Tadhg’s Journal: Third Heaven At Y Goeden Mellt…In The Similitude Of A Dream

160828 third heaven 111 STANDARD JOURNAL

Having walked through this much-loved, familiar, dense forest in wild and rugged north Wales, at about midnight, I sat on a felled log in a small clearing, in front of Y goeden mellt, the lightning tree. And waited. Random thoughts ‘bubbled up’ from the sea of unconsciousness within me, like spiritual flotsam and jetsam.

The air was cooling, the sky was pitch black, and animals of unknown species and quantity scurried around in the undergrowth nearby or in the tree branches above me, oblivious to my presence, or maybe aware but unconcerned about it.

And, random thoughts just flowed all the more.

Mundane thoughts arose, about what’s in the freezer, what to buy at the shop the next day, and questions such as, ‘Did I turn the tap off before leaving the cottage?’ vied for prime place. Not the kind of thoughts that would be of interest to anyone, really. Except, that every now and then a thought would arise from some unknown place and stay around, and would be of a different order.

‘You cannot keep birds from flying over your head
but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.’

Thoughts come and go, and some unwelcome thoughts are best allowed to return to the place of their origin.

But, some of these random thoughts caught my attention, peaked my interest, and in the relative silence of this place – in front of Y goeden mellt, the lightning tree – this place of mystery, and to me a sacred place, I had time to let them ruminate. I wanted to let them grow and mature to ‘see’ what these half-thoughts would be when ‘fully grown’.

John Bunyan, a sincere and noble man was thrown, unjustly, into Bedford gaol in England, at least twice in his life for his religious beliefs in the 1670’s, even though he was careful with his major work, to try to create some ‘safe’, artistic space by prefacing his book with the words: ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress, in the similitude of a dream.’

‘As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I came upon a certain place where there was a den; and I lay down in that place to sleep; and as I slept I dreamed a dream…’ John Bunyan

There I was sitting on that felled log, in the forest clearing at midnight, alone, and it was as if I had fallen asleep, and random thoughts ‘visited’ me from afar. [Thank you, John Bunyan for that ‘safe’ space of creativity, and way of writing].

So, I dreamed a dream. In my mind’s eye, in this dream, it was if all those who had gone before me, my dear and departed family and friends were assembling before me, and around me, as though I was in the middle of some fantastic, other-worldly party.

‘After your death, you will be what you were before your birth.’ Arthur Schopenhauer

I could make out my two grandmothers, and saw my dear mother (not with a body so worn by the world, but looking so young, so lovely,  and so full of life) laughing as she chatted to two unknown men – who, though I had never seen them before, I knew then that they were my grandfathers who had died before I was born. Indeed, all those at this party seemed some young, so alive, so peaceful. They exuded peace. A peace that I could ‘feel’. And, still more of them entered the clearing.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and right doing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.
[Rumi]

I thought of my Christian friends from whom I had learned so much, and wished they were here to experience this, but deep down wondered if they would accept this, or shun me as being ‘unorthodox’ or worse, as a heretic?

I thought of my co-Druid friends and their respect and love for nature, and of honouring the ancestors – I truly admire them for that – and how good it would be if only they were here with me to observe this assembly.

I thought of other friends and family, and wondered. What would they think?

There were now somewhere in the region of forty ‘gone ahead’ people around me – interacting with each other as though I wasn’t there.

Though I hadn’t seen many of these people in ‘real life’, I could point out my Aunt Sarah who died as a result of injuries sustained by a ‘Doodlebug’ in the London bombings of the Second World War when she was about 22 years old, and others, such as my great-grandfathers…and, still more entered the clearing.

It was quite uplifting to see them all. All so young-looking. All, so vibrant. All, so alive. All, so joyful. And then, others arrived to join in the party and interact, but not with me – I was seemingly quite invisible to them. Just an observer. A mystified, intrigued, observer.

Now, this is where this strange party becomes an even-stranger party: I could see my dad talking with my mother, and my brother too, and I could see recent friends talking to unknown people who were family and friends of theirs, and yet my dad and brother and these recent friends were very much alive and yet there! And, much to my amazement, and to add to my confusion, there I was in that party, talking to my long-deceased Aunt Sarah. As I sat on that log, I was looking at myself! The observer observed?

The party began to fade, and the colour of the dream seemed to drain away all too quickly; changing from vivid to pastel shades; the colours ‘melting’ into the forest background, and party noise fading.

‘Memory is the place where our vanished days secretly gather. … The past seems to be gone and absent. Yet the grooves in the mind hold the traces and vestiges of everything that has ever happened to us. Nothing is ever lost or forgotten.’ John O’Donohue

As I looked on, questions arose in my mind. How can, what is obviously a glimpse of Bliss, contain those that had gone before me and contain family and friends that were still very much alive to me?

Still oblivious to them, a couple near me spoke to each other and as if speaking to me, said, ‘In this place of ‘no-time’, all who have gone before meet those yet to ‘depart’ the world of time. Leaving at different times in the world of time, we all arrive here in this place of ‘no-time’, together. It’s a ‘side-ways step’ out of time, into ‘no time’. Assured. It seemed to make sense. We always were there! We never left! We just thought we did, perhaps? I laughed to myself.

