A Great Cloud Of Witnesses: Celtic Thought

20170811 GREAT CLOUD OF WITNESSESAs you may know, I’ve spent the last few days in in a beautiful, secluded, thick, old, ‘magical’ forest to ‘re-charge my batteries’, and be ‘primal’. Without creature comforts, no tv, no mobile phone, no internet. And it worked. Batteries ‘re-charged’. And, I’m back.

A lot has happened over the last few months and I needed this break.

There were a jumble of reasons for the need of a break of some kind, and sitting on a log, now, in this secluded forest, overlooking a wonderfully still lake I realise the benefits to me of taking this ‘time out’ in a rural area.

In the tranquillity of these surroundings thoughts pour out in an unstructured way, and I’m content with that. It needs to happen.

Thoughts flooded my mind. I had thoughts of being absent from my Dad. My Mum passed-on about three and a half years ago, my Dad about four and a half months ago. I miss them. I have fond memories of them both, and now the grief at my Dad’s passing-on is changing, like my Mum’s did.

Could it be that the greater the love for someone, the greater the grief at their passing-on. And even if so, this wonderful, new-to-me, strange and unfamiliar place is helping me.

In ancient Roman ‘theology’ they would say that each area, such as this one, has its own genii loci – its own ‘spirits of the place’. To ancient and latter-day Celts, Druids and others we might talk of the elementals and dryads that inhabit each area, and in modern parlance some might talk of the ‘feel of a place’, though I suspect ‘modern’ people are interacting with the spirits of the place without knowing, and yet lack the ability and language to be fully aware or describe it. This place is different, but just as welcoming as any rural, natural wilderness. There is a peace here.

‘…there is still a beauty in grief. Your grief shows that you have risked opening up your life and [gave]…your heart to someone’. John O’Donohue

It’s starting to rain now. Could they be tears? There’s part of me that reckons this may be so, but there’s a deeper feeling, a ‘voice’ deeper inside, deeper ‘out there’, that subtly hints that the rain is a ‘washing away’ of the old, and a ‘cleaning’ in preparation for the new, for the next stage. I remain on that log. Expectantly. And soaked.

Grief changes, and our memories of loved-one may never fade (I hope not), but how we consider them, daily, does change. In this ‘Eden’ of a forest something is changing in me. No longer do I just look back to my parents’ form of bodies, for that for me, would now be to ‘entomb’ them in the past and be backward-looking, and ‘restrictive’. Something has changed. I’m content.

‘Now you glimpse the possibilities of being with them in a new way. If you loosen the sad grip of grief, a new belonging becomes possible between you…the belonging between us and our loved ones in the unseen world. It is a subtle and invisible belonging…’. John O’Donohue.

Birds are still singing high in the trees, and though the light rain is making ripples, occasionally on the lake, fish can be seen coming close to the shore and gobbling food. The clouds are high and sparse, and so the rain is more of a drizzle. There is mist ‘rolling’ slowly down nearby mountains. It is bliss. I’m happy.

Everything seems so right. I look around and there is a natural balance to everything, a harmony, that everything is as it should be. A calmness pervades everything here, including me. For now, we only see in part.

‘Depth is height.’ Meister Eckhart.

The thought comes to me, that it is time to view my ‘loss’ in a different way and if I were to remain at the stage it would be as if I were held back. It’s now time for me to move on. Not to forget, but to remember and to do so with deep gratitude, but in a new(er) way. Now, it is time to realise that my, indeed, our loved ones live on – just as real and energetic as they did before when in physical-body form, but now in an unseen and subtle realm (from our point of view, at present), and just as close to us as ever. Perhaps, more so.

‘From their side, our friends in the unseen world are always secretly embracing us in their new and bright belonging’. John ODonohue.

It’s stopped raining, but I am joyfully soaked. A jumble of thoughts still flood my mind, but that’s all right. I find myself laughing – not a hearty laugh, but not a keep-it-to-myself laugh, after all there’s no one around. No one, except nature and elementals, dryads, companions, and angels maybe. Who knows? And that’s the overriding thought as I get up off this log, and as cold, wet clothes now brush against parts of my body as I walk – not entirely clothes-comfortable – but it makes me laugh even more. Oh, the overriding thought….is that there’s more. That’s my favourite Welsh phrase that I quote and which has been quoted to me in sacred places, in liminal encounters, and in ‘thin places’.

There is more! Mae mwy (pronounced ‘may mee-oh) as it is in Welsh. And there is more. There is more to our surroundings than we have so far imagined if we have eyes to see. More to life. And, for those who have loved-ones who have passed-on there is more, for them, for you, for me, and not only by way of fond memories, but the fact that they are still with us, loving us, encouraging us, embracing us in real, but albeit subtle ways.

‘…we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,..’ Hebrews 12:1b, The Book

I rose up, walked back to the small cottage I was staying in, soggy but joyful, cold but content, missing my parents, yes, but ‘energised’ by the fact that they live on – as do all of those that we have said ‘goodbye’ to as they enter Bliss, that which some call the Summerland, and still others call it Jannah. In the Welsh language it is called Caer Wydyr (the glass fortress). Life goes on there, and the ancestors are not far from any us.

