Le Point Vierge: Regarding The Soul: Haiku #8

20170519 LE POINT VIERGE REGARDING THE SOUL HAIKU #8As you may know, I’m fascinated by the traditional haiku – those short Japanese poems consisting of three pithy lines; and the lines containing firstly five syllables, then seven, then five.

Below are a number of verses to a poem, with each verse being a haiku, and each (hopefully) seen as progressive, and saying something (albeit brief, and poetic) about our awesome, complex, mysterious ‘composition’ as humankind.

Flesh and blood yet flow
within our soul’s great embrace.
Animated dust?

‘Yet more!’, the sage says.
The soul, the immortal light,
is the precious ‘you’.

Where the soul resides,
time and timelessness exist
in a paradox.

There, le point vierge,
a meeting place of the soul,
Wondrous rendezvous.

The ‘go-between’ soul
encounters, there, the spirit,
always faced to God.

butterfly 111 animal-2028155_960_720In liminal space,
there we dance the dance of Love.
Graceful theosis.

Triune personhood,
as above, e’en so below.
You, mirrored Spirit.

 

20170519 LE POINT VIERGE REGARDING THE SOUL HAIKU #8

Confessio #8

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My confession is…that I love the annual Eurovision Song Contest. Oh, I can’t wait! Just a few more days to the Grand Final. I know you think I’m a sophisticated guy – Huh? You had your doubts? .

Well, my confession is that I really, really, really do like the annual Eurovision Song Contest – dozens of nations singing together in one huge event, and watched by quadrillions. Yes, I do like it, and I’m proud to say so. The Eurovision Song Contest with its lavish, no-expense-spared production and huge stages that rival anything on the planet, is fantastic!

‘Ha! hold my Brain; be still my beating Heart.’
Zelmane, by William Mountfort, 1705

I know, I know, there are some who will say the music is puerile, the lyrics are sterile, and the production is prehensile [sic]. But, I understand it differently. You see, the Eurovision Song Contest was never about the music, the lyrics and performance. Oh no! It it something much more subtle.

We’ve all seen those movies about individuals or gangs that settle their ‘turf’ differences with a ‘dance off’.

And watched those tv programs where cooks compete against each other in a ‘bake off’.

‘They’ve got four languages in Belgium…and they’re singing in an imaginary one. The very essence of the Euro.’ (Despite being a ‘made-up’ language’ they very nearly won the contest). Terry Wogan

The Eurovision Song Contest is where the loud and the quiet, the ‘Federation’ and ‘Klingons’ (and others, of course), nations with quadrillions of people and those who number just 31,448 people (good for you, San Marino) take part, and give it everything they’ve got in one glorious ‘sing off’!

Yes, the Eurovision Song Contest is a ‘sing off’.

Ofcourse, there will be winners and losers, and the former will laud the event as a great occasion of peace, celebration and vision, and the latter will decry it as riddled with politics etc. But, it is good!

Russia, God bless them. Who can forget their 2012 entrants: Buranovskiye Babushki – a group of ‘grannies’ from Udmurtia (see the photo/header). They were superb. In national dress, singing away, all ‘lovey dovey’, and maslyanitsa wouldn’t melt in their mouths. The lyrics? Oh yes: ‘I will be putting a white tablecloth, I will be waiting for kids coming back home. The dough is rising joyously. And my heart is cheering. Party for everybody! Dance!’. I want more of that. Well done Babushka! Well done Russia.

Wunderbar! [I know that’s German, but I didn’t want to leave them out’. I do like Angela Merkel].

But, it turned sour in 2013, amid the ‘Where did the ten points that were meant for Russia, go?’ controversy. I like to call it Euro-gate [pun intended].

‘You’ve got four dancers, for whom modern dance stopped about 30 years ago.’ Terry Wogan talking about a dancing troupe who featured in 2006, as part of the Malta entry.

But, it was serious for the Russian government. Their spokesman, Sergei Lavrov, who is their Foreign Minister, the guy who explains how provocative a European defence system is (emphasis on ‘defence’, Mr Lavrov) and how peaceful the Russian Government are at taking over the Crimea (emphasis on ‘taking over’) responded. I’m not sure if they are going to point missiles at this years contest, but he said, ‘The outrageous action at Eurovision regarding the Russian contestant will not go unanswered,’ he warned. My goodness me. A threat? But hey, this is the Eurovision Song Contest, so let’s just set those words to music, take a deep breath and carry on regardless. It’s a ‘sing off’, remember.

And then, in 2014 Conchita Wurst, a drag-queen/cross-dresser, sporting facial hair, sort of Guy Fawkes-style won the contest for Austria. Oh dear, the Russian government wasn’t pleased, and threatened to walk away from the contest in future years. They didn’t. Hoorah! And the ‘sing off’ continues. Well, it’s better than fighting!