‘We all have an old knot in the heart we wish to untie.’ Michael Ondaatje

Oh, if only I had done things a bit differently, had spoken more to that person when they were alive, I thought. The things I wanted to do for another party-goer ‘gone ahead’ person that I had just spied, was a matter of much regret from me, of what could have been.

And yet, as if to answer that deep sadness that resided at the pit of my soul, a couple moved nearer to me. It was  me-in-Bliss and that person in question, talking together, and they were laughing and joking, and I knew that prior deficiencies and regrets were all ‘solved’ in this place of ‘no-time’. Cancelled out. As a calmness ‘cocooned’ me, I realised, too, that I should stop being so concerned about what might have been between me and that person, and live life to the full. For in that place of ‘no-time’, there were no regrets, nor memories of regrets. Just the communion of all. ‘All things are made new in this place’, a voice from somewhere said. Comforted, I wept for joy and relief as the crust of many years of sadness dissipated.

How do I tell my friends this?

A voice behind me spoke. ‘Then I said, Don’t’. Tell those who will understand it, and don’t tell those who wont, is what I said’, a person said in talking to another person, and not me.

I remembered John Bunyan’s preface. And, I remembered reading the words of St Paul, ‘I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know. God knows’. (2 Corinthians 12:2). I could empathise with these men and their concern at how their accounts would be received. Inspired by them, I would call my account, a dream. I smiled. No one will know.

I stood, and paused for a moment, as if to assimilate all that had just occurred, before starting to walk back to the cottage. The air was now quite cold. I started to shiver. Walking away from that clearing I looked back, and just for one second, out of the corner of my eye I thought I could see these other-worldly loved-ones trailing away. But, for a moment one of them stopped, smiled, and waved. And, was gone.

‘Remember tonight…for it is the beginning of always’. Dante Alighieri.

 

 

Tadhg’s Journal: Fear Of Y Goeden Mellt

160825 fear lightning tree STANDARD JOURNAL

Can a place be a location where fear dwells? A waste place? A place to avoid? Can a clearing in a dark, midnight forest contain ‘fear’ that seems like a palpable presence?

As a teenager I would often cut through Culpepper’s Wood on the way home, sometimes it would be approaching midnight. I am not an easily frightened person, never was, but at one point on my journey through the forest, there would be a sharp incline and I would have to take a sharp left turn, the trees then ‘give way’ to a small clearing, at least for a while before the forest ‘resumed’, and there it would be: Y goeden mellt, the lightning tree (is a rough translation from Welsh into English), as my grandmother used to call it.

To me, as a teenager it always felt that Y goeden mellt had a tangible fear-producing presence about it, as I passed it by. Friends would avoid this area. I seemed to have the opposite reaction. But, that’s just me.

‘Don’t be afraid of your fears. They’re not there to scare you. They’re there to  let you know that something is worth it.’ C Joybell C

It wasn’t the kind of Hollywood movie, malevolent, stalking, horrific, ‘evil’ fear, that would cause me to run past it; but more of a powerful, old-worldly, ancient, brooding, ‘positive’ fear, that quickened my heart, and certainly encouraged me to quicken my pace on a number of occasions, and the former still happens if I have to pass it by, today.

‘I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.’ Sarah Williams

I know this still happens, as last night, wanting to go for a walk before bedtime, I went for a long walk that took me to the lightning tree. I didn’t pass it by, it was my destination point this time, but the desire to walk past it or turn back quickly was certainly there, and my heart was racing. It was so dark. There was a chill in the air. Animals of some description scurried around nearby in the undergrowth. And, I sat of a felled log and looked at the lightning tree, some twenty feet away. I say twenty feet away. It could have been closer. It was difficult to gauge the distance as everything looks ‘flat’ against the dark sky.

Sitting there, thoughts started to ramble.

‘The Wilderness holds answers to more questions than we have yet learned to  ask.’ Nancy Wynne Newhall

Do some trees attract lightning more than others? It seems this one did. I’m told ‘lone’ trees may suffer lightning strikes more so, and oaks which tend to be taller than other tree and have a higher moisture content definitely seem to attract lightning. And, doubly so if rain-soaked.

‘Beware the oak; it draws the stroke.’

But the ‘fear’ I had felt years ago, and which, yes, was still detectable last night as I sat in that clearing was ‘clean’, wholesome, even ‘friendly’ fear, one that made my pupils dilate, thus taking everything ‘in’ around me, made me alert, and ‘alive’ to the ‘commotion’ around me: owls hooting, things scurrying behind me, or in front of me when I turned to look behind me, and several things in the trees. Words from Gerald G May came to mind.

‘Fear, like  any other strong emotion, can make you exquisitely conscious of living,  perfectly aware of being in the movement. It can only do that, however, on  those rare occasions when you don’t try to fight it, run away from it, cope with  it, suppress it, tame it, or otherwise domestic it.’ Gerald G May, ‘The Wisdom Of Wilderness’.

I had read May’s book some years ago, and it was even more poignant some nine years ago because I had just got over three cycles of chemo, then, an operation and radio-therapy because of cancer, and after reading that book, I found myself in this same clearing, wondering what the future would hold. Fear? This was the place to be – looking at the lightning tree. But, such fear made me feel more ‘alive’ than ever.

And, those memories came flooding back last night.