Take heart. Blessings to you and yours, here and there, Tadhg

(Many thanks for your prayers, well-wishes and energy sent during my break. Greatly appreciated and felt).

Confessio #4

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One of my confessions is that…I believe in the after-life. There is also a further confession later on.

I believe that everyone one of us continues on, in another place and another time – that many call heaven, shamayim, summerland, or Janna. But, please put aside all those notions we’re bombarded with, that we see on tv, which come to us from medieval paintings and Dante. Great works of art with puttis flying all over the place, and great drama, too, but not-so-good on the theology front.

The moment you ‘step out’ of this physical existence, upon death, I believe, the notions of place and time alter radically. Such notions serve us in this physical realm well, but they will have to be re-defined when considering the world to come.

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself,” said Jesus. John 12:32

At the point of physical death here on Earth, I believe, we close our eyes, and then immediately open them to see the most wondrous of sights. Those we have left behind may grieve, but we have entered a realm where everything is altogether different. A place of love and light, a place of peace and activity, a place that is painless, ageless, a place that is vibrant, awesome, blissful and alive, a place of Pure Presence.

Just for a moment, think of what heaven will be like?  And then take some time to know that it will be infinitely better, bigger, bolder, and altogether much more lovelier than we can, at present, ever imagine with our limited senses.

It’s a walking with God in Eden.

There, we may track the passage of time and observe things unfold in order, and yet we won’t be subject to the ‘ravages’ of time. Indeed, as regards time: travel into the future or past would be possible, though those terms too, might have to be redefined, as it could be viewed, there, to be ‘forever now’. The problem with that term, from our perceptive, is that it conjures up in the imagination the word’ stasis’, inactivity, that everything is ‘frozen’. No, time may pass there so that things occur in order (although I’m not even sure if that would be important to us, then), but restrictions relating to time and geography, and indeed, all other restrictions are removed. Bliss.

It is liberation.

C S Lewis in ‘The Great Divorce’ writes eloquently about a young lady entering heaven. A man, given the ability to peek into heaven, witnesses her arrival. As she walks down that heavenly street, there are huge numbers of youthful shapes described, singing and dancing in welcome celebration. That man, who had the privilege to peak into heaven asks his guide if it is…well, we’re never told, but it’s inferred he thought that she may be the Virgin Mary.

The guide, seemingly with a northerner’s accent, replied, “Not at all. It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of. Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.”

“She seems to be…well, a person of particular importance?”, the man said.

“Aye. She is one of the great ones”, his guide replied.

The man goes on to describe this glimpse, and asks, “And who are these gigantic people…look! They’re like emeralds…who are dancing and throwing flowers before her”

“Haven’t ye read your Milton? A thousand liveried angels lackey her,” the guide said.

Isn’t that excerpt from,that story, wonderful? Each one of us, then, are the ‘great ones’ in that story, we all matter, and each one of us is lauded in heaven in the most delightful manner. Ministered by angels, too.

We don’t need to be ‘big’ on the earth or successful in the eyes of others, we only need be human, and to hammer home that point the woman in this story is just ‘ordinary’ Sarah Smith, but as we’ve also had a glimpse into this heavenly story, and so we know she is anything but ordinary. You are anything but ordinary.

You are one of the great ones.

One of my favourite poems is by Gerard Manley Hopkins. At the end of one of his poems, he writes about the busyness and toughness of life on Earth, and when it seems to be at its most active and ends in death, he says:

The Resurrection,
A heart’s-clarion! Away grief’s gasping, ‘ joyless days, dejection.
Across my foundering deck shone
A beacon, an eternal beam.
Flesh fade, and mortal trash
Fall to the residuary worm; world’s wildfire, leave but ash:
In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.”

Okay, so he may be somewhat severe in describing the mortal body, but it’s the contrast compared to the status of the next ‘body’ he wants draws attention to. Whatever we were in the eyes of others, in our own eyes, in our occupations, in our physical prowess, or conversely whatever we endured by way of sadness, illness, loneliness etc, all that changes.

You are an immortal diamond, now, and will be revealed in all your splendour one day.

I’m not sure if you believe in Christ, but if not, please stay with me, for I truly believe the awesome principle applies to all. The belief is that all Christ is – holiness, purity, empowered, liberated, and the sum of all good things – is what you and I will be, and some would say, already are. That’s grace.

It’s the Divine swap.

Back to C S Lewis. He wrote, “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest, most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship….There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit…”

Here’s where I might now be called a heretic.

All these mystics speak as though immortality has already started – and I believe it has. At the point we call physical death, the ‘mask’ is released.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid… Genesis 3:8a

The illusion of separation vanishes at the point of physical death. No longer hiding. Free. Authentic. Real. Connectedness, not duality. Some see the body, like a cage but now with the cage door open, and the soul flutters free after death. I’m not too sure about that idea. There is a change, for sure, but there’s some continuity. The spirit is already alive and in that heavenly realm.