‘Boom boom boom! …more boom boom boom! I want more boom boom boom!’,
Bubba in the movie ‘The Jazz Singer’

Ofcourse, I’m singling out the Russian government, not it’s people. The Russian ‘grannies’, Buranovskiye Babushki were really good, and it is reckoned that this years Russian entrant may come second, if not win! I hope he does. It will show everyone that rhetoric, bombs and threats are not needed. Those are the puerile, sterile and prehensile [sic] things, not the Eurovision Song Contest.

Ofcourse, I’m aware that I see things differently looking from this side of ‘the fence’ than the Russian government, and they see things differently to me. But, hey ho, the ‘sing off’ continues, we’re talking, there are no bad guys at the Eurovision Song Contest, thank God, so let’s just sing!

Ofcourse, I want everyone to win (- ‘Come on Britain,’), but that’s not possible. But, it’s the taking part that counts. It’s fun! It’s entertaining! What more do you want?

‘There’s not enough silliness in the world. Eurovision helps to keep it balanced.’
-Terry Wogan

The Eurovision Song Contest is a wonderful slice of the vision that Europe is becoming. One continent that settles its trouble by singing to each other. [Blows nose, wipes eyes, and composes himself. Far too emotional for a Brit. I apologise.]

Confessio #7

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One of my confessions is that…I kiss men. That statement, depending on which part of the world you come from, will either ensure that you stop reading now, or continue because you accept the practice, or are intrigued by what I mean. But, it’s true.

One of my ‘musical heroes’ of yesteryear, sang in nasalised manner, and the song’s refrain was, ‘…for the times they are a-changing’, and I’ve concluded this is so. Especially in the area of male-to-male greeting in Europe.

‘Mange tout, Rodney’, Derek ‘Del Boy’ Trotter, in ‘Only Fools And Horses’, played by David Jason

I considered myself au fait with such male-to-male greetings and those unwritten rules, but all that has changed, it seems

When you have English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Italian and French, and French-Canadians in the family, and younger and more mature people as well, and then ‘of the land’ eco-warriors, and Druids, and Freemasons, and local council professionals, then in one way or another, male-to-male greeting is much more complex than it used to be.

‘I have become all things to all people…’, Paul in the Book, 1 Corinthians 9:22a

Paul gives some broad principals of adapting to differing settings, but nowhere does he give even a hint about how you weigh up the situation and act accordingly. But that’s Paul. All those letters, and not a word about male-to-male greeting. He must have committed a few faux pas in his time, surely? If so, he knows how I feel.

Let me outline, some of the quandries I found myself in this week alone:

  • I visited my brother at County Hall. He came toward me with his right hand extended. I walked toward him with both arms ready to embrace. Surrounded by officials, what was one expected to do?
  • half way through the large and very formal Church service in the City, they had ‘the peace’! If you have ever experienced that event or similar, it is the ‘Marmite moment: you either love it or hate it. The service lead minister was walking toward me with both arms extended, and I, as service assistant minister, was moving toward him with both arms extended. What would happen?
  • a cousin from Italy arrived that I hadn’t seen for some time. He came toward me, but there was no unusual no arm movement to indicate the style of greeting. But, he’s Italian! What happened next? What was I to do?

What to do?

In the first instance a handshake might be good for the more formal setting but it was a family member. So I hugged. Full embrace. It might have prompted a few grins from onlookers, but I’m sure there are other things for them to worry about, and my greeting was sincere.

In the second instance at the Church service – and I do like ‘the peace’ event – the service lead minister came toward me and we shook hands and half-embraced each other with the ‘free’ arm. A pound hug, I believe it’s called. Some eyebrows were raised at such informality, I’m sure, but hey, I do believe those people will be in for a shock when they get to Heaven. Ofcourse, it’ll be a pleasant one, by definition. One can hardly hate such informally in Heaven. I mean, it wouldn’t be Heaven then, would it?

And finally, my cousin from Italy. Without thinking he embraced me, and I followed suit. It seemed the natural thing to do. And, then we kissed. No, not a lip to lip, tongue-usage kiss, but a ‘southern Mediterranean’ male-to-male kiss on each others cheek. The setting was right. The rule here, it seems is not to pucker up, but briefly rest one cheek against the other. Cheek to cheek momentarily.

I do believe any ‘awkwardness’ I have felt in the past – not now – has been only ‘me’. Others look on without judgement, and even it they did judge, I’m not (now) concerned.

‘In all things, be natural. And don’t feel you have to explain yourself.’ Tadhg

I’ve found that if greetings, such as those mentioned above, come from the heart, and they should, there is no wrong or right way. Just the natural way. Natural male to male greeting. Ofcourse, those from even more widely-separated cultures may experience a shock when visiting Europe, but isn’t it good to experience this culture-shock? It pulls us out of our lethargy, and it encourages us to review what we say and think and do in the presence of others! That uneasiness can be seen on Bush’s face as he’s greeted by the Italian President.