Fear can be healthy, not ‘malevolent’. It can benefit us, if we ‘use’ it properly and ‘decipher’ its message, rather than run from it.

‘The basic lesson is this: Fear is not an enemy but a friend. Fear is something  good, something alive, alert and wild in us. Fear may be a response to danger,  but fear itself is not dangerous.’ Gerald G May

That sentiment has always been at the back on my mind, even when as a teenager I would pass this way, after dark. And, when I was here nine years ago – and all the other times.  Fear is not the enemy. Nine years ago, facing the fear of cancer and recovering from the most invasive of operations, words of calm ‘fell’ on me in this clearing.

Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not  give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.’, said  the Christ, as recorded in John 14:27

Then, I didn’t know how the proceeding years would unfold. But, they were kind me to. But, sadly, not so to some friends that I had met in the chemo lounge, and not so to some  family and friends that had ‘gone ahead’. Memories. (But, more about the thoughts of these dear ones tomorrow).

That was the thought that sped through my mind as I sat on that felled log – the memories of family and friends that had ‘gone ahead’, and that were now in Bliss, and were sorely missed by me. That, and the thought that fear can be ‘clinical’, and can be beneficial if it shakes us our of our complacency, an keeps us alive to the moment.

I realised that Y goeden mellt, the lightning tree’, was no monster to be avoided, but a tree that I once feared, and still do, albeit in a more healthier, adult and mature way – and one that has taught me an invaluable lesson: Fear awakens us to the moment, and being aware of the moment is what we all need.

An hour later, I stood, and yes, I gave a slight nod, a bow in the direction of Y goeden mellt  for being a silent teacher to me – or was it to the Unseen One who was there all along, the invisible, immortal, all-wise One, who was and is silently guiding me and you. The Friend.

 

Poem: Gratitude At Bach Ac Yn Gyflym

160826 gratitude at bach POETRY LITURGY

At the far end of my garden, in the wilderness of north Wales, well, actually just over the unmarked and unannounced boundary of my garden, is a rivulet. Hidden by trees and gorse bushes, it rushes by the northern boundary, invisible to all, except to me and a few locals.

It’s small and fast. Small. Yes, with a slight run and jump you can easily jump over it. Fast. Well, fast for it’s size. It’s so small it has no name, here, except the one I gave it. To me, this stream or rivulet, this small river (as it widens as other tributaries join it further along) deserves a name. It was here before I was born, from a time when the mountains were carved, and it will be here long after I’ve gone.

To me, this ‘watery companion’ is: Bach ac yn gyflym. Welsh geographical place-names are very descriptive, and it seemed right to call this rivulet by this name. It means ‘small and fast’. Very apt. A very Welsh name.

I was as at Bach ac yn gyflym earlier today, at mid-morning. It was hot. An unusually hot and glorious day, even for August. And sitting on the edge of the rivulet, alone but not alone, in the shade of aged trees, and dangling my feet in it’s coolness, I couldn’t help but write words of gratitude to the One who opens the fountains of the deep. I wrote:

River of all that is Holy flows from the mountain,
and passes me by.
What was parched, is parched no more.
And was what lifeless, now teems with life.
The earth is green by the handiwork of God.
Viriditas.
And, the beast of the field honour the Giver of Life, the dragons and the owls, also.

We look on in awe, and pause in wonder.

In entering the river’s flow, we become the river.
Immersed. Baptised. Anew. ‘Oneing’ with God.
In entering the river’s flow, may what we do flow from us like this river
so that we become rivers of promise to others.

We will sing as no one ever has, flowing onward to the Great sea.
Oh, that our lives would be carried along by the flow of water,
that we are not concerned about the twists and turns it takes,
but  be mindful of the joyful and onward journey to the Source of All.

Lord of the river, this refreshing, small and fast river, we give you thanks.

(Words also inspired by the works of: John O’Donohue, Rainer Maria Rilke, Julian of Norwich, Isaiah 43:20).

 

L Is For Lectio Divina

160825 lectio divina STANDARD THOUGHTS

There is a wonderful spiritual tool, generally, known as Lectio Divina [Divine reading], and it has an ancient and noble spiritual ‘pedigree’. Of Benedictine origin.

In many churches  and faith-groups today, it is proving to be beneficial, and very good at encouraging a spiritual depth and communion with the Holy One, both for the individual and for groups. It may seem new, but it is ancient. It may seem novel and different, and truly it is a different way of regarding sacred text, but it does honour the text, and ‘open the doors’ to an experienced-understanding.

Lectio Divina, generally, has four stages. There are minor variations in structure,  content and usage, but it is spiritually profitable to use and one example amongst many of maturing.

Below, is a generalised, standard model that you can use.

So, having found a text or story to use, find a place that is safe and one that provides a degree of solitude, and when sitting comfortably, relax, and work slowly through the four stages. These are:

Lectio: This is a focussed reading of a passage of the Bible, sacred or ancient story text. Take it slowly, gently and repeat the reading of the text several times. It is the savouring of each portion of the reading that is important, a constant listening for the ‘still, small voice’ of a word or phrase that somehow speaks to you, the reader. It is not about word analysis, so you don’t need a dictionary to hand, you don’t need to take notes, here. Let the passage speak for itself.

