Quote of the Day

Growth for the sake of growth is the philosophy of the cancer cell. PHiLOSOPHY and LiFE blog

Monday, April 29, 2013

Thursday, May 05, 2011

FYI

I am blogging more at This Body these days.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

What happened to a sense of wonder…? (Van Morrison)

The books, the theology, the churches, the schools, the education: they cannot seem to convey the sense of wonder that gave rise to the ideas about God, the ideas we call Physics or Evolution or Geography, etc. The people who wrote the first books, who dreamt up to first ideas were seized with wonder, wonder in both senses of that word: awe and conjecture. Being told about things is no substitute for this. How curricula squeeze it out!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Funeral Tribute

My father was an accomplished, big-hearted man, naturally able and rounded in his abilities, with a good mind and skilful hands: woodwork, plumbing, painting and decorating, car maintenance, printing, bookkeeping, cooking, modern ‘O’-level maths, a smattering of Spanish, green bowling, a good bass voice and sense of harmony, and a graceful, graceful dancer. In his last year he got to grips with an iPhone, with a laptop computer, with email and the web. He loved Beethoven’s music; he loved the West Country moors.

Friends speak of him as… “a gentleman, always with a welcome cup of tea, and with the ability to make me laugh;” “kind, interesting, and really rather good looking;” “a lovely man – very kind and with an easy laugh.”

Physically, he was fearless. I once spent a terrifying day with him, me clinging to the top of a scaffolding tower while he perched on a tall ladder, merrily setting to with a 14lb hammer to demolish our chimney stack and then tiling the resulting gap in the roof.

Dad spent all his working life in Southend, rising to Deputy Civil Borough Engineer for the area. He took me to Southend Airport where he was working on the runways, and down a massive flood-water drain. A late project raised the sea defences along the Estuary. He believed in being community-minded and his work was for the folk who live here.

He has one, crucial quality that stands out. The best start in life is to be loved by one’s parents and I know, in my bones, that he loved me. He was always able to say and show this love. When Zoe and Jason some names removed by request were young, I saw how he must have been with Lindsay and me when we were young: at ease, strong, tender, warm: loving. Latterly, when we visited him with my children, I saw how he gave them the space to approach this now elderly, ailing, bearded stranger and then, when they did, there was his deep warmth and delight: they naturally took to him, enjoyed seeing him, and often asked to speak with him on the phone. He simply did care about and love his children and grandchildren: in the way he was with us physically; in the heart-ache and the thousand natural delights that fatherhood is heir to. I count us very blessed by this.

In the last few years of his life there was diminution: a closing in and a closing down of his physical world. What heartened me was an opening out of his intellectual and spiritual life. He read widely – science, politics, biography, geography, as well as novels – and followed world events. He was concerned about what was happening in world beyond his room and the depth of his caring was moving. He worried about AIDS in Africa, for example. He prayed about some of these things and he prayed for us, his family.

So, these are the things I shall remember of Dad: an accomplished and intelligent man; a man who loved us; and a man of hidden and deep spirituality.

So, what to say about Dad as he is now? This has been a hard Eastertide: new life is a hope, rather than a present reality. I don’t imagine that I shall meet Dad face-to-face in another life (though I’d dearly love to be proved wrong). But, there’s a line in a funeral prayer that talks about “God who brings us to birth, and in whose arms we die.” It gives the sense of something much bigger at work than our little lives. We are always in God.

The First Law of Thermodynamics proposes that in all the energy transformations of this world, though things change, nothing is lost. Dad has changed from how we knew him and is about to be transformed again. All that my father is and was continues, though utterly changed and in other forms. The mark upon Creation that Dad is, remains; he is held in God‘s arms.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Michael Maddock, RIP

My father died yesterday, Easter Sunday. This picture was taken the day before. He was in a nursing home. One of the carers took his order for supper at 4.30pm and he was found dead at 5pm. He was 82, has not been in good health for a few years, and has had a particularly trying last 6 months. So, while I and the rest of his family are in shock and I miss him terribly, I think this is a graceful ending for him. He is survived by my sister, Lindsay, and me, and by Helen, his second wife, and by Zoe and Jason, my half-sister and brothersome names removed by request his four grandchildren, Jessica, Zach, Hannah and Esther.

Yesterday evening, after my sister called to say he had died, I had an hour with him during which Claire said prayers, and I had time to say some goodbyes on my own with him and read him Psalm 139. I feel grateful and blessed that he loves me, and that our love has been said out loud to each other many times in recent years.

It is a sudden and unexpected death and the coroner has decided it is necessary to have a post-mortem. This will put back the date for a funeral by at least a few days. Claire, the girls and I are on holiday this week and we have decided to carry on with our plans for a few days in Dorset.

I am agnostic about what happens when we die – I think that is the only honest position to take – but I know that we are loved by the Universe (as any child would be), I trust God, and I believe in the First Law of Thermodynamics (things change but nothing is lost). Whatever is happening now to my Dad, I know that 'all will be well' with him. Some of you pray and meditate and I should be grateful for your prayers (however you 'pray') for his transition (in whatever way you happen to think of that).

Friday, January 29, 2010

Eugene Peterson: quotes from The Contemplative Pastor

“My job is not to solve people's problems or make them happy, but to help them see the grace operating in their lives.”

“Prayer is a subversive activity. It involves a more or less open act of defiance against any claim by the current regime.”