Quelle surprise.

And maybe, one more ‘confession’. I kiss my sons. Their friends are used to it, as are most of the family, but sometimes one or two (distant) family members might query it. But, hey ho!

When I greet my sons and say good-bye they get a kiss on the top of their head. It’s my way – peculiar or not – but its my way of showing fatherly love for my dear sons, and yes, I’ll even go so far as to say it is my way of annointing them, encouraging them, declaring that I’m proud of them, and blessing them. All of that in a kiss, and for me, something that would be miserably lost in a mere handshake.

In all of this male-to-male greeting rule changes I’ve learned to take the lead if the other party seem uncertain, to aim for the more friendly approach rather than the more formal, and to do it from the heart, and then one cannot go wrong. Ofcourse, that encourages some friends in my presence, and unnerves others. Be warned!

Confessio #6

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One of my confessions is that…I find prayer, which is so useful and beneficial, so boring, or at least I used to. Infact, had I come across a piece on prayer like this, a few years ago, I would have stopped reading by now.

I disliked prayer intensely, then. Not, the actually ‘communing’ bit, but the actual doing it in a group, church context. I would rather have had root canal treatment than take part in group prayer…

…until, I re-defined, or properly understood, what it is!

So, what is prayer?

Years ago, I think I probably had the view that prayer was a way to coax God to do what I wanted, regardless.

My earliest recollections of ‘corporate’ Christian prayer, years ago, whether it was before the evening church service or for some special event, was of meeting with a motley group of much older people, in a little, darkened room, the vestry, which was badly in need of decoration, smelled of dust, and was cold, damp and uninviting. And, the language? I don’t mean swear words, but all those ‘thees’ and ‘thous’, as if God spoke like middle-class England did some three hundred  years ago?

Dost thou understandeth me? You catch my drift?

If that room and prayer was a food it would be cold semolina pudding. It didn’t encourage me as an older teen to pray.

The collection of prayers, as one person prayed and then the next in the circle prayed – always ‘intimidating’ and artificial as I might not want to pray next in the queue – seemed to be fear-based, a ‘warding off’ of something, rather than something more positive, say, of inviting God ‘in’. Although my theological understanding now is that even that is unnecessary as God is already here, there and everywhere, and it is the Deity who invites us, anyway!

But, thankfully, knowledge gave way to wisdom.

Now, a few years older than a teen – cough, cough – okay, may years older, my understanding of prayer has changed, so that I regard it as a conversation with the deity, and two-way, at that! That last claim still raises a few eyebrows from my local evangelical Christian friends, some of whom look at me with that ‘humour-the-poor-fellow-as-his-mind-is-obviously-addled’ look. Inwardly, I look at them and think, you don’t know what you’re missing, and that, too, forms part of my prayer for them.

But, I’m ‘so old’ now I really don’t care what they think of me. I’m having a great time with my redefined view of prayer. Don’t stop me know, Queen (the band) said in another context.

Right now, I’d like to suggest three forms of prayer.

I know there are more than three, and it depends what you’re really looking at, as there are different ways to slice a cake, but, here’s three forms or stages of prayer to think about, that I’d like to offer.

The first is vocal prayer. This might be the staple diet of many, and/or it might be seen as the first stage in prayer, and one that is commended. It’s certainly the only stage of prayer that was used in that dust-laden vestry. It’s where we might say aloud our prayers, and it includes prayers that we ‘say’ silently as thought-prayers, inwardly, and might consist of list of needs for us or others, or things to give gratitude for.

It’s a two-way conversation.

It could include adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. It could also use spontaneous words or formulaic, written prayers of old. I’ve also discovered contemporary language is acceptable to the Deity!

The second is imaginal prayer, along the lines of that attributed to St  Ignatius. Here, the imagination can ‘dance’. I sometimes like to read a holy text, and then imagine that account and myself ‘in’ it. What would I have heard? What would I have seen? What would I have felt? What would I have done? What would it have been like to listen to, say, Jesus, deliver a parable? Imagine!

Maybe to counter that old view of prayer I had years ago, and to ‘combat’ the sedentary nature in many places, I also – and this happens only when I’m alone, I assure you – like to move about!

Yes, in this second level of prayer, actions are possible. I discovered that if the prophets of old in the Book can use ‘enacted parables’, and Jesus used ritual, then I (and that includes you) can use movement in prayer, though you might like to call it ‘dance’ or ‘exaggerated ritual’. Infact, you might want to keep it a secret like me – though it’s a secret no longer.