Meditatio: Having read the text, this is a meditating upon, a reflecting on the text, and pausing to wonder at the whole of the text (or a word) and how it might apply to one’s own life. This can be personal. Really go deep with the text or word. Don’t force an inner dialogue, but let it ‘ruminate’. Some like to imagine themselves ‘in’ the story, and so use their God-given imagination and wonder about the scene, the views, the smells etc that might have occurred. Very experiential. Very ‘Ignatian’.

Fios is an ancient Irish, Celtic word for knowledge, but knowledge from history and facts, and is a type of knowledge (almost) exclusively used today. The Celts, however, had several words for knowledge, and the one that ‘fits’ Lectio Divina well, and one that ‘modern’ men and women miss out on: is Eolas, pronounced ‘oh-lass’. Eolas is knowledge that comes from what you experience.

Oratio: Responding to the passage by opening the heart to God in prayer. This is not primarily an intellectual exercise, but is thought to be more of the beginning of a conversation with God. Words from us can be few and far between, but a dialogue will begin here. It’s not a time for a ‘shopping list’ of prayers, but more of a gentle request to the Holy One, to open up the text at a deeper, soulish level.

Contemplatio: Finally, we come to a point of silence, of complete rest, of contemplation. This is a listening stage. There is a point in a human loving relationship where the couple go beyond words. Just being (together) is important. This is akin to that stage. So, relax in wordless quiet. Accept the spiritual embrace, and revel in the Presence.

After a short period, you might like to slowly return to the hubbub of daily life, and if you wish to make notes of the experience, now is the time to do so.

Here are a few examples of Scripture that you might like to consider using:

Exodus 3:1-4: “Turn Aside to See the Burning Bush.” Learning from Moses when he encounters the burning bush
Psalm 3: A prayer for a time of difficulty or conflict.
Matthew 8:5-13: Jesus heals the Roman soldier’s servant in response to his great faith.
John 4:27-36: Jesus thrives on spiritual food and teaches us to do the same.

Soon, we’ll also look at variations and different styles of this way of maturing, such as the use of Lectio Natura (which may be subdivided into Lectio Ventus, Lectio Ignis, Lectio Aqua and Lectio Terra).

 

Of Gorse And Men…Or, How To Do The ‘Spider Dance’

160824 of gorse and men STANDARD THOUGHTS

Ah, last evening was one of those wonderful, August, balmy evenings; the air was warm but the temperature was dropping, and the sky was cloudless, and a dark shade of twilight-blue was replaced with a darker one, with each passing minute. The dog days are truly here.

The secret and the sacred are sisters. When the secret is not respected, the sacred  vanishes.’ John O’Donohue

As I sat in my garden, as the ‘shade of liminality’ sped over the earth above me, at one thousand miles per hour, and as I sipped thistle and green tea, I looked at the garden, and with distant mountains on the horizon, all felt right with the world. Ah, bliss.

I mentally reviewed the day.

Random thoughts.

I had a lazy day yesterday, I noted in my journal.

At the far end of the garden are a few yew trees – old and gnarled, my favourite, and some gorse bushes, that over the years have ‘moved’ – by a process of consecutive seeding – from the wilderness to ‘invade’ my garden at the far end. They didn’t really invade, because I could have always cut them back. But, I didn’t want to. It felt good to have part of the wilderness from a distance come closer, to colonise part of my garden; it was like a ‘horticultural French kiss’, and humbling that it wanted to move a little more closer to me.

Perception.

Perception. That’s the word that continually came to mind as I sat around the garden table with my, now cold, cup of thistle and green tea – which, by the way, is an excellent drink whether it’s hot or cold!

From someone else’s perspective the gorse are invaders and should destroyed. To me, they ‘knocked’ and I ‘allowed’ them to come in…though the agreement is that I can prune them occasionally, and so ‘manage’ them. But, to others they are like weeds, not to be tolerated. But, not from my perspective. They remind me that long after I’m gone, nature will continue to do just what it likes. I know my place.

At the far end of the garden, regarding  the gorse bushes, I noted in my journal, ‘Today, I did the spider dance’.

From someone else’s viewpoint it must have looked as though I was having a fit, but not so from mine. For some reason, this time of the year in the UK, the spiders go berserk, and even little spiders – no bigger than a penny – will cast webs that span 5 yards/metres or more. And, in my garden, these spiders seem to do it just to catch me out. Oh yes, it’s a conspiracy. Forget chem trails. It’s spiders!

Webs everywhere.

I walked straight into a web. Hence, the spider dance. It’s not a joyous dance. Not visually appealing. It usually consists of me whirling around frantically, like some demented Whirling Dervish, with my arms flailing about (like that robot on ‘Lost in Space’, when it uttered a warning: ‘Danger, Will Robinson’), and the occasional wiping motion of my hands across my face, and spluttering, and all accompanied by a minor vocal exclamation of surprise (or words to that effect, if you catch my drift). Having a fit? No, from my perspective, it’s only the spider-dance. Have you ever danced that dance?

But, I learned one thing yesterday:  I need to improve my dance steps. No Rudolf Nureyev, here.

Ah, perception.

I thought to myself how nice it was that the gnats and mozzies were not here, flying around me at dusk. If anyone gets bitten, it’s me.  I move, they move with me. Ah, but no mozzie-dance tonight for me. No mozzies.

