingly about the importance of their families of origin. Which was lovely.

But, as the afternoon progressed, it became clear that the families which were being held up as sacred and important were exclusively heterosexual, with the parents being one man and one woman. Both I and the Methodist minister I was sitting next to found the reiterated emphasis on this quite uneasy. We talked about it afterwards, and felt that queerness, in all its diversity, was the 'elephant in the room'. But I'm sure we were in the minority.

In April 2015, David Spiegelhalter had an article in The Guardian, in which he concluded that "my judgment would be that roughly one in 80 adults under 75 would consider themselves gay/lesbian and one in 80 bisexual, but with the balance towards bisexual in women. That works out to a total of nearly 1.2 million – the population of Birmingham."

This is a not-inconsiderable proportion of the population, to be so disregarded. As a straight ally, I found this to be a matter for concern, and it rather spoiled what would otherwise have been a warm and lovely occasion.

Monday, 6 February 2017

The Nature of Courage

The definition of outward courage - being brave, doing something under difficult circumstances, is perhaps the most common understanding of courage in our society today. The image that comes straight away into my mind is that of St George slaying the dragon. or Samwise Gamgee and Frodo Baggins on their long journey into Mordor, in The Lord of the Rings, who kept on going, step by painful step, in spite of every peril on the road. Every soldier who goes into battle shows great courage.

But such deeds are not a part of most of our lives. Most of us will live our whole lives without having to undertake a perilous task, or enduring physical dangers.

But inner courage is something we could all do with more of. It is about living wholeheartedly, about standing up for what we believe in. In poet David Whyte's words, it is "to make conscious those things we already feel deeply and then to live through the unending vulnerabilities of those consequences. To be courageous is to seat our feelings deeply in the body and in the world; to live up to and into the necessities of relationships that often already exist, with things we find we already care deeply about: with a person, a future, a possibility in society, or with an unknown that begs us on and always has begged us on."

Above all, courage is the willingness to be vulnerable. As Brene Brown writes: "Heroics is often about putting our life on the line. Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line. In today's world, that's pretty extraordinary." Because it is often so much easier to Do Nothing! To keep your head down and your mouth shut, and not to stand up and speak out in a difficult situation.

We live in a troubled world. Everywhere we look, on Facebook, in the news, there are stories of ordinary people, people just like us, being deprived of their rights, imprisoned, or denied access to benefits, because of the colour of their skin, their sexual orientation, their gender, or their religious faith. Every day, it seems, the new US President is promulgating another law to exclude another particular group of people from the full benefits of society.

And it's not just in the States that these things are happening. Towards the end of last year, I went to see the film I, Daniel Blake, which really brought home to me what an unequal society we live in, here in our country. I blogged about it here.

I believe that sometimes, courage is just taking the first step. The first step which takes us outside of our comfort zone, moving us from a place of inaction and "walking by on the other side", as the Priest and the Levite did in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, to a path towards acting from a place of integrity, standing up for what we believe in, speaking out against evil and injustice, wherever and whenever we encounter it.

It involves being in touch with our feelings, our beliefs; feeling the fear, and doing it anyway. It isn't easy; nothing worthwhile ever is. It involves laying our comfortable lives on the line, being awake to the many injustices in our society, in our daily lives, and daring greatly. Taking a deep breath and being seen. Because it's worth it. Because we are worth it. It's about saying "yes" to life.

But ... sometimes, just sometimes, courage can also be about saying "no". Just this week, I was invited to take on another role in our Unitarian movement nationally. My first instinct was to say "yes", particularly as the person doing the asking was somebody I like and respect very much.

But a little voice in the back of my head was saying "Hang on a minute, let's think about this." And I did start to think about the many calls on my time, both paid and unpaid. My ministry, my work for the Worship Studies Course, and my spiritual direction and training, not to mention this blog! And also the fact that I have a body and a spirit and a marriage, all of which need nourishing.

So I said "No, I'm so sorry; I can't commit to anything else." It took a lot of courage, as I hate disappointing people. But it was the right thing to do, for me, at this time. And I know that if I had said "yes", I would have ended up feeling depeleted and resentful, which would have done no-one any good.

How will you show courage, in the weeks and months ahead?

Monday, 30 January 2017

From Roots to Fruits

On Saturday I attended a one-day intensive for my spiritual direction course on the theme 'Tree of Life: from Roots to Fruits', led by Noel Moules.

It was fascinating to learn what a universal icon the Tree of Life is. There is something about a tree - any tree - which so beautifully reminds us both of the cycle of life, and that the whole of creation is inter-connected, in a very profound way. Without trees, there would be no life on this planet.