Still with me? Let’s go deeper. Suppose, at that point we close our eyes to the physical world, and immediately open them to an unobstructed realm of light and love. We ‘awake’ to find our loved ones waiting for us. But, we also see those we left behind on Earth. Yes, they are there, also. Maybe, that whilst we’re all on earth, living the illusion of separation,  we’re also at ‘home’ already. It’s like living two lives from our point of view, until we get there. Such is the illusion of duality.

That means right now, you’re reading this, so you’re alive in the physical world, but also subject to the illusion of separation. However, in the Other Realm, you’re also there, as are all your family, past, present and future. I think that’s one reason why I personally don’t use the services of a spiritualist – and no disrespect to my charming spiritualist friends. I don’t need to know how Aunt Ethel is. She’s in bliss and having a wonderful time, and from my theological point-of-view I’m right next to her engaging in a hugely long and enjoyable conversation.

And, there’s more. At the point of physical death, you and I go ‘home’, to a place that you and I formerly ‘left’ (in one respect when we stepped into the physical realm), but didn’t leave in essence, if you’re still with me.

Yes, my second confession, allied to the first, is that I believe in pre-life – not to be confused with re-incarnation.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…”, God. Jeremiah 1:5a

Yes, I believe in pre-life.

So here’s a fictional scenario that hopefully explains: You and I are in some kind of eternal ‘pre-life’ café and we’re stirring our respective coffees, and looking out of the window, and in the sky we see a rather small blue-green planet, barely perceptible. We’ve been in that eternal realm forever – but if you want, from an earthly viewpoint to put a figure on it, then how about 14.6 billion years? For some reason it’s important or beneficial to ‘step’ into the physical realm and inhabit the Earth. We rise to the challenge, convinced of the needs and benefits, look at each other, smile, blink and ‘whoosh’, we’re here on Earth. Part of the ‘deal’ is that we wouldn’t remember the reason for coming, once here. And, so we’re born, we live, we laugh, we cry, we witness new birth and smile, and our hearts are broken into a million pieces as we witness the demise of loved ones. We live life to the full, and then we die. This life, I do believe, is real and must never be diminished in any way, but we do die. We close our eyes, and then we open them. Suddenly, we’re back. We’re still looking at each other in that eternal café, and we resume stirring our coffee. What was 80, 90 or 100 years on Earth is but a nano-second in the eternal café. We note that our family, friends, deceased loved-ones are all around us, too. It’s heaven! Whatever, needed to be done, made sense before we left and when we returned it had been done, but the illusion of separation dulled our memory whilst on earth. But, all things work to the good, here.

This is a glimpse of pre-life. We were there, we still are, we return. But, the illusion of separation takes its toll when we’re on Earth.

In ‘Intimations of Immortality…’ by William Wordsworth, he writes:

“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home”

So, there you have it. My confessions for today. I feel better already.

The above-mentioned is something that some may agree with or may disagree with. I’m happy to take positive and heartfelt comments about your opinion. Rather than ‘sword-fence’ with holy text, and rather than write 5000 words telling me I’m a heretic and how wrong I am, I would ask that whether you agree with me or not, that you let me know what is on your heart as regards pre-life and the afterlife. I want to hear your opinion, not a holy text and a preacher’s view on that, not someone else’s second or third-hand opinion, but I really am interested in your views. They matter to me. So, what are you looking forward to?

Poem: When It’s Over…

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The clock stops, and time itself is still.
The light changes, and yet all is as it has forever been,
in that liminal space of things seen and unseen.
A calmness from without slowly envelopes me.

My mind races. Is it over?

Oh, when it’s over and the pieces on the board are put away,
I ask myself, ‘Did I do good?’.
‘Did I live my life as I should?’.
And do I look forward to more than just physical decay?

My mind races. Is it over?

Oh, when it’s over and the pieces on the board are put away,
I ask myself, ‘Have I lived life to the full?’.
‘Did I live a life that’s worthy, or one that’s only ‘cool’?’.
And do I look forward to more than just what people, about me, say?

My mind races. Is it over?

Oh, when it’s over and the pieces on the board are put away,
I ask myself, ‘Have I made the world a better place?’.
‘Did I live not just for myself, but in community as part of the whole human race?’.
And do I look forward to a new and bright-dawning day?

My mind races. Is it over?

When it’s over and the pieces on the board are put away,
I ask myself….No! My thoughts are interrupted, and I hear the Voice from the distance that asks of me…
‘Are you the one who struggled, cried and laughed,
the one who cried out in your darkest night when you couldn’t see?’.

My mind is calm. Bathed in light, bathed in love. It is over.

I bowed my head and shed a tear.
And replied, ‘Yes, Sir, I called. That was me! ‘.
The Voice, now closer, lovingly said,
‘Then you can look forward to a new bright day, a throne by mine and life anew,
life that’s full and never-ending, too.
This is not the end, but a return to the beginning for all.
You came when I called,
for it was I who called you!’.