The garden table is only a few feet away from a couple of well-grown, mature lavender bushes. They’re planted quite close to one side of the cottage’s wall, and in these parts lavender is well-known as the plant to plant if you want to attract the fae to your garden…or butterflies. Okay, from the ‘scientific’  perspective of a twenty-first century ‘modern’ person that sounds ‘as soppy as a box of frogs’, but there’s part of me that warms to that view. It’s romantic. It’s other-worldly. It’s different.

Maybe, it’s fae flying invisibly around me that are  keeping the gnats and mozzies away? And, from another perspective, it’s also known that gnats and mozzies are deterred by the scent of lavender. Which viewpoint you choose, is up to you. The outcome is the same. I like to think I can hold both views in balance. Ah, an ‘amphibian’, that’s me. Able to circumnavigate both worlds. An edge-walker.

‘I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened..’ Ephesians 1:18a, The  Book

 

But, its all to do with perception. How we look at things does  determine the outcome. Seek and you will find. Don’t seek and you wont find, probably because one isn’t looking in the first place. Look for facts, and you will find ‘surface’ facts; look a bit deeper and you may just catch the merest glimpse of the Prime Mover (Latin: primum movens), the One behind it all.

Yr hen a ŵyr a’r ifanc a dybier, is often said in these parts. It means, ‘The old know and  the young suspect.’

It’s pronounced: ‘Ur hen ah ooyr ah’r eefank ah dub-yerh.’ There will be a test later, to ensure you are fluent!

But, its all to do with perception. How we look at things does indeed determine the outcome.

‘We often remain exiles, left outside the rich world of the soul simply because we are not ready…

Our lack of readiness is often caused by blindness, fear and lack of self-appreciation. When we are ready, we will be blessed. At the moment the door of the heart becomes the gate of heaven.’ John O’Donohue

So, take the next step: reserve judgment and look a little deeper.

 

Mea Culpa & Sweet Bean

160823 mea culpa sweet bean STANDARD THOUGHTS

With biscuits in one hand – do they still call them ‘cookies’ in America? How quaint – and a coke in the other, I watched a subtitled, Japanese video last evening, loaned to me by a barista. We’re a friendly lot, here!

Dear Tokue – an elderly lady, like everyone’s favourite aunt – loves nature, and the video has some awesome clips of cherry blossom in full bloom in the city, the full moon in all its glory shyly peaking through the trees with its eternal gaze, and wonderful lush, verdant forest views as seen through Tokue’s eyes. Awesome!

Truly, the forest is my church.

But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? Job 12:7-9, The Book

Seeking work, she starts working for a man who bakes dorayaki – small pancakes which are filled with a sweet bean spread – and she dotes over the beans she cooks. Listening to them, she describes them as an engaged couple who need time, in the pot, to get to know each other. Unhurried!

Tokue has a mother-and-son-like relationship toward the baker, and she’s employed by him because she makes the best sweet bean spread he’s ever tasted. She endears herself to all that see her, and if you watch the movie – highly recommended – you will want to adopt her. Lovely!

The movie unfolds in surprising and deep ways, and centres on friendship, life’s toughness, simple pleasures and the wonderfulness of nature. I forgot to tell you that Tokue had, or had had, Hansen’s Disease – Leprosy.  And she is suddenly shunned! Lonely!

The video is about many things: a metaphorical birth, a  death, and ‘resurrection’….and prejudice! The latter is the ‘whispered soundtrack’ that runs throughout the video, that subliminally works away, unknown, and so you will be both settled and unsettled.

And, that’s where this wonderful movie will challenge you? Prejudice. What prejudices do we have to others?

I once attended a sermon at which the preacher said the reason the Celts saw the Holy Spirit as a wild goose/grey goose (and not as a dove) was because of how little they understood theology. I gasped at how wrong he was! Saddened that he was missing out. Concerned that those listening were being misinformed, and the prejudice would produce ‘offspring’ in them.

I read and online, one evangelical website was describing how well Christians behaved of old (really?), and how Wicca people had kidnapped and burned victims in the most appalling circumstances (all of them, any of them?), and he went on to describe scenes that I knew took place in that wonderful , old movie, The Wicker Man. That wonderful, old, fictitious movie. Fiction. I gasped at how wrong he was, and the impact it might have on others in the community.

Prejudice.

But, if we’ve lived only a few short years we will have been on the receiving end of unjust and downright nasty prejudice, and probably wept inwardly at being subjected to it, if not outwardly.

But, if we’re really honest (and I’m sure you are), then we know that we, too, carry within us the ‘seeds’ of prejudice that pour out and scandalise others, if we’re not careful.

I confess, somewhat embarrassedly, that there have been times in the past when, like the pastor, I’ve been prejudiced against those who think differently to me, those from another ‘tribe’. There have been circumstances when I’ve interpreted facts badly, on mere hear-say, and said things that I now know to be wrong.  I confess – hoping that I’ve made amends, and knowingly don’t continue in such prejudice; but do so knowing that you might think less of me, or even ‘unfriend’ me.

But, there is part of me that hopes you wont ‘unfriend’ me, if only because you’re honest enough to admit that, at one time, you have also been guilty of the same spiritual misdemeanour of prejudice, as me.

‘So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.’ Matthew 7:12, The Book.