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Heaven, Hell and Life After Death

When the chips are down, I don't believe in Heaven or Hell as some vision of Life After Death. Let me be clear though: I do believe in Life After Death. I shall live on in the worms and grass and bacteria, and the birds who eat the seeds from the plants and trees I will nourish and become a part of. Bit by bit I will enter more richly into life than I do at present. One day I shall be stardust again.

But, to get to the end and be then sorted into Heaven or Hell, some kind of divine exam and reward or punishment scheme? I can't believe life is like that. I can't trust a god who does that. And in any case, the whole idea is far too concrete a picture.

Really, I am an ant, a transitory, mostly unnoticed creature, and when I am dead there will be nothing individual left; but the mark I have made on the world will live on. The totality that is God-and-the-Universe is undiminished by my death. And this makes the present moment the important thing ndash; this is the place of a heaven or a hell – and my individual needs, wants & desires are less important than the answer to the unanswerable question, "What is good for the Universe?"

It is another reason to let go of self-improvement programmes; ultimately, it is missing the point to try to make oneself better, cleverer, more efficient, nicer, less deserving of punishment and more deserving of reward in order to pass some anticpated final test of acceptance. What is important is to put myself into God's hands, to let God do God's stuff, and to try to ascertain right action.

And, at the same time, at this moment, the whole of the Universe is reflected, mirrored in my body. I am a representative, a hologram, a microcosm of everything.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Fridge Magnet

A closed mouth gathers no foot. R.E. Wilson

Monday, March 09, 2009

Holy the Firm

“Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? There is no one but us. There is no one to send, nor a clean hand, nor a pure heart on the face of the earth, nor in the earth, but only us, a generation comforting ourselves with the notion that we have come at an awkward time, that our innocent fathers are all dead—as if innocence had ever been—and our children busy and troubled, and we ourselves unfit, not yet ready, having each of us chosen wrongly, made a false start, failed, yielded to impulse and the tangled comfort of pleasures, and grown exhausted, unable to seek the thread, weak, and involved. But there is no one but us. There never has been.” (Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

American Beaty

It was one of those days when it's a minute away from snowing and there's this electricity in the air, you can almost hear it, right? And this bag was like, dancing with me. Like a little kid begging me to play with it. For fifteen minutes. And that's the day I knew there was this entire life behind things, and ... this incredibly benevolent force, that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid. Ever. Video's a poor excuse. But it helps me remember... and I need to remember... Sometimes there's so much beauty in the world I feel like I can't take it, like my heart's going to cave in. from American Beauty

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Word Allergies: No.1 The Environment

I am a Prince Charles fan. It takes courage to speak as he has done today in The Telegraph, to risk reputation with the likelihood of ridicule and controversy. It's made me think about the use of the words the environment.

There are certain words and phrases to which I have developed a rather nasty allergic reaction. I shall be delivering a number of posts on these allergies. The environment is one such. The very use of these words suggests a kind of separation: here is us, the humans; over there, the environment that has (is) a problem that is vexatious to us. It suggests that we are somehow separate from Nature (another word that gets me sneezing). The thing is, there is no here and there; there is only us, where us = humans, whales, CO2, cod, ants, the Amazon Rainforest, and the whole rest of the caboodle. We are the environment; we are nature: there is no environment; in fact, it's all environment. I wish that every time someone said the environment, e.g. we must care for the environment, they would simply replace this with some kind of first person pronoun, i.e. we must care for all of us.

I've been reading David Loy: Loving the World as Our Own Body: The Nondualist Ethics of Taoism, Buddhism and Deep Ecology, which says much better and much more comprehensively what I so inadequately try to say here. Read it!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

My half century

I am 50 today. It's strange. There is a feeling of having arrived – solid, adult, an achievement. I am a work-in-progress: who am I? who/what am I for? And, inevitably, there is death around the bend in the road. Somehow the now, the not-yet and the no more are held together. It beats me.

Early morning it rained; the sun shone for a brief burst and there was this rainbow.

Monday, August 11, 2008

F. Couperin Les barricades mystérieuses by Fix Nicolet

This has been one of my favourite pieces of music for many years, having first recorded it from Radio 3 onto a cassette tape when a student. It was on the radio again this morning played beautifully on the piano. Here it is in a sweet rendition on the guitar. Thank you, thank you, thank you Fix Nicolet.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Failure of Memory

Memento

In the last few days I have sat with two people with failing memories. One could not remember that their spouse had died in the last few hours, could not remember being there, the time and place, the last conversation. The other, who plaintively, anxiously asks for a sibling who visits every afternoon with a friend, thinks that no one ever comes. I repeat every few minutes that it is not visiting time yet, there's 30 seconds relief, then it's back to the question. Over and over I am met with my failure to make an impression, to make them see. Nothing I say sticks around.

Memory is fundamental to our conception of the human person. What chance for psycho-spiritual movement, growth, journeying and coming to new understandings of life if a person has no memory of an occurrence and their changing relationship to that occurrence over time? How can I grieve if I can't remember that my love has died?

One of my all-time favourite films is Memento. A man, suffering from short-term memory loss, uses notes and tattoos to hunt for the man he thinks killed his wife. He is prey to self-and-other deception. It is a commentary on the postmodern world with no metanarrative: if we have no story to live in, then we have no story to live from, and we go round in ever-decreasing peregrinations, making the same old, or increasingly disastrous mistakes. We're like the Israelites having forgotten Babylon: lost without knowing the fact.