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It is a symbolism which can be used in so many ways in the spiritual life, by considering yourself as a tree, and asking some searching questions (most of which I remember from the Build Your Own Theology course):

  • What is your spirituality rooted in?
  • Which roots from your past have influenced you?
  • Had you considered that much of the work of the spiritual life goes on at a sub-conscious (roots) level?
  • What is the main foundation of your faith (trunk)?
  • Consider the different elements of your faith / spiritual journey (branches) - what fruits have resulted from them (beliefs and actions)?
  • Look at the discarded leaves on the forest floor - which parts of your spiritual lie have you left behind?
  • Consider that every fruit contains seeds, which need to be planted in fertile soil in order to grow and bear fruit in their turn.
He also emphasised the importance of living by life-giving values (Shalom), rather than by legal, head-based rules. All this was presented with beautiful images of living trees, which are so essential to the healthy life of our planet. It was a gentle, challenging, holistic day, with lots of time for reflection.

I feel blessed.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

And ... Breathe!

This morning I forced myself to do something I find incredibly stressful - I filled in my 2015/16 tax return.

I don't know why I find it so difficult - it should be simple enough, but every year it reduces me to a quivering jelly of stress, on the verge of meltdown.

I think that the reason is I'm terrified of doing it wrong. Finance and I do not mix - I'm good at keeping on top of my personal finances, and keep track of my income and expenditure by checking my bank statements every month, and keeping all receipts etc. But I could *never* be a Treasurer - the idea of having the responsibility for other people's money freaks me out big time. I take a look at a column of figures, and my brain switches off. Every. Single. Time. I take my hat off to the Treasurers of congregations, district associations and societies - they do a fabulous job.

I managed to get through the process this year by phoning a friend in the midst of my panic, who was reassuring. He told me to leave it for a few minutes, then go back to it. And it worked. I (and my brain) just needed a breathing space, a time away from the stress of it all.

It occurs to me that this advice is something I could take to heart more often. So I'm forming a new (a bit late) resolution for this coming year: "If you feel stressed out about something, physically separate yourself from it, find a quiet place, and just breathe."

Just breathe. Give yourself a break. Give your body, mind, and spirit a rest. Just breathe.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Gifts and Blessings

Unitarian Universalist Jay Abernathy wrote: "We are all blessings to this world. Our work of building bridges of connection by finding and naming and affirming those blessings we are is the work of nurturing our spirits and healing our world."

By long tradition, the three Wise Men or Magi brought their gifts to Jesus on the feast of Epiphany, which was last Friday. I wonder what gifts we can give to our loved ones, this chilly January? By "loved ones", I mean all the people with whom we are in relationship - our families, our friends, the people at work, and members of our beloved Unitarian communities.

Over the past couple of weeks, we have all exchanged many gifts with our loved ones - both material, in the form of Christmas presents, and shared Christmas meals and drinks; and non-material.

I, for example, received a new Great Course on reading Biblical Literature, which I'm finding fascinating, the DVD of Game of Thrones Season 6 (also fascinating, but rather more gory!), a beautiful Swarowski Christmas star to add to my collection, and some Amazon gift vouchers. As a result of which, I am a very happy bunny!

But the gifts that meant the most to me could not be bought. My daughter and her boyfriend came down for a few days, and my son was home too. On Christmas Day, after a gorgeous lunch booked to perfection by my beloved, a peaceful afternoon with the Great British Bake Off Christmas Special, we had cheese and biscuits for tea. Then the four of us (the kids and I, my beloved does not do board games) played some hilarious games of Cluedo. Then we all watched Independence Day: Resurgence.

Not a cross word was said, much laughter and hugging happened. I could not have been happier. The gifts of time and attention and love are priceless.

We can also bring gifts to the wider world - to the chance-met stranger, to the people in our town or village or city, to causes we care about. If you believe, as I do, that every human being has a spark of the divine in them, then we should try to respond to every person we meet  as though we are encountering a possible new friend. I wonder how different our world would be, if we tried to bear that in mind in the weeks and months ahead?

Jay Abernathy also wrote: "Each of us has at least one blessing - I believe each of us offers MANY blessings - to this world, in who we are. But sometimes, we and our world might have a difficult time affirming and seeing those blessings.

I invite you to look into yourself and discover again one of your blessings, one of your gifts to the world. Loving, peaceful, generous, compassionate - there are so many traits and blessings. What is yours?

Write that blessing on a piece of paper. Greet yourself in the mirror of your heart with that name.

Share that greeting with another person today."

May 2017 be the year that we discover our gifts, and manage to be a blessing to ourselves, and to the world around us.