I once got a group of people together once, and as an exercise, asked them to write their own obituary. Oh, how shocked they were! But, what a good challenge it presented them with, and what an open, honest, authentic and tearful (in a good way) plenary session we had.

So, are you sitting comfortably? How will people remember you? You might like to try the exercise yourself. It’s a good way to note (and change) as-yet imperceptible prejudices we might have.

I wont tell you what happens to Tokue at the end of the video, except that this dear, little lady has an impact far and wide, and her beautiful, love-borne legacy lives on. She is remembered.

— oOo–
Video: Sweet Bean
PG. 1hr 53mins
Director: Naomi Kawase
Writers: Durian Sukegawa (based on the novel by), Naomi Kawase (screenplay)
Stars: Kirin Kiki, Masatoshi Nagase, Kyara Uchida

 

What’s Holding You Back? Masks: Not Another ‘[Insert Number] Ways To Remove Your Masks.’

160822 mask STANDARD THOUGHTS

So, what is holding you back in your spiritual life (or elsewhere)?

Could it be a limiting idea? Perhaps the kind mentioned in a previous post: What’s Holding You Back? Don’t Step On The Lines!

Or, is it the ‘masks’ that we all wear, that keep us from being less than authentic?  That’s what we’re exploring here…

…the masks!

Zeitgeist:  In our modern society we are usually told we need something ‘extra’, and informed that someone else has that something ‘extra’ (and usually for a price), and that we’re just five steps away (sometimes more, sometimes less) from obtaining it, and all we need is willpower (or money).

And so, I turn on the tv, open the magazine, check what’s been pushed through my letterbox; in all probability a lot of the advertising will be about how deficient I am.

If I have the latest mobile phone, well, a newer version has just been released and I should have it. Bought a tv last year? Well, now there’s higher-higher-higher definition, and if you don’t have it, you’re losing out.

And it’s the same in the realm of spirituality. You ‘ought to do this’, or ‘you should do that’, is the mantra of our age.

 It’s the modern, spiritual equivalent of the VPL.

All very modern, all very ‘correct’, and for the spiritual person it may appeal. It probably will appeal because, although we’re spiritual people, we live in a ‘modern’ and less-than-spiritual society and so, unknowingly, we’re at the mercy of ‘modern’, non-spiritual methods to obtain  the spirituality we so want, and we ‘lap it up’. We do! But, don’t tell anyone that! After all, it feels right, much to the delight of advertisers, we’re told it must be right, yes? Well, maybe it isn’t!

And so, I realised that I have a need, but ‘modernity’ packages it and the solution in a very non-spiritual, but appealing way.

Why remove masks? Because, if we want to live our life to the full, to be fully alive, grown up and mature, we have to take our masks off, we’re told. They limit us.  They get in the way.

 
Wearing a mask will hold us back, and it may get in the way as we relate to others.

And so, finally, I have to admit that I want to remove a mask, but I’m fearful. What will others think of me? And so I live with it. And feel as though I’m living life in first gear only.

Watch out for ego. Ofcourse, it is the interplay of the ego, here, that is behind our masks. The ego isn’t the enemy, but sometimes (and maybe most times) bless it’s little cotton socks, it tries to exaggerate its usefulness to us,  and forgets its place as protector, and falsely takes pride of place in our life if we’re unaware. Then, we can so identify with our ego, we actually think it is us, and it’s not. You are more!

‘I fear the many faces, many personalities in me. Sometimes I fail to understand  my self  and become deceived by my various selves.’ Ama H. Vanniarachchy

How to recognise your mask(s): You might be able to recognise your mask by being introspective: take time out from your busy schedule to sit quietly one evening, meditate or contemplate (however you interpret those words) and ask yourself soul-searching questions about how you portray yourself to others, and how others may perceive you (these are often are two different things)? You might go for a hike away from interruptions and think deeply about what masks you might have, and their effect on. You can write your findings in a journal for later use.

‘The only journey is the one within.’ ‘Rainer Maria Rilke

You might recognise masks in others. In one sense this may be easier. I confess that I see some of the masks that other people wear – only because in doing so I see that I share the same mask.

 
If we surround ourselves with people who are similar to us (and we probably we have a tendency to do that), then those around us may share some of the same mask as us – that’s logical – and then, it makes it easier to ‘name’ that mask in us.

 ‘She had blue skin,
And so did he.
He kept it hid
And so did she.
They searched for blue
Their whole life through,
Then passed right by-
And never knew.’

― Shel Silverstein

How to remove masks: The ‘modern’ way of using willpower can be quite ‘brutal’, and may not actually succeed. Those who have tried to diet and failed will now the fallacy of using willpower. But, maybe there’s more. Another way. A deeper way. A better way? More about that, later.

 ‘Too often people try to change their lives by using the will as a kind of hammer to  beat their life into proper shape. John O’Donohue

The ‘modern’ solution, particularly if you’re a person suited to tangible action, may be to:

 – Write out your life-story, so far, in a journal. You can be ultra-honest in your journal because no one, but you, will ever see it. In it you can write about the real you, and yes you can write about the masks and how they affect you. A journal gives you the opportunity to explore, ‘think aloud’, and experiment with solutions on paper. Why, you might even decide to write about yourself from the viewpoint of a total stranger, someone who has just come into your life and write from their perspective.