Goundhog DayHow then meaningfully to be with two people lost in their own Groundhog Day who, unlike Phil Connors, cannot remember yesterday and so cannot make today different and, just maybe, better. How am I to let go of the desire to offer the opportunity to think and feel through the consequences of life's happenings? I know that when I leave it will be as if I had never walked through the door: nothing has changed, nor can it.

I am constitutionally unable to believe that God is anything other than good – so God unavoidably, ineluctably is with and for us whatever, whether or not we can remember, whether or not we can pray. I have to believe in the fragile, fleeting and blessed present moment where my being there and my prayer are communion and a relief for loneliness. I have to let go of that modern illusion of progress, and the satisfaction of making something happen. I have to be silent before my failure.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Emptiness

I spent the day at St Michael's Convent, Ham Common. I have come to view it as one of my favourite places. I spent the day alone and prayed, pottered and read some more of Into the Silent Land by Martin Laird. It is a wonderful book that brings together strands I am passionate about: body-centred spiritual practice, contemplation and Focusing.

While eating my lunch, I noticed the spectre of emptiness creeping up on me. I cast about looking for something interesting to do – a diversion. I have a kind of anxious feeling in my upper chest, where there can also be a kind of hardness, like a shell, to keep things at bay.

Behind all my addictive behaviours – behind watching TV, buying books, playing on the computer, eating too much, and many other distractions (these are just the ones I am more ready to admit to) – behind them all is emptiness and the fear that I am empty. But, so what if I am? Then what? Why does this bother me? Why not just be empty? Empty of what? Isn't everything in the end empty – of solidity, of permanence, of significance, of being able to hold itself in being. Aren't we all just like the clouds?

And then a flow of words: impermanent, gaseous, soft, transparent, insubstantial, evanescent, temporary, ephemeral, like the morning mist. Really, there is nothing here to defend, nothing to strive to hold on to. Emptiness is the nature of everything.

It is the anticipation of being nothing that is so terrible, such suffering. In truth, being empty is a relief, a freedom from always trying to be something.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Thoughts at a bedside

What are we doing when we sit in prayer with a person as they are dying? The prayer, the blessing, is in the particulars: these lines and wrinkles; this graying hair; these tired, baggy eyes; this pattern of breath; this body, these cells that hold all, all, all that this person is. Has this person given their life to Jesus? I don't care; Jesus gives his life for them: that is sufficient. Here is a life of richness — of thought and feeling and deed — of love and for love. Are we at this moment, as Saint Teresa of Ávila suggests, the human presence of God helping to hold all that this person is, from the moment of their birth — the brief flowering upon the Creation that they are?

We will soon be gone for good, but the Life of God remains forever marked by our brief, little, precious lives, and we witness and honour this.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Discernment

I have learnt something new about discernment: it is important to have a realistic knowledge of oneself: abilities, gifts, skills, character and so on. So often, the enemy of the human promotes lowered self-worth and self-denigration sometimes, with particular subtlety, in the guise of spiritual humility; but it is damaging to think one is less (e.g. less capable) than the truth of the matter. If God has made (and is still labouring to make) me and God calls me, then if I deny or fail to recognise what God has made, I may miss God's call.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Falling in love

I was given this quote from Fr Pedro Arrupe, sj this morning.

Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings, what you will do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.

And this after a stroke that left him partially paralysed and unable to speak:

More than ever I find myself in the hands of God. This is what I have wanted all my life from my youth. But now there is a difference; the initiative is entirely with God. It is indeed a profound spiritual experience to know and feel myself so totally in God's hands.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Going Home

This body will return to earth

become one, again,

with the round world: seep

into soil, dissolve

decay into richness

life-giving

dust, remnants of a kind

flame, scattered

motes of blown smoke

collected by the smallest of creatures;

water, the most of me, pattering

outside a listener's window becomes

Water of Life once more

runs sparkling

in a river, a lake, the wide

sea;

evening mist wets each

leaf and web glistening

droplets evaporate in the sun;

bank-teetering trees

flow with sap in Spring;

pregnant Autumn berries are disseminated

by migrating birds.

My body will encompass the Earth.

Thoughts, memories, affections, dreams -

the bright intangibles -

will they suffer composting

radical recycling

the soul's rendering down and return

to another soil in another ground

lose their form disperse?

These things I cannot know now.

I do not remember.

Nothing of me will be lost but

connections will dissolve.

I will be free

then.

10:30am Saturday 6 November 1993 (rev. October 1995)

Friday, May 30, 2008

Thomas and Friends

<rant>

Thomas the Tank Engine and the Fat Controller

I was listening to a patient (RIP 7 June) this morning talking about how useless she feels just lying in bed all day without anything to do, feeling guilty that everyone is looking after her, being so kind, and that she can't help anyone in return.

I was reminded of the stories of Thomas the Tank Engine originally by the Revd W Audry that my children like so much both in books and on the TV. The greatest (in fact, only) praise that the Fat Controller can give, and which makes an engine so happy, is "Very Useful Engine". Engines that are not useful are scrapped or sent away or, in one distressing story, bricked up in a tunnel.

This is a pernicious doctrine and it pains me as much to read the stories to my children as it does hearing it come out of the mouth of a dear, sick woman. There is nothing wrong with being useful, but it is not what human (or any other) beings are for. What all great spirituality teaches is that we are for love, and this is a trick that the Fat Controller, along with all whose highest good is Economic Growth and those who wish to provide our children schooling that will fit them for work, just do not get.