It’s dancing with the Deity. You can even ‘lead’, such is the Deity’s grace and humility, and desire to ‘connect’ with you.

Yes, with my eyes closed, I imagine that when standing, and with my hands raised in ‘surrender’ in prayer. Orans is what the ancient Believer would call this; it’s very similar to the   I am being allowed to ‘harvest’ some heavenly power.

It’s a moving out of normal ‘time-space’, into the liminal, where things happen!

When I then place my hands on my heart, that power is ‘linked’ to the person, metaphorically, on my heart at that time. When I mould my hands around an invisible ball in front of me, I like to imagine that that prayer-power is almost ready to ‘go’. And then, adopting a zen-like pose of putting my weight more on one (slightly bended) leg, I use both hands, open-palmed, to ‘propel’ that prayer-power in the direction of the person prayed for. I would also say a brief verbal prayer for them.

Sometimes prayer can be too brief, too easy, too shallow. This helps me, and it might help you. Ofcourse, you can vary and/or adapt the ‘dance’.

Afterwards, I take my time to ‘return’ to normal time-space, and I let my hands ‘hang loose’.

I know some may find this totally unnecessary and time-consuming, or even bizarre, but I find it beneficial, and much better than sitting and just saying ‘Bless Fred, he’s not at all well!’.

The third way is that of the prayer of silence or the prayer of Presence. It’s a going deep, and deeper still. I imagine at first, maybe being in a forest and I’m walking along a path to encounter the Deity. In this type of prayer, I quickly, purposely, lose the idea of ‘picture-thought’, and just rest. Thoughts come and go all the time – but they’re metaphorically like ships on the horizon and I pay them no attention to them. Grab onto a thought and you ‘jump out’ of that ‘no-thought’ space.

This prayer is the way of just sitting, relaxing, resting, being. Revealing in the Deity’s Presence.

It is being in the Presence of the deity. Bask in it. No effort is needed. The interesting thing is, that the moment you ask yourself, ’Have I encountered yet?’, then you haven’t, because that’s a thought, and you’ve moved out of just resting, just being, just being in the Presence. Similarly, if you work at it, you’ve missed the point. Understanding that you’ve been in the Deity’s Presence is in hindsight, and never during the event. It’s known only after the event, when one thinks back! And it’s awesome! It’s apophatic meditation (or contemplation, however you use those words) or centering prayer.

Some find this third idea of prayer odd, unnatural, and some of my evangelical friends say it is ‘rather un-christian’, little realising that it was the ‘staple diet’ of many Believers for over a thousand years before the Reformation – but, sadly they trace their knowledge and understanding of such things only as far back to their particular denominations start-date, some three hundred years ago or less.

Oh, they don’t know what they’re missing.

No, this third level of prayer, basking in the Deity’s Presence is very similar to that of human lovers. Initially, in most young relationships there is the ‘whispering sweet nothings’ stage when just the voice of your lover is exciting; then there is the working together and planning together stage, dare I say imagining together; and as the relationship grows and matures there is ‘silent-togetherness’ stage. Then, just being in each other’s presence is more than enough. No words, no actions, no thoughts are necessary! Just being together is everything! This is the third level of prayer, that I would recommended – that of encountering God as the all-embracing, Loving Presence, available to all!

So, there you have it. I hope, in my praying, things are more dynamic, lively, interesting and relevant.  I certainly feel as though I’ve taken the J-Cloth and Fairy Liquid to my previous notion of dusty, old, irrelevant and archaic prayer, and swept away the prayer cobwebs of shallowness. Hmm, I feel better already!

Confessio #5

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One of my confessions is that…I am a key-dropper. And, you might be one, too? There are millions of key-droppers, all dropping keys! So, what is a key-dropper?

How about this:

Samuel was twenty-seven years old. An intelligent man, who had lost his way in life. He had left school at sixteen and gone to college, but spent the intervening years getting into trouble with the Police, and that was why he had been referred to me. He had a police record as long as your arm. Petty crimes, true, but eighteen of them – and as successive crimes had been committed before earlier crimes had been ‘spent’ or erased from his record, all those crimes remained current and on his record for another three years, and would need to be declared to any prospective employer.

To date, Samuel said he hadn’t done anything constructive in moving his adult life forward. And so, he sat in front of me – it was our first meeting – in despair. In short, we looked at aims, goals, looked at what he really wanted to do, how to get there, and we even looked at funding issues. With lots of encouragement and positivity, and realism, a plan of action was drawn up.

Turn your scars into stars.

For what he wanted to do – workwise – a university course was needed, and so I set about suggesting some good, local universities and provided him with their addresses and brief information. I also set some ‘homework’ which was for him to research more deeply those universities, and report back in three weeks time at our next meeting. He would then share his findings, and then decide what university would be best for him. He cheerfully accepted that, and seemed to walk out of the office much taller than when he had entered it an hour earlier. The outlook looked good.