– Catch yourself every time you have a ‘ought to’, or ‘should be’, over-correcting thought. It’s easy to be over-perfecting, over=spending, over-analysing or over-caring (as it awaiting for the approval of others etc).  Some like to wear an elastic band around one wrist, and to ‘ping’ it every time one (selected) mask ‘shows’ up as a limiting thought. This can be quite useful – though I’d recommend you don’t do this eleastic-band exercise for more than a week. Being aware of the myriad of thoughts you have is good.

– Remind yourself that you are not the mask. You are capable able of being objective, of standing  apart from those unwelcome, limiting  masks. And, if you can do that, then you can see them for what they are.

These can work. There is nothing wrong with the three exercises above, but, there’s more!

 ‘For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in  him?’ 1 Corinthians 2:11a, The Book

But, maybe there’s another way,  deeper way, a better way?  The ancient solution, the Celtic wisdom way, the way of deep spirituality is:  mindfulness, of going deeper, and realising that you are more than ego or willpower.

And so, I meditated. Focusing on the word ‘Peace’ initially, I ‘surrendered’ all to God and just sat there with my eyes closed. Apophatic meditation, the Prayer of Centering. Thoughts came and went, but I paid no attention. And, then half an hour later I opened my eyes, knowing that I had spent time with God, and knowingly, deliberately, so. Deep within I knew that I was, you are, more than what we think we are, and more accepted that we can possibly know (at them moment).

This  is where meditation, or contemplation, or self-reflection come in. Such ways of ‘working’ will ‘tune in’ to all that is holy, wholesome and substantial. At this stage, some will ‘switch off’ and consider this and the above-mentioned paragraph a spiritual cul de sac or heresy. But, that notion and response, I believe, has more to do with superficial  ‘modernity’ and the current state of our society and the way it affects our thinking (unknowingly), and has little to do with ancient belief. Sorry to be so candid. In such cases, we do ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’, unawares.

 ‘The mystery of your presence can never be reduced to your role, actions, ego or image.  You are an eternal presence; this is the ancient reason why you are here.’ John  O’Donohue.

Consider keeping a few masks?: Ofcourse, you might like to hold onto a few masks. You won’t hear this often.. But, mask-removal can be tough.

 
You might want to keep a mask because it’s like:

 
– a surgeons mask: Some masks might actually protect you, and you might feel are necessary at the stage you are at. A surgeon wears a mask, literally, to protect him/herself and the patient. A police officer who might show their true feelings. might not be the person you want to stand between you and a criminal. Sometimes, a bluff is okay (in the short term), and

– a sticky plaster: You may have been hurt in the past, or fearful of some current situation, and the mask is covering up a psychological wound or tough memory. They may be a time when it’s right to remove the mask, but not yet. Maybe, healing has to take place, first.  And, it may be the case that you might need something in place of it and that isn’t possible just yet. Waiting can be useful, and

– a contract: We all have ‘unwritten rules’ that we live to, and maybe in a relationship the stripping away of a mask may be too much, too soon, for you or the other person? Then, out of respect for yourself and/or the other party, and for the relationship to grow, waiting to remove a mask may be the right course of action.

‘Do you think you wear a mask?’
‘I’m wearing one right now.’ Valentino smiled softly. ‘We both are.’
‘It’s a sad thought.’
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘But sometimes I wonder about the alternative. Imagine if we had  no secrets, no respite from the truth. What if everything was laid bare the moment  we introduced ourselves?’

(Catherine Doyle, Vendetta)

What Next? Take it one day at a time. We’re all on a journey. And, you’re doing okay! And, if you want to start with the removal of one mask, that’s cool, too. But, take it slowly, consider the implications to yourself and others, don’t ‘beat yourself up about it’, and make it a joyful exercise and not a chore. Enjoy the journey.

 ‘It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in  the end.’ Ursula K. Le Guin

 

Poem: St Benedict’s ‘Rule’

160821 benedicts ladder  POETRY LITURGY

It’s tough to be humble. St Benedict (AD480-547), who is called the ‘Father of Western Monasticism’, wrote a guide to humility – that guide is a chapter within St Benedict’s Rule.

It set out a blueprint for the daily life of the monks within his monasteries, and, maybe, for us, too? The ‘Rule’ is essentially a twelve steps guide to humility, and is likened to a ladder that we each should seek to climb in our daily life.

Here’s a poem I wrote some time ago, about ‘The Rule’:

Saint Benedict’s ‘Rule’, those twelve steps to humility,
is like a ladder that we each should seek to climb in our daily life, to ascend.
For in applying them to our life we might achieve holiness, and sanctity,
and reach bliss and tranquillity now, and to the end.

The first step is to really know God, to ‘see’ Him all in all.
and the second step is to joyfully discern and follow His Divine will.
The third step is to obey God in things in life, both great and small,
and the fourth step is to be patient and kind, to endure, and endeavour to be tranquil.
The fifth step is to be honest about our shortcomings, and accept blame,
and the sixth step is to be content with what we have, even with a little in life.
The seventh step, tough though it is, is to keep one’s ego humble and tame,
and the eighth step is not to seek out differences with others, but live without strife.
The ninth step is that in our speech we should show restraint,
and the tenth step is that (when appropriate) desire to be of a serious mind.
The eleventh step is to encourage others with words of love, and without complaint,
and the twelfth step is to combine in equal measure, both intent and action, to be loving and kind.