I barely get it myself

</rant>

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

How to pray

The anonymous, 14th century author of the Cloud of Unknowing gives this advice in chapter 3 on how to pray:

This is what you are to do: lift your heart up to the Lord, with a gentle stirring of love desiring him for his own sake and not for his gifts. Centre all you attention and desire on him and let this be the sole concern of your mind and heart. Do all in your power to forget everything else, keeping your thoughts and desires free from involvement with any of God's creatures or their affairs whether in general or in particular. Perhaps this will seem like an irresponsible attitude, but I tell you, let them all be; pay no attention to them. (tr. William Johnston)

How perfect is that!

Friday, May 09, 2008

Speckled Wood

Speckled Wood butterly

I saw another butterfly on the way to the hospital — a speckled wood. I prepared myself for the possibility by bringing my camera and snapped it myself.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Male Orange-tip Butterfly

Male Orange-tip butterfly

Three times a week I make the journey from home to the West Mid. I value the 1¼hr journey—the ½hr train journey and the walk either end. I am learning how to pray in this time. It is, notwithstanding, an unpleasant experience for me: I am surrounded by traffic, people and unremitting noise and it is difficult for me to “hear” God without silence. If “we are human only in contact, and conviviality, with what is not human,” then I am barely human on my way to work, when I am almost constantly surrounded only by people and the products of people.

CemeteryThis morning, as I walked past the local cemetery, I saw a male orange-tip butterfly (pictured) sunning himself in a patch of bluebells. He was a gift.

At lunch-time I often go for a ½hr walk in the cemetery. Each day there is something new. Suddenly, today, the grass is too long and there are wildflowers among the tufts. The men from the parks department will come with strimmers soon and cut it all back, but today it is irrepressible. I sit on a pink-granite gravestone, the sun and the breeze at my back, and look at the green and the trees, which also have arrived into leaf. Some bugs fly past seemingly aimlessless but, no doubt, with life-and-death purpose. It reminds me of all that I loved about being a child, alone on nearby common land or in the woods, wandering aimlessly or fishing for newts. It reminds me that these flowers, these bugs and butterflies, these trees—they are my sisters and brothers, my friends.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Fat

<rant>

Fat people

In another statement that demonstrates how we, as a society, fail to join up the dots, Alan Johnson is concerned about the level of obesity in this country. Well done: very up with the Zeitgeist, Al.

Well, if we spend so much time and money and space encouraging and manipulating ourselves into being nothing more than consumers ("consumero ergo sum") [please, someone, correct my Latin], what do you expect? “My name is Julian. I am an addict: TV, CDs, that lovely soya yoghurt from [in]Saino's, the Internet, my new mobile phone, now sadly lost or stolen or strayed, books on spirituality, etc. (the list is endless, so I won't go on at length as if I were Clement Freud in Just a Minute); thank you so much for giving me ample opportunity to feed my addiction.”

We live in a terribly split society: we want to have it all; and we don't want to be fat.

Tricky.

</rant>

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Dharma Transmission

I just love this poem.

It's nearly a year since my last post. Ergo, Esther’s nearly 1 year old. I've been busy!

Monday, July 31, 2006

On being a patient

Our new daughter, Esther Ruby, was born at 20:23, Saturday 29th July. The antenatal care was wonderful — presence without unwanted interference — and, when Claire needed a caesarean section, wonderfully professional whilst remaining human.

For me, it was an interesting and important experience of living between two worlds: that of the patient and that of the NHS employee. Patient-care is something I experienced vicariously though Claire and Esther, and directly as a father. The postnatal care, both in this birth and with my other daughter, Hannah Lola, whilst good during the day, left a lot to be desired over-night. It made me wonder whether staff morale was low on the ward. It was also angering and taught me some lessons.

Nurses and other hospital staff (of which I am one) work in a public space with nowhere to flee from the constant presence of people's needs. It is very wearing and at times inhuman; but many of us hospital staff act as if the hospital were set up for us and patients are there on sufferance.

I truth, hospitals belong to patients: it is they who are at the centre. It is obvious really, but so easy to forget, to think that, as a member of staff, patients are coming into my space. In reality, I am a guest in their space.

While I am a patient in a hosptial (receiving hospitality) my bed-space becomes my own: it is my home, my shelter from the storm. Anyone — family, friend, nurse, doctor, chaplain — who enters that space is a guest to act, with politeness, as if they were entering my home at my request, with a service to be offered, ideally with the joy of being able to serve, but at least with care and a recognition of my vulnerability and indigence. Such a person I shall receive with gratitude.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Death

Yesterday, in A&E where I work, a 2 year old child died - or was already dead when she arrived. There are few things worse to witness than a dead child and the grief of parents. None, especially those of us with our own children, could fail to be moved deeply by sadness and fear.

On reflection I learnt, or had reaffirmed, some things from this:

  • God did not cause this tragedy; God could not prevent it. God was present at every moment and never abandoned her. (God is present at every moment and never abandons us.) This child has not fallen out of God's hands — is still held firmly in God's loving embrace. She is not lost.
  • Life on this Earth was and is formed out of cosmic forces of change too vast for us to grasp. A world without risk, without vulnerability to accident, is a world with out change, without possibility, without life.
  • We humans create many of the conditions that lead to the death and destruction of our brothers and sisters. God has nothing to do with this: the culpability and the solutions are down to us.
  • But, we can't escape the fact the world as given to us is not safe: it could not be otherwise.