Three weeks passed. Samuel sat in front of me, again, and we spoke. He eagerly spread a number of university prospectuses on the table, with one deliberately uppermost. Samuel was exuberant. He explained that he had sent off for and looked at several prospectuses, and decided which one would most benefit him. Infact, he had already had a university interview. The university had, indeed accepted him on a three year course, preceded with a ‘year zero’ course so that he would be ‘acclimatised’ to the academic life having done little in the intervening years (and I think, maybe to test his resolve), and had even talked to him about funding. ‘All ‘doable’’, he said.

Samuel quite rightly patted himself on the back. We scheduled some ‘encouraging’, longer-term meetings over the next year – just to keep in touch and build upon that good work, but his last question at that meeting was interesting. As he left the office, he asked me, ‘What role did you play in all this, Tadhg? I did it all by myself!”.

That’s the role of a key-dropper!

Ofcourse, I could have reminded Samuel that he had been ‘drifting’ (his words) for over eight years before that one meeting with me, and perhaps my role was to give him that much-needed information and encouragement of what could be. But I didn’t reply, but just shook his hand and encouraged him to come to our next meeting in a couple of months.

After all, I am a key-dropper.

A definition: A key-dropper, then, is someone who ‘releases’ someone from their (usually) self-imposed restrictions. It may not mean doing the work for them. Indeed, usually for them to succeed they need to work through it by themselves, but with encouragement. A key-dropper is someone who creates ‘space’ for someone to envision their future, gives them information and encouragement, and stays with that person through the good times and the not-so-good times ahead. I believe the work of the key-dropper is a ministry, a calling, a noble work, and one that is both rewarding and yet demanding.

Are you a key-dropper?

Hafiz, a Persian mystical poet, born some seven hundred years ago, and one of my favourites, wrote:

“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”.

What are the rewards of a key-dropper?

The rewards are awesome. I am thankful to have been part of the life-journey of people who have gone from ‘zero to hero’; of young men who wanted to provide for a forthcoming birth and support their girlfriends, and did so by obtaining employment; of a young women who thought her education was ‘blocked’ by a ‘police caution’ but found the ‘door’ was infact open to her and she seized that opportunity; and joyful that I encouraged an eighty-year old lady (who had relied on her similarly-aged friends to read letters to her, as she was illiterate, but now found that many of her supportive friends had ‘passed on) to join an adult literacy course. She started on a literacy 101 course, and I sat with her through enrolment and the first class – which was just as well, as registration at the front desk (even for this course) meant reading forms and filling in application forms!). She flourished! And those are just a few accounts. The rewards are, indeed awesome, and heart-warming as at the end of each day I went home feeling that something good had gone out!

You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one.

What are the disbenefits?

Sadly, there are a few disbenefits. A key-dropper is an encourager, and some people flatly refused to rise to any challenge – through fear of failure, or perhaps even fear of success, or perhaps a failure of their ‘vision’ to ignite etc – but they remained in their rut, and that was frustrating. Many times I wanted to do more for them, but I knew that they had to show a positive response for it to work, and my role was to encourage (only). Key-droppers drop keys, but the recipient must unlock the door and walk through it.

You can take a horse to water, the saying says, but you can’t make it drink!

Sometimes, I felt a person could do better than, say, the janitorial work that they had settled for. But, janitorial work is a good, honest work and provided an income for that person and their family, and it would be wrong for me to put my ‘views’ of work and progression on to another person. Wrong, and probably arrogant. They were doing well! And so  I had to ‘pinch’ myself not to interfere. Something altogether too easy to do.

And then, there’s my ego. If I am honest, it sometimes hurt when someone would seize the opportunity and turn their life around, but walk away without saying ‘thankyou’.

And maybe, I’m revealing too much, and I hope you’ll not ‘unfriend me’, but on a few instances I felt rather envious of the opportunities some had had, and took, but I felt that I hadn’t had that opportunity. But, two things quickly sprang to mind in such circumstances: Firstly, if I really wanted that opportunity, I could go after it (and should take my own advice), and so I took some comfort there (knowing it as my ego talking); and secondly, it was the role of a key-dropper (and a mark of their success) to ‘propel’ people further, higher, and I took some comfort there.

That, after all, is the role of a key-dropper, and I consider myself blessed to be part of that work.

Are you a key-dropper?

It could be that your main ‘calling’ in life is to be a key-dropper, in which case you too, are blessed. I really do believe that the good we give out, comes back.

