“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

Edward Everett Hale

Friday, 14 May 2021

The Efficacy of Flowers

 I love this week's quotation, by Chao Hsiu Chen, "When a flower blooms, it shows us its beauty. If it does not bloom, it teaches us hope."

Flowers show us their beauty and lift our hearts. I walk either in the fields around the village or in Salcey Forest most days and my heart is always lifted by the sight of a flower I have never seen before - snowdrops, primroses, daffodils, tulips and just now, bluebells. I mark the passing of the days and of the seasons by the flowers that bloom.

And I suppose that a flower that does not bloom does teach us hope, in that we can wait in patience for it to bloom. 

But I have more often been taught hope by flowers that bloom in the oddest places - in the cracks of pavements, for example. They seem to prove that no matter what their environment, they will still burst forth in their glory. And that we can do the same, no matter how harsh our own situation.

They can also teach us about the power of nature to overcome man-made environments. I can remember seeing a photo of Chernobyl, the Russian city which had the nuclear incident in 1986. Nature has taken it over now...

I think that flowers can be a potent symbol of hope. They hold out the promise that there will always be new life, even in the darkest times.

What brings you hope, as we come out of this pandemic?

Friday, 7 May 2021

A Few Clouds in the Sky

 Henry David Thoreau, the 19th century Transcendentalist, wrote, "Just as there must be a few clouds in the sky, so the mind needs a few moods."

Blue sky days are lovely and I very much enjoy walking in the forest on such days, like this morning, when the trees are silhouetted against the rich, glorious blue. 

Yet I know that without the rain we've had for the past few days, the forest would not be as green and lush as it is. So yes, the clouds (and the rain) are needed.

So much for the first half of Thoreau's words. I guess by "the mind needs a few moods", he means that we can't be happy all the time. Or if we are, we're probably ignoring something in our own lives, or in the world around us. For example, many folk are nostalgic for the past, which their memory has edited into an ideal golden age, where everything went right. If I think back to my own childhood summers, the sun was always shining and I was playing outside happily with my friends. Yet I know objectively that rain often "stopped play" and we were driven inside. And that my childhood, like most people's, was not a time of undiluted happiness.

It is only when we go deep, and see the clouds, that we can understand ourselves fully. Doing the necessary shadow work can be very painful, but it is necessary, if we are to be whole. I have blogged about this here. Life isn't all sunshine and rainbows, and it is by learning from the clouds, from the sad or painful things which happen to us, that we grow.

Let us embrace all our moods, which have something to teach us, if we are patient enough to sit and observe them, rather than rushing into action to make ourselves happy again.

Friday, 30 April 2021

Walking Our Own Paths

 I have to admit that I find this week's quotation, by French writer, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, confusing. It reads, "Do not just walk the smooth roads. Walk paths that no-one has walked before, so that you leave traces and not just dust."

Because no-one walks exactly the same path as anyone else - we are all unique human beings, coming from unique parentage, backgrounds and past experiences, all of which will impact our choice of the roads we travel throughout our lives. 

I suppose it might mean that we should try to choose the path that makes the most sense to us, at the deepest level of our being and at the point of our decision, rather than blindly following the choices or decisions of others. We might call this the way of integrity, perhaps. For most people, it is so much easier to follow the "smooth roads", so much harder to strike out on our own, because it requires more bravery, more confidence in our own choices. Especially if by doing so, we are going against the opinions of others, of the silent majority. 

It is a deep human instinct to take our problems to someone else, someone we think is wiser than we are, stronger than we are, and allow them to influence our paths, even to make our decisions for us. But in the end, if we want to grow into the best people we can be, only we should, only we can, make our decisions, our choices, for ourselves. Because, as I said, each person is unique, so what is right for one may not be right for another.

Many of the choices we make will have little impact on the lives of others, or even on our own lives. But sometimes, they will change our lives, setting us on a new course, which we could not have imagined before we made that choice, set our feet on that path. When I was doing German A level, many years ago, one of our set texts for the literature element was Sansibar oder der letzte Grund by Alfred Andersch. It was about exactly this - a small group of people in the little north German town of Rerik during World War II, who make decisions which will change their lives. As Walter G. Hesse writes in his introduction to it, "The people in this tense tale seem very ordinary and familiar at the outset, yet they are drawn into a web of nightmarish incidents which force all of them to decisions which raise them far above the ordinary and familiar." He calls them "the few... to whom moral values were more important than safety."

Hesse continues, "Everyone who doubts, who retains a measure of questioning intellect or belief, even if he is not as capable as those who can 'read the signs', will eventually, by talk or action, undermine an authority which can maintain itself only through the silence of the passive majority... Everyone who contradicts the money-lenders and traders in this contemporary temple is... forced to renounce selfish interests."

The symbol of this "measure of questioning intellect or belief" is a little wooden statue, called Der Lesende Klosterschuler or the reading monk, which one of the characters, a pastor named Helander, asks the fisherman, Knudsen, to smuggle out of the country, because within the privacy of his own head, the reading monk is free, and this is a symbol the Nazis cannot bear. It is a wonderful book, which had a great impact on me.

Der lesende Klosterschuler (photo in book, Rembrandt-Verlag, Berlin)

So we need to take thought at every choice point, and try to discern what the right thing, the moral thing is, for us, at that particular instant in our journey through life. We should not be afraid to do the right thing, even if it is different. We should be willing to follow the still, small voice of our consciences, or that of the Divine spark within, and blaze our own trail, thus leaving traces of our path for others to be inspired by.

Friday, 23 April 2021

Beauty through Joy

 French philosopher and mystic, Simone Weil, wrote, "Through joy the beauty of the world penetrates our soul." 