 

 

 

The Sacred Three

160820 sacred three 2  POETRY LITURGY

Oh, Father of Lights in bliss abiding
look upon all your children and be our guiding.
That we may know you within and without,
encountering you in light and dark; in darkness, hiding.

Oh, Son of the Eternal three, embodied grace.
Bring us home, to that heavenly hearth, to touch your face,
that we may be both loved and love.
Experiencing your holy, inclusive, life-giving embrace.

Oh, Spirit of God, who hovered over the waters like a dove
grant to us the power that comes from Above,
That we might follow you more closely along the way,
Being both salt and light; and to others reflecting your Divine love.

 

What’s Holding You Back? Don’t Step On The Lines!

160819 do not step STANDARD THOUGHTS

Then: When I was a lad and in London, all my friends and I would play a multitude of street games from which we derived untold hours of simple pleasure; that, sadly, seem to have been lost to children today.

Ah, I remember the game called, ‘Don’t tread on the pavement gaps or you’ll turn to stone’. The variation of this was, ‘Don’t tread on the pavement lines or the bears will get you’.

‘And I keep in the squares,
And the masses of bears,
Who wait at the corners all ready to eat
The sillies who tread on the lines of the street’
(A A Milne)

Ofcourse, it never occurred to us, then, that there were no wild bears in London, but we took the game ever-so seriously and our simple, delightful, childish imaginations ran riot – and we tried not to step on the lines between the pavements. We laughed about it, pushed each other to cause someone else to step on the line, and flitted between being over-cautious and careless – that is, until we lost interest ten minutes later, and went on to another game. Ah, those were the days.

Now: It occurred to me, now, as an adult, to question myself and ask if I still have any odd and limiting beliefs, ones that no longer are childish games, but,  are holding me back? Or, to question if I’m following another’s unnecessary beliefs?

Here’s a couple of examples:

First example: Many years ago, at small prayer meetings that I used to attend, most seem to address their prayers to ‘Heavenly Father’, and end ‘…in Jesus’ name’. I see no problem with that. Well, except, that when I’m alone I tend to call upon, ‘Heavenly Daddy’. It is more intimate, less ‘distancing’ and, well, that’s me! And, yes, before you ask…on a few occasions, in public at those small prayer meetings, I’ve addressed my prayer to ‘Heavenly Daddy’. Yes, I stepped on the pavement lines!

Oh dear, afterwards, several came up to me with a smile on their faces, but some came with a frown! ‘How could you?’ one exclaimed. And, he went on to explain that, ‘God is the Almighty, not the all-matey!’. I could have explained my words, and backed them up with a ‘dollop’ of Greek, and appealed to the need for us all to draw closer to God (and that we seem to do the opposite, and might he be doing the same) but I didn’t. I wept inwardly.

The small man
Builds cages for everyone
He knows.
While the sage,
Who has to duck his head
When the moon is low,
Keeps dropping keys all night long
For the beautiful, rowdy prisoners.

(Hafez)

Second example: About nine years ago I had to have most of my oesophagus removed because of cancer, and part of my stomach was ‘remodelled’ to take its place. One or two friends, (and ofcourse you read about this a lot of the internet), warned me: ‘Don’t have a general anaesthetic. Demons creep in that way’, they said.

I asked these friends if it was them having their stomachs and necks cut open in an eight hour operation, whether they would accept a local anaesthetic only and be awake for the traumatic operation? They fell silent. But, I had stepped on another pavement line. I wept inwardly.

Ofcourse, they were ‘doubly horrified’ when they found out that not only did I have a general anaesthetic, but that the hospital had scheduled the operation for 31st October, Hallowe’en!

Now, I’m grown up. I am, honest!

And, I now realise that stepping on the gaps between the pavement won’t turn me into stone, or turn me into a bear’s lunch. That’s a silly game, or at best a silly, limiting superstition. It may be okay for children, but, there is a point when we’re commended to put away childish things. And yet, some seem to revel in their limiting beliefs.

What about you? What is holding you back?

Why do some people cling to their superstitions and get so upset and ‘unfriend’ those who don’t believe in them?

Calling God ‘Daddy’, I don’t think upsets God.  And, I have yet to be given a Bible verse that informs me that demons creep in when we’re under a general anaesthetic. No, these are modem superstitions, and limiting beliefs (without foundation).  And, more than that: they are dressed up in a religious guise which seems to make them acceptable, and they promote ignorance or fear by ‘accident’; or do both by ‘design’ by people who want to inculcate fear into others. There, I’ve said it.

Did you know that (depending on the translation) there are 366 ‘Do not fear’s in the Bible.

But, enough about me?

Bearing in mind that there are useful ‘habits’ that we’re commended to practice, and not all that we do might be helpful…

What about you? What is holding you back?

What limiting beliefs do you have, that are based on mere superstition or ‘inherited’ from another’s’ belief-system, and are without foundation?

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:36, The Book

But, be warned: If you find a limiting-belief and change accordingly, if you find that prison key and let yourself out, be prepared for a frown from some others. For then, you too, will not only have matured and be free, but will have stepped on the pavement lines.

And, do you know what? It’s worth it.