A blessing is the visible, perceptible, effective proximity of God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer

It could be that your role in life isn’t that of a key-dropper – but some other work (after all, all work is noble), but in your work and other circumstances you will, occasionally, nevertheless find yourself in the role of a key-dropper, albeit temporarily. I would encourage you to seize that opportunity at that time, maybe for just one person, to drop the key so they can pick it up and open the door, to encourage them, even if it’s a kindly word; but in that respect you too, for a time, are a key-dropper, and you will be blessed.

Having confessed, I feel better already.

Tadhg

 

PS: Samuel and the account mentioned above about is a slightly fictionalised name and event to safeguard anonymity, but based on a very real-life circumstance, and from a time when I was working for a not-for-profit organisation in London which sought to turn the lives of (ex-)offenders, (ex-)alcoholics and the unemployed around.

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:

“Enough!
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?

Confessio #3

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One of my confessions is that…I believe in ritual, and the power behind ritual.

From throwing salt over the shoulder if we spill some, first-footing (yes, it still happens in my household), celebrating birthdays and blowing out candles, to thanksgiving in the US with turkey and pumpkin pie, or to the annual ‘cheese-rolling’ down the side of Cooper’s Hill in Gloucestershire, England each Spring, or to the more formalised ritual of marriage, etc, we still love our rituals.

“At the stroke of midnight on New Years Day I open the front door and back door, to let the old year out, and the new year in.” Alice.

For Druids, ritual may be a hearing (and sometimes, a re-enacting) of a familiar myth or story as they celebrate the seasons of the year. Children love re-enactments, and you can find evidence of their involvement in many cultures, faith-groups and different settings, even at Christmas when re-enacting the Nativity at church or school. Druids may, sometimes, form a circle, or stand within one, honour the four directions and offer up prayers. Awesome ritual.

At other times, in other places, ancient Celts in Britain, and for example those in southern England, had meticulous burial customs to ensure the deceased. There was the belief of a ‘land of youth’, or ‘the Isle of the Blessed’, a place of bliss, mystery and charm. Indeed, the whole island of Britain was viewed as somewhat supernatural and mysterious by the Romans, who called it Insula Sacra (The Sacred Island).

“Five minutes before kick off, I open a can of beer, and to honour of my team, the first half-inch of beer is deliberately spilled in the garden”. Tom.

An anthropologist might settle for a definition of ritual that seeks to infer ritual as mere primitive superstition, to ward off the temper of an angry god, gods, godesses etc. Some of my friends actually believe in a deity like that. Or they might see ritual as empty or done in desperation.

My personal opinion, is that that misses the point. Ancient tribes may, from our viewpoint, have less knowledge (though that is debatable), but they don’t necessarily lack wisdom, and for them a neighbour who was a character in a re-enactment, say, was still their neighbour and they knew that, but for a moment all had entered into ‘liminal space’, especially their neighbour, in a vicarious way. And whilst empty ritual, done by rote today, is, I believe, meaningless – and I’ve been a few times where Evening Prayer has been said 50% faster to get through it and meant that I couldn’t really ‘enter into it – ritual has power if done with the right attitude. And so, in many cases ritual has more to do with us, than the deity, who (personally) I view as love. Connecting ritual.

“Putting on the special ceremonial clothes is a reminder to me that I’m working in the ‘gap’ of power and potential, a place the ancient celts called ‘thin places’ [caol ait], which for me, happens to be the Eucharistic service”. Daniel.

Ritual move us into a liminal realm – the gap between here and there, where things happen. A wedding, say a Christian wedding, for instance, has a start, middle and end. The priest, couple to be married, and the congregation are ushered into another ‘realm’ as it were, by words, music, song and ritual, and for that time special things occur, culminating in two people becoming one – a deep mystery. And then the liminal service closes. Momentarily in the liminal realm, then back to ‘normal’. Uniting ritual.

“My ritual is to watch the sun rise on the first day of the month, and to express gratitude to That Which Is Larger Than Myself.” Paul.

Ofcourse, for those with ‘eyes to see’, liminality is all around us.  The deity, then, doesn’t need that structured ritual – he, she, they already dwell in that liminal realm – but we need it, as we need continually to be reminded. It’s easy to forget about liminality, and let the busy-ness of the day crowd in.

Ritual ‘in time’ to take us out of time.

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you’. Ancient sacred text.

That text, above, has always puzzled me. I love ancient wisdom. So long as one person moves, and one stands still then the distance between them is reduced, and that must surely be a good thing? But, I don’t believe that text is talking about talking about geographical distance, but openness and responsiveness to each other. The Deity can draw closer to us and does, but we can miss the benefits by ‘unthinkingness’, or being too busy, or distracted – and who isn’t distracted by our 24/7 society?. However, if we draw closer to God (and the Deity does the same) then we benefit. And, ritual, I believe is a way of ensuring that we are intentional in our drawing closer. Then, we set aside a special time, then we do appropriate things intentionally, and ‘whoosh’ we’re there.