Fear of God

Sometimes, when we consider really praying, coming close to God (or, perhaps more accurately, letting God come close), we fear what God might expect of us — some great trial, some difficult deed — or we fear that we will be asked to give up what is most precious to us — a loved one, a lifestyle.

We're right to be afraid, but these fears are a kind of projection: the truth is far worse: God wants us to give up our very selves, our lives.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Desiring Subject

Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires. from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake

I want to write about desire.

We find ourselves inhabited by all sorts of desires, some welcome, others less so:

  • perhaps I'm uncomfortable today and wish the weather was cooler, warmer, sunnier, drier, wetter, ...;
  • perhaps I'm unhappy today and I reminise about how good things used to be;
  • perhaps my attention is caught by an attractive person and I want them to love me or have sex with me;
  • perhaps I am hurt or frightened by someone and my thoughts circle around making the cutting riposte, revenge, murder.

It seems to me that there is an important distinction, but what can feel like a fine line, between indulging (what Blake calls 'nursing') a desire and investigating it.

Indulging Investigating
I allow the emotion and fantasy of the desire to build into a scenario of fulfilment. I am simply with the qualities of the desire: with longing, with anger, with ache.
I move into future possibilities, or worry (like a dog with a bone) at past events. I stay in the present to give the desire room to breathe, to allow it's true nature to unfold and tell its story.
I am had by the desire. I have the desire.
I am elsewhere. I am present to myself and the desire.

I realise this is all true, not just about desire, but about anything that draws me away from the present into the past or future. God is only here and now.

The Bright Field

I have seen the sun break through

to illuminate a small field

for a while, and gone my way

and forgotten it. But that was the pearl

of great price, the one field that had

treasure in it. I realize now

that I must give all that I have

to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after

an imagined past. It is the turning

aside like Moses to the miracle

of the lit bush, to a brightness

that seemed as transitory as your youth

once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

R. S. Thomas

Friday, July 21, 2006

The ASBOs of Desire

In a consumer society there are inevitably two kinds of slaves: the prisoners of addiction and the prisoners of envy. Ivan Illich

I am uneasy when I hear about Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs). I, too, am angry when I have to suffer noise, litter, graffiti, abuse and the effects of the use of alcohol and other drugs. But it seems to me that it is too easy to scapegoat children, teenagers and bad (if that they be) parents. I wonder if anti-social behaviour is a symptom of some deeper cause. An ASBO, like some other elements of our punishment system, is a painkiller, not a cure for what ails us. How much are we all complicit in creating the society we live in? How much is anti-social behaviour the fault of all us?

The Creation of Desire

We learn what we want through mimesis — through imitating what another desires. A Consumer Society works by the creation and frustration of desire. Advertising, in various media, provides an unremitting overwhelm of images of a better life that play on our lust, gluttony, greed and envy; as do TV soaps, game-shows and make-over programmes. These images and entertainments create the desire for things we did not know we wanted, let alone even existed, before we saw them. This all keeps the economic ball rolling. It is all under-pinned by the fundamentally flawed and elusive goals of economic growth and stability. It leads to addiction and to an addictive society. We have allowed ourselves to be brainwashed into desiring.

The Frustration of Desire

We just cannot have all that we see and desire. There's never enough time or money to 'have it all.' But, there are some people, some groups whose desires are particularly frustrated: through poverty or prejudice; and because some of us get rich at the expense of, and through the exploitation and squashing of others. Some people are going to feel they are failures, frustrated, angry, worthless, without hope, without a sense of a life worth living. Perhaps anti-social behaviour is the distorted expression of a frustrated desire — desire which itself has been distorted by design.

We collude in creating desire, frustrating it's fulfillment, and scapegoating and punishing those who enact their frustration upon us all.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Reasons not to pray: 5

Reason 5: loss of control. Prayer requires me to give myself into the hands of the Other, but I'd much rather be self-determining.

Richard Rohr says that there are five difficult messages we need to learn:

  1. Life is hard.
  2. You are going to die.
  3. You are not that important.
  4. You are not in control.
  5. Your life is not about you.

Do I dare to give up this much sense of self and agency?

Of course, there is the potential for great comfort and relief in this: I can relax my grip on what I (fondly, but mistakenly) think of as 'my' life.

... it does not really matter what we understand about ourselves or our context so long as we put ourselves in God's hands. ... God coming to us where we are; we surrendering in total trust from where we are . . . it is simple enough. Ruth Burrows: Guidelines for Mystical Prayer, p.44

What God is waiting for is not a right conclusion about a matter but our suppleness in falling into his hands for him to work in us. John Climacus (579-649)

Previously in series: Reasons not to pray: 4.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Love Dogs

One night a man was crying,

Allah! Allah!

His lips grew sweet with the praising,

until a cynic said,

"So! I have heard you

calling out, but have you ever

gotten any response?"

The man had no answer to that.

He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.

He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,

in a thick, green foliage.

"Why did you stop praising?"

"Because I've never heard anything back."

"This longing

you express is the return message."

The grief you cry out from

draws you toward union.

Your pure sadness

that wants help

is the secret cup.

Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.

That whining is the connection.

There are love dogs

no one knows the names of.

Give your life

to be one of them.

Jalal Al-Din Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks with John Moyne

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Silence and Honey Cakes, part 3

Cover image

Well, here's some more (continuing where I left off).

