I’m in Derbyshire, England for a few days, and soon to have the privilege of leading a baby-naming ceremony. But, I’ve ‘built’ some rest and relaxation into this trip, which means exploration and adventure, and who knows what might happen.
Right now I’m at the heart of Stoney Wood…known as the Gateway to the stars. It’s been raining on and off for the last two hours, there’s a wind blowing and the clouds are grey and low, and I’m now venturing ever closer to the StarDisc. My first encounter.
The StarDisc is a wonderful work of art that is arresting, intriguing and profound. It is a 21st century stone circle and celestial amphitheatre created by Aidan Shingler. It spans 12 meters (40 ft). Carved into black granite floor is a star chart that mirrors the night sky of the northern hemisphere. The surface of the stone circle is inscribed with the constellations and their names, and also a depiction of the Milky Way. Around the perimeter of the StarDisc are twelve silver granite blocks which are seats denoting the months of the year.
I’m gazing at the StarDisc, standing on it, looking down. I can seen the stars etched into the black granite floor, but with a light coating of rain on the surface I can see the reflection of the clouds (and little patches of blue sky, now) as I look down. As above, so below.
The fact that we can glimpse and in a small way comprehend something of the universe declares the paradox that we find ourselves in when we think about our status in the universe. We are part of the universe, built of clay (or carbon) and yet we have the ability to see the universe. Are we not the universe looking at the universe?
The tallest, and heaviest, and richest, and grandest of us pale into seeming insignificance when measured against the vast distances involved in the planet we inhabit. Becoming less significant as we think about the solar system in which out planet could go unnoticed. Then consider the millions of solar systems, many of them larger than this one, in the galaxy, and then – yes, mae mwy, there’s more – and the millions of galaxies, some of them ‘super galaxies’ that populate the known universe. And now scientist suspect other universes. We’re small. And our status matches this? A paradox.
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!’ Hamlet, William Shakespeare
It’s a paradox because although we are seemingly small and seemingly insignificant we are here because That Which Is Bigger Than Us has called us into be, chosen us from before the beginning of time. You being here is not an accident. Seemingly small, we are bigger. Seemingly insignificant, we are significant. We are loved by The Source of All.
As I look down at that black granite floor I cannot but be in awe that we, humankind, have the ability to ask questions, posit answers, and gain wisdom. We are sufficiently mature to know that we know a lot, and yet know that we need to be in a state of humility for there is much more to know. Like children.
You are…’the lifter up of my head’. Psalm 3.3b, The Book.
As I look down, in the rain-soaked reflection I am seeing what is above – not just the star fields of the night-sky etched into the granite floor which is awesome, but the clouds and sky reflected to. In moments of quietness and solitude, in meditative states, and when humble we ‘see’ more. As below, so above.
So in our ‘small-bigness’ what are we to do?
We each have a responsibility. That maybe a word that some shun, but just as a parent has a responsibility and knows the joys of parenthood, so we have a responsibility and can realise the joy of being chosen for a specific task (or many) in ministering to others.
But, the ego can ‘kick in’ here. There are some who would say that much training is needed, and that may be so. But, the ‘trap’ seems to be to remain in a perpetual state of training for the ‘big day’ when you and I will be ‘ready’. The ‘big day’ never arrives. We then never mature, and others will never hear your words or be ministered to by your actions. Ofcourse, some training is needed, and the alternative ‘trap’ is to eschew any training at all and just leap into ministering without much foundation. Balance is needed.
I believe in trying to get a balance between individual freedom on the one hand and social responsibility on the other. Chris Patten
As I look at the StarDisc, which has a Stone Henge feel about it I cannot but feel humbled that those who built Stone Henge and those that worshipped there some time later, though they never left written records, did leave us a legacy, from which we can benefit, because they took their responsibility seriously. They studied and trained, and gave out – they ministered in thought, word and deed. And I dare say, some of them sometimes got it wrong. But I do believe that That Which Is Bigger Than Us understands. Better some study and then ministry, than all study and no ministry, or all ministry and no study.
What is our responsibility? No answer can be given here to the level of maturity we each find ourselves at, or need. Some may need much training before ministering (however we define that word, or believe our calling to be). But, some practical outwork is always needed so that study isn’t all…well, study. Some, may know that they have only studied and for such a long time that ministry is long overdue. Balance is needed.
And, perhaps that is where the Anamcara, the ‘soul friend’, is useful. The Anamcara, and it could be a good friend acting in that role or it could be a latter-day Anamcara, is someone who has a mature knowledge of spiritual matters, is grounded, and who has your best interest at heart. They will tell you honestly your surrender ‘walk’. Do you have an Anamcara?
In everyone’s life, there is great need for an anam cara, a soul friend. In this love, you are understood as you are without mask or pretension. The superficial and functional lies and half-truths of social acquaintance fall away, you can be as you really are. Love allows understanding to dawn, and understanding is precious. John O’Donohue
I’m still standing on the StarDisc, the rain is coming back and it’s time for me to go. But what of you? Is your current study-ministry ratio in proportion? Do you have an Anamcara? It’s now pouring with rain, and as much as I like the rain, I’m moving, somewhat fast, towards shelter. My last thought as I seek shelter under a huge old tree, is, bearing in mind that each of us are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses down the ages, what are our priorities in ministering to others? What is our ministry? What is our calling? What is our responsibility to each other?
These questions, the answers of which will differ for each one of us, are so important when ministering as a Celt, Druid, Christian etc, but they need to be asked, even if the answers are elusive.
It’s time to move on.
[Unable to upload ‘header’ photo as I’m ‘on the road’ and current computer program won’t allow photo uploading.]