Ritual is ‘movement’, but not the geographical kind.

Ritual then, whether it’s the formalised church or other faith-group service in a building or grove, or whether it is our own ritual practiced in front of a home altar, has great benefits so long as we do it with intentionality, and not unthinkingly by rote (for then in becomes powerless and ‘liminoid ‘, that is, a liminal ‘near miss’).

Yes, ritual has power.

Ritual has power because it ushers us into the liminal realm, ‘connects’ us with the Deity, and all power comes from that Source, and we benefit. So, I believe in ritual and the power behind it.

I would commend you to start (or continue with) an appropriate (daily) ritual – not in an over-elaborate way, nor a just for effect sort of way, for that would smack of the liminoid – but in a gentle, encouraging way, and with intentionality, and so reap some amazing benefits. Enter the liminal by ritual.

 

If you wish to know more about liminality or ritual, or Tadhg’s work as a ceremonialist, please do contact him, direct.

Confessio #2

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One of my confessions is, that…I believe in angels.

That is, I believe that angels exist and that they interact with humankind on a personal level, and have done so for thousands of years, and still do so, today.

There, I’ve admitted it.

Please don’t think, however, that I’m talking about fairies – though that in itself might be the topic for another day, elsewhere, and I know some very clever and wise people who accept their existence.

Nor am I’m talking about some of the ‘chewing gum’ tv programs about angels who resolve an individuals’ ‘challenge’;’ and then move on – rather like that old tv program, ‘The Littlest Hobo’, which may be great entertainment, but is not so accurate when it comes to theology. Now, I’m feeling really old, as ‘The Littlest Hobo’ was screened decades ago!

And, lastly, please don’t confuse this with the wonderful, though weird, androgynous-looking angels of medieval classic artists who have ‘hulking, great big’ dove-like wings (the angels, that is, and not the artists), nor those ‘flying baby’ angels with rosey-red cheeks on Christmas or Easter cards, who seem to be looking in odd directions, clothed in wispy veils that might ‘fail’ at any moment, and have wings of butterflies.

Phew! Still with me? I hope so.

One angelic encounter I had was of the ‘Green angel’ in a night-dream. The dream was vivid and so important to me, and was one that I found re-assuring, as it occurred at about the time of an oesophageal cancer diagnosis. Now, I was the sceptical sort at the time, and had that angelic encounter occurred after the diagnosis, I would have probably dismissed it and said that was the brain’s way, my way of coping with such awful news. But, this encounter, in a dream and no less real, occurred several weeks before the cancer diagnosis was made. That’s what made it so interesting, as I drew strength from it, but only several weeks later, and it helped immensely. There’s more about that encounter: here.

So what, or who are angels?

The angels I’m talking about are ‘deity-helpers’, however, you define your deity/deities. They can appear in a multitude of forms in the physical realm and in the imaginal-daydream realm and in the night-dream realm. Perhaps, how they appear has more to do with us and our perception, or their accommodating to our perception of them, as if to do us a favour.

Now the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. Genesis 18: 1-2a

Wings?

An interesting fact in the quote above, is that here’s an account of an angelic encounter by Abraham, who ‘mistakes’ them for men. Wings, it seems, are optional. Had they had wings, they wouldn’t have been mistaken for men.

“You say God speaks to you, but it’s only your imagination.” These are the words spoken by the inquisitor to Joan of Arc during her trial for heresy. “How else would God speak to me, if not through my imagination?” Joan replied.

Imaginal?

Another interesting fact is that Abraham was resting, maybe somewhat tired, and doing so in the heat of the sun. In that kind of potential slumber, day-dreamy state, or sleep-but-not-quite-sleep, maybe the appearance was in the ‘imaginal realm, but no less real!

It’s for that, and several other reasons, that I, as part of my work, lead one-to-one sessions and workshops in angelic encounters, using creative visualisation, ushering discerning men and women in (and out) of the imaginal realm of power and potential.

What is mankind that you are mindful of them, a son of man that you care for him? You made them a little lower than the angels; you crowned them with glory and honour and put everything under their feet. Hebrews 2: 6b-8a

Your status?

Lastly, and just as interesting is that angels assist each one of us, whether we know it or not. They minister as though we were senior-but-not-senior. A bit like an Courts’ Advisor (that would be them) appointed you a young King (that would be us) who would one day rule in his own right, but not just yet. Indeed, sacred text says as much as this. Created in God’s image, mankind is made lower than the angels, whilst on Earth. And, a few verses later, Jesus is said to have been made lower than them, temporarily. So, your status, cosmically, is that of being higher than angels! And, maybe that’s why they minister to us. They are mankind-helpers who know our true status in the universe.