Life, Death and Neighbours (cont.)

... the only way in which you know the seriousness of separation from God is in your own experience of yourself. ... 'If you have sin enough in your own life and your own home, you have no need to go searching for it elsewhere.' ... 'If you have a corpse laid out in your own front room, you won't have leisure to go to a neighbour's funeral.' This is not about minimising sin; it is about learning how to recognise it from seeing the cost in yourself. p.30

For me, this next is a real killer.

... to assume that you have arrived at a settled spiritual maturity which entitles you to prescribe confidently at a distance for another's sickness is in fact to leave them without the therapy they need for their souls; it is to cut them off from God, to leave them in their spiritual slavery — while reinforcing your own slavery. ... As in the words of Jesus [Mt 21.13], you have shut up heaven for others and for yourself. p.31

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Silence and Honey Cakes, part 2

Cover image

Continuing from my last post on this book with more quotes from the first chapter. Really, you should just beg, borrow or even buy the book, and read it yourself, but I need to remember the essence of what he says — not that there is any spare flesh in Rowan's writing.

Life, Death and Neighbours (cont.)

Everything begins with this vision and hope of putting the neighbour in touch with God in Christ [which] entails facing the death of a particular kind of picture of myself. ...one of the great temptations of religious living is the urge to intrude between God and other people. We love to think that we know more of God that others; we find it comfortable and comforting to try and control the access of others to God. p.25

[We] are only trying to make others in [our] own image ...[with] this deep-rooted longing to manage the access of other people to God ... everyone is drawn almost irresistibly back towards this urge to manage ...[through] inattention, the failure to see what is truly there in front of us — because our own vision is clouded by self-obsession or self-satisfaction. p.26

If we don't really know how to attend to the reality that is our own inner turmoil, we shall fail in responding to the needs of someone else. ...readiness to judge and prescribe — normally has its roots in that kind of inattention to ourselves. 'How can I pass judgment when I don't know the full truth about myself?' p.26

Self-satisfaction is dealt with not by confrontation or condemnation but by the quiet personal exposure of failure in such a way as to prompt the same truthfulness in someone else: the neighbour is won, or converted, by Macaruis's 'death' to any hint of superiority in his vision of himself. ...the goal is reconciliation with God by way of this combination of truth and mercy. ... The fundamental need as far as the counsellor is concerned is first of all to put themselves on the level of the one who has sinned, to heal by solidarity not condemnation. p.26-9

To be continued ...

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Tory Outlet

Roll up, roll up. Get your cut-price Tories here. Four David Camerons for the price of one. It's a real bargain, a once-in-a-lifetime offer.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Silence and Honey Cakes

Cover image

I think Rowan Williams is simply incapable of writing a bad word. Someone, I forget who, introduced me to this book. I cannot tell you how thankful I am, how great a blessing it has been. I feel scoured (convicted, reproached) by the way he presents the wisdom of the desert mothers and fathers. Amazing Grace, indeed! I want to record here some quotes from the book as much to help me remember as to share.

Life, Death and Neighbours

... the facts of human life together are normally so messy, so unpromising and unedifying ... spirituality — the cultivation of sensitive and rewarding relationship with eternal truth and love ... simply doesn't happen unless we mend our relations with Tom, Dick and Harriet. p.22

'The monk ... must die to his neighbour and never judge him at all in any way whatever.' If our life and our death are with the neighbour, this spells out something of what our 'death' to the neighbour might mean: it is to renounce the power of jugdment over someone else — a task hard enough indeed to merit being described as death. p.24

I must die to myself, a self understood as the solid possessor of virtues and gifts, entitled to pronounce on the neighbour's spiritual condition. My own awareness of my failure and weakness iindispensablele to my communicating the gospel to my neighbour. I put the neighbour in touch with God by a particular kind of detachment from her. ... this is absolutely basic for our growth in the life of grace. p.24-5

To be continued ...

Friday, June 16, 2006

Reasons not to pray: 4

This may be the next in an on-going, infinite series begun with Reasons not to pray: 1, 2, 3.

Reason 4: the fear of emptiness, of nothing happening this time. Of course, nothing may happen, and there is nothing to be done about that. Indeed, if God is not an object in The Universe, if God is no-thing, then this is an entirely reasonable state of affairs and only to be expected.

[Next in the series: Reasons not to pray: 5.]

Friday, December 16, 2005

On the need for religion

Religions are poor things: they are at their roots, flawed; propounded by flawed institutions, held together by irredeemably damaged people. But, we are all irredeemably damaged; and we are lost. Religions, bad as they are, are all we have to help us remember. Remember what? I do not know: I have forgotten, too. But it seems to me that it is something like this:

  • that we are all small pieces of flotsam, motes, brief sparks floated out upon currents of The Universe for a little time and space;
  • that, obscurely, in ways and manners we cannot fathom, we matter and are loved; (to ask "To what?" and "By whom?" is to miss the point;)
  • that we are constituents of this amazing enterprise we call "The Universe": our essence is of it;
  • that every bit - every last, little, damned bit - of it is sacred;
  • that though we think we die, the First Law of Thermodynamics applies.

St Beuno's

Monday, November 28, 2005

God is dead: thank God

I feel the need to have a rant (not a feeling I am unaccustomed to). This may be the first of many.

<rant>

Today on Start the Week on Radio 4, Grayson Perry and Jonathon Green were banging on about being ("fundamentalist" in Perry's words) atheists. Their images of God are so outmoded and childish: a god who is a judgemental and a 'grumpy old fellow' 'who wants to make us suffer': it is a projection of the negative father complex.

They do not see that one has to disentangle God from the repressions of particular religious cultures and anthropologies. They cannot entertain a god who is not a person, who is not a thing. I have never yet met a person who said they didn't believe in God who, when I've heard them to talk about the god in which they do not believe, I didn't agree with: I also do not believe in that, so-called, god. Thank God.

Perry read out a piece of doggerel verse he'd penned:

you will die

you are alone

there is no God

upon his throne

impose thy will

upon us, mess

or else your life

is meaningless

no hell below

no heaven above

live life now

and act with love

It is a hymn to love - a definition of God than which there is none better.

Most atheists are simply ignorant of 2000+ years of thinking on the matter and unreflective of their experience. A few are failed apophatic mystics. You so-called atheists, you need to get your act together and update your arguments. Then we might have something worth talking about. In the meantime, it's just not worth any more hot air.

</rant>

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Reconciling different apprehensions of God

How can I reconcile:

  1. The God who seems to be so personal, personally loving and present; who is there when I "lift up my heart to the Lord with a gentle stirring of love, desiring him for his own sake and not for his gifts;" the God without whom life is desperate, depressing and meaningless?
  2. God, the Creator, which is enormous, awesome and terrifying; which is the Universe, which created the Universe; which saves us by ignoring us?
  3. The God who is not: the God of the apophatics which/who cannot be known; the God which does not exist; the God which is no-thing?

I need the personal God. He makes my life possible and gives me energy and meaning. He is my energy and meaning. I am no longer alone, unknown, without redemption. I am a hopeless case: unloving, uncaring, subject to addictions, so limited in my ability. Only God can help me; only God can save me; God is my only hope.

And yet, God is these other things as well, so far from the personal, the loving, the compassionate. So other.

On God's point of view

We often reduce the scope of God's concern to the scope of our own concerns. We are confused when we get ill and are not healed. We are outraged when a natural disaster - a so-called Act of God - is not averted. We commit acts of war or terror believing that God has commissioned us.

What if God's point of view is different from ours? Indeed, what if God's point of view is so different that we cannot remotely have any conception of that point of view? When someone dies, we see this as a great tragedy: what if God does not see it like that?

Whilst I believe that God cares passionately for each one of us (and by 'us' I mean all beings upon this Earth, not only us (relatively unimportant) humans), I also love the idea that God's ways are different and higher that ours (Isaiah 55.8-9). Perhaps caring passionately for us is not the same thing as caring for the continuing of the existence in which we currently are manifested. Perhaps, for God, illness and death are not disasters.

Of course, it is important to realise how wrong-headed and potentially damaged and damaging this language is. God is not a person: God does not 'care', is not 'concerned', does not have 'a point of view', does not 'see' - or at least, not in any way we would recognise.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

There is a balm in Gilead

To make the wounded whole.

There is a balm in Gilead

To heal the sin-sick soul.

I Gilead book coverwas leant this book and took some time reading it. It is beautiful and deeply moving. Click on the image or follow this link, to learn more about the story and the author (who I believe won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for this novel).

It seems to me that, among other things, this story is a reworking of the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15.11-end). The first person voice, John Ames, struggles with whether he can be the good father to his godson and namesake, John Ames Boughton. He struggles with his antipathy and his jealousy. Grace abounds.

What stikes me is that John Ames represents both the father and the older son in Luke parable. As the 'father', he comes to understand the prodigal's waywardness and inability to be at home, he grows in compassion and he becomes able to bless his son, despite the son's continued atheism.

As the 'elder son' he is the one in his family who never leaves home, who is faithful to his calling and to the town of Gilead. He struggles with his jealousy that this prodigal has the love and acceptance of his (genetic) father (old Boughton) and of his own wife. For some reason he cannot fathom, that love for the prodigal is greater, or perhaps more overt, than the love for the stay-at-home son. He fears that the prodigal will take up with his wife when he is dead - will claim his inheritance.

John Ames receives healing in both these aspects of his 'sin-sick soul' and dies whole.

It is an amazing book of an old man reviewing his life, struggling with great honesty with his demons, open-eyed to his faults and to his ways of self-deception, yet full of self-acceptance and love for the world he is about to leave.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Reasons not to pray: 1, 2, 3

Why is prayer so difficult - desired and avoided in equal measure? I think there are three key reasons:

  1. Prayer is the time when we stop everything else we are doing. Often the first thing that occurs is an awareness of pain in myself or others: the physical or emotional or global pain, which is an opportunity for our healing and the healing of the world. It is the way of the Cross. Boredom, restlessness, loneliness, emptiness, tiredness, simple physical pain, unresolved grief (is it ever fully resolved?), failure and unfulfilled longing & dreams. Being aware of being a body puts me in touch with my fragility and mortality.
  2. Being utter failures: by definition prayer is something we cannot do; it is something God does in us. We are utterly unable to 'make it happen'; we are utterly dependant on God. We become aware of dependence and disconnection.
  3. Beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror (Duino Elegy no.1 by Rilke). God, the Universe, are so large and unimaginable and utterly other that we are filled with terror. This is akin to being plugged into the Total Perspective Vortex as described in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Each of these is destructive of what we fondly like to think of as our selves. They reveal our utter indigence, mutability, insignificance and dependence. Enjoy!