And yes, I agree with her. But I'm not sure about the order in which it happens. I can go for a walk in Salcey Forest feeling quite anxious about something, and it is the beauty of the forest which penetrates my soul, and then the joy happens.

Yet I guess it is also true that when we are feeling joyful, it is easier for us to perceive the beauty of the world. For example, the way my heart lifts when I turn right off the A623 towards Foolow, and know that the Nightingale Centre is only a matter of minutes away. A sensation which I guess will be well known to many Unitarians from the South and the Midlands.

John O'Donohue has a beautiful blessing, For Beauty:

As stillness in stone to silence is wed,
May solitude foster your truth in word.
As a river flows in ideal sequence,
May your soul reveal where time is presence.
As the moon absolves the dark of distance,
May your style of thought bridge the difference.
As the breath of light awakens colour,
May the dawn anoint your eyes with wonder.
As spring rain softens the earth with surprise,
May your winter places be kissed by light.
As the ocean dreams to the joy of dance,
May the grace of change bring you elegance.
As clay anchors a tree in light and wind,
May your outer life grow from peace within.
As twilight pervades the belief of night,
May beauty sleep lightly within your heart.

As I transcribed his beautiful words, my heart was filled with joy. Amen, amen.

Friday, 16 April 2021

Where Does Happiness Lie?

 Aristotle, the 4th century BCE Greek philosopher, once wrote, "Happiness seems to lie in leisure. It belongs to those who are self-sufficient."

The original quote I saw was in the German postcard calendar I buy every year as prompts for these blogposts, and this week, I struggled with the translation. Not for most of it, but for the last three words, "sich selber genügen." This could either mean "self-sufficient" OR "sufficient for themselves", which doesn't mean quite the same.

Because being self-sufficient can mean closing ourselves off from connections with others, whereas "sufficient for themselves" can mean that we find our own company enough. I know this is hair-splitting, but to me, it feels quite different. I enjoy solitude, which is what I mean by being sufficient for myself, but would not like to cut myself off from human connection.

I also struggled with "Happiness seems to lie in leisure", because that ain't necessarily so. I also find happiness in working hard, in being absorbed in writing or crochet or cross-stitch. It is an active engagement, just relaxing.  I guess it hinges on how we define "leisure", which my Concise Oxford Dictionary defines as "time at one's own disposal", which I suppose includes doing something active. Being at leisure is about having no calls on our time, which is delightful, and does bring me happiness, because it means I can do what brings me joy. Which might be hard work, nonetheless.

But I would say that happiness *also* lies in leisure. A few years ago, I blogged about the things that bring me happiness here and I am delighted to report that all those things still bring me happiness; I would only want to add crocheting and playing chess with my son.

Where does happiness lie for you?

Friday, 9 April 2021

Recognise the Eternal

 The Chinese sage Confucius wrote, "Recognise the eternal and you are wise." 

Which sort of begs the question, "What is eternal?"

To which the pure answer is, "only God." Or perhaps, "only change." But I think what Confucius was getting at, was that we need to have a sense of perspective in our lives. And have some deeply-held beliefs and values on which we can rely, when we encounter any difficult situation.

Having a sense of perspective is something (I find) that has become easier as I've got older. Perhaps because I have more, and more varied, experience of life, I am more able to recognise that this (whatever 'this' is) has happened before, and it passed. Nothing in our lives is constant - everything changes, all the time - and so perhaps the only wise way to deal with it is to recognise this and not take whatever it is too hard. Or try to cling on to it, if it is something wonderful. Because "this too shall pass." It's a quality of being able to step back, be a little detached, activate our inner observer.

But this is easier if we have some deeply held beliefs and values on which to rely. So long as these do not render us unable to cope with change. If they support us, enable us to cope and move on, or appreciate and move on, that is good. But if our beliefs and values are not healthy ones, they can have the opposite effect, so that we become victims of our circumstances.

A sense of perspective also enables us to appreciate the cycle of the seasons, which is both eternal and ever new. Yes, there will be snowdrops and daffodils and crocuses and primroses and new buds and blossom this Spring, as there always are, but *these* snowdrops, daffodils, crocuses, primroses, new buds and blossom are absolutely new, never before seen. That is the closest I can come to an appreciation of the eternal, which changes.

Friday, 2 April 2021


This week's quotation, from Russian author, Leo Tolstoy, "Rejoice in the sky, the sun, the stars, the grass and trees, the animals and the people," really spoke to me.

Because I love walking outside in nature, at any time of day, whatever the weather (although sunshine is best!). It has been one of the great consolations in my life since lockdown started - to be able to go for a daily walk, either round the village, round the fields that surround the village, or in the Forest. It is a constant joy to watch the cycle of the year unfolding in front of my eyes, and to marvel both in the perennial familiarity of snowdrops in February and daffodils in March, and yet to also be filled with wonder that I have never before seen these snowdrops, these daffodils. And in the endlessly changeful beauty of the trees and sky. And so I rejoice.

I also rejoice in the presence of my beautiful cat, Luna, even if she wants to sit on my knee at the most awkward time (such as when I'm trying to record my weekly service, or when I'm trying to crochet). She is warm and friendly and loving. And so I rejoice.

I rejoice in the daily presence of my husband and son, and in the more distant, but regular, connection (because she is in Kilnhurst) with my daughter. This evening, we are getting together on Zoom to do a family quiz. Each person offers two rounds, with ten questions in each round... it is fun and often hilarious. This month, I'm doing a round on Harry Potter and an online version of Kim's Game. Simple pleasures, enjoyed with my family And so I rejoice.

What do you rejoice in?