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason,
how infinite in faculties, in form and moving,
how express and admirable in action, how like an angel in apprehension, how like a god! Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’

Close encounters in London?

There are accounts of angels throughout recorded history, and even current accounts of their interactions. Here’s one link, below, of a surprised tv presenter, referring to what has now become known as ‘the angel of the River Thames’, in London.

What about you?

So, have you had an angelic encounter or more than one. If you have, please let me know. If you would rather not leave a comment, do email me at: tadhg@tadhg.cymru

Similarly, if you you like to know more about angelic encounter sessions and workshops and other events, do contact me, direct, at the email address, above. More information about such sessions and events led by me can be found: here

Confessio #1

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One of my confessions is, that…I am a panentheist. There, I’ve admitted it.

Please don’t confuse this with being a pantheist, which I’m not. Pantheism – in a few words, and that really cannot do justice to the idea, is the theology that states that God is ‘in’ things. I do respect my pantheist friends even if I don’t always agree with them. But, I have benefited immensely from their friendship, teaching and ritual, and enjoy their sincerity, devotion and passion, and so what follows is (just) my confession.

Can you be as honest in what you truly believe? Here’s your opportunity.

So, I am a panentheist, and as a panentheist, I ‘see’ God not in (all) things, but all things in God, especially nature (and other people etc).

I firmly believe that this idea was there at the origins of Christianity, and that in being ‘modern’ or so ‘twenty-first century’ the Church at large has moved away from the ‘Oh-so-Close-God’ idea and the ‘soil and seasons’ beginnings of the early Church, and are the poorer for it.

We’ve moved away from some foundational Truth.

Sadly, I have seen certain Christian websites define the term in the most extreme ways, and then ‘demolish’ the idea. Such ‘straw man’ arguments are bad tactics, and are usually used by those whose argument is ‘thin’. Although they don’t anger me, they do upset me because they lead people astray, they seem to promulgate only one type of theology and it has to be their version of it, or else, and the do a disservice to the broad term ‘Christian’, as some non-Christians may think we’re all like that. And, I’m not.

There is a view held by some that God is far off. I’m not suggesting that some see God as an old man sitting on a cloud high up in the sky, but without putting it too succinctly, many do come unnervingly close to that idea . Maybe the reason they prefer this idea is that it lessens the need for responsibility, and we can see evidence of this: drunkenness, drugs, illegal practices, bad politicians and clergy, xenophobia, selfishness, destroying the earth for minerals, disrespecting others etc. A God that is close, such as the God of the panentheist, is for some, altogether too close, especially if they (erroneously) fear that God. If God is feared, then it’s reasonable to keep some distance between the deity and yourself, isn’t it? But, God isn’t like that. But, if God is distant, then maybe we can get away with it?

There’s an interesting story in the Book, concluding in Exodus 20. The people of Israel have been invited by God, to the foot of the mountain to encounter God. But, when they see fire and thunder on the mountain, they tremble, stay at a distance and fear overcomes them. They plead with Moses to intercede on their behalf, and he does. Moses meets God. The people don’t. They miss out. How sad? Fear got the better of them and they missed an opportunity to encounter God in a new way. Maybe, it’s that fear why some prefer a ‘distant God’ idea, rather than panentheism? And, sadly, like the people of Israel they miss out!

And, here’s another reason I hold to this belief, and it’s referring to God:

For in him we live and move and have our being…
Acts 17:28a, The Book

There, the Book itself couldn’t be clearer. We live ‘in’ God. Now, that is panentheism.

As a panentheist, much like those ancient Celts (and their Druids) who can teach us so much as they dwelt in a time of observing the seasons, living off the land, and seeing the beauty of nature all around them (as can latter-day Celts and Druids), I see no distinction between the secular and sacred, and understand that God is all around us, and indeed we are ‘contained’ in God. There is a unity, simplicity and perfection there.

We ‘swim in God’

Indeed, we ‘swim in God’, and like a fish in water, who cannot see water, so we cannot ‘see’ God directly now, but can see the deity’s outworking around us, and indeed this outworking, nature etc, like that fish’s water, is life-promoting and sustaining, and benevolent – all characteristics of the Invisible God.

As a panentheist, I find that I can better appreciate nature, the wonderment of life around me, respect the beliefs of others for they, too ‘swim in God’, and I can better relate to the so-close-God , who, rather than be feared, is life-giving, positive, forgiving and is ‘The Friend’ that Rumi spoke of.

Now, it’s your turn.

There, I’ve said it, and I feel much better for confessing it. Now, I’m a sociable guy, always wanting to make knew friends and discover more about existing friends, so what do you believe and how has it impacted on your life? If you want to email me, direct, rather than leave a public comment, do feel free to do so. Namaste.

 

[PS: That’s not me in the ‘confessio’ photograph. I am just as handsome, though LOL]