[Next in the series: Reasons not to pray: 4.]

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

On Religion and Morality

Religion is not about morality. It is about having a view or vision of reality, which my be quite at odds with the common or habitual view (also called a trance state). Religious texts are more to inspire & shock a person out of their habitual view than to give moral imperatives. The new view of reality may well have moral implications, but these are secondary and flow from that new view. As the writer of Isaiah puts into the mouth of God, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.'' (Is 55.8)

Religious writing often seems backwards to me. Once-upon-a-time someone had a vision that changed their lives. This had profound affects upon the way they lived their life. All they could communicate was what flowed from the vision, not the vision itself. Moral and doctrinal teaching followed. We can only glimpse the original vision between the lines.

Spiritual practice (a.k.a. prayer/meditation/yoga/... ) is to put us in the right space to receive that vision. It is not the vision, nor is it a moral or doctrinal injunction. Do it because you can do no other, not because you want to be good. God is not primarily interested in us being good!

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Image and Likeness

I've always been fascinated that in the Creation story (Gen 1:26) humanity is made in the image and likeness of God. I want to know if this is emphasis by repetition (as is often the case in the Psalms) or whether 'likeness' is different from 'image'; and if the latter, what is the difference?

Sunday, May 29, 2005

On Illness and Punishment

When they fetch up in hospital because of an illness or old age, some religious people ask, "Why is this happening to me?" and might add "I've been a good person."

Some have never thought about their mortality. Illness takes them by surprise. They have made no preparation. Illness and death is an affront to them and is outside the order of the world.

For some, what is happening to them is a punishment. They search their lives for some fault or sin that would account for their illness. They might even identify some past misdemeanours.

It makes me sad when I hear people intimate that God is sending their illness to punish them. I am sad that they see God in this light. What an awful burden to bear; how terrifying! I wish I knew how to ameliorate the damage of a lifetime's worth of a certain sort of, usually Christian, teaching. People who teach this are doing terrible harm. It is not a Christianity: it is just the old, merely human, 'eye-for-an-eye' desire for revenge projected onto God. God does not punish us for our sins. Jesus makes that very clear in his story of the (so called) Prodigal Son in Luke's gospel. The father, who stands for God, welcomes the wayward son with open arms and has no need to listen to his plea for forgiveness. Forgiveness is already present.

Of course, illness may be a consequence of how we have lived individually or corporately. Bad eating / smoking / drinking / exercise habits / ...; the build up of resentments / bitterness / loss / anger / sadness / ...; the deplorable way we treat the Earth, our home: all these may be the direct cause of illness. We might well see the way we act towards ourselves and the Earth in these respects as sinful and our illness is the natural result of our lack of care.

A better question then is "What meaning does this illness have for me?" or "What can God teach me?" or "How can I change my life?" God is that in the Universe which has the potential to offer clarity of vision and a new way of living.

Behind all this is terror: we do not know why we get ill and die; we have no final control over mortality, try as we might to combat illness or to find meaning. We have to submit to what cannot be named or questioned and for which we cannot make meaning. It is with this that we have to come to terms.

In the face of this, perhaps any meaning is better than none. Perhaps it is more comforting to belive in a tyrannous God who makes us ill as a punishment, than to accept that life is beyond our understanding and control. Guilt is easier to live with than groundlessness.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Too close for comfort

This is a story about a friend of mine, David Walsh, as reported in the local newspaper. People, sensible people, say he was foolhardy. I just wish I was that brave. Good for you David.

Heroic cleric stabbed 00:00, May 18 2005 by Mandy Little, Greenwich Mercury

A CLERGYMAN was stabbed in the calf after trying to thwart a knife-wielding robber in a restaurant. Rev David Walsh, of St Alfege's Church in Greenwich, is recovering at home after he was stabbed at Frederick's restaurant in Islington, north London, on Friday. Witnesses told how Mr Walsh, 46, tackled the robber who then plunged the blade into his leg. Angry customers brandishing chairs then turned on the raider. He fled before police arrived at the restaurant at around 4.50pm. Although hailed a hero for his good deed, Mr Walsh was modest of his brave actions. He told The Mercury: "A hooded man came into the restaurant brandishing a knife and I was in the way." Customers told police how the robber, wearing a balaclava, burst in and shouted at a female customer to hand over her watch. Mr Walsh kicked out at the crook and was stabbed in the calf. Other customers at Fredericks restaurant threatened him with chairs and tables and he ran out of the restaurant. No one else was injured in the incident and police are still hunting the suspect who it is believed escaped with a gold bracelet. Mr Walsh has been at St Alfege in Church Street for three years and is acting vicar since Rev Cannon Giles Harcourt left last year. He is resting and cannot walk at present. Police have described the suspect as a white male, aged around 25, and 6ft tall.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

On Blogging

Do other people go through a self-examination phase when they start blogging?

  • why a I doing this?
  • will anyone read this?
  • what will they think if they do?
  • does any of it matter?

I am sceptical about this blogging. It's rather stark at the moment, but I like the layout of my page and I've begun tweaking the style sheet in the template to make it how I want it to look. But style can mask deficiency of content. Is this is a (post-)modern issue? So much attention on how a thing looks, to presentation, to 'reinventing' a product or a personality, to corporate image, to the 'look' of a publication, the logo. We are drawn by the visual and delight in it: no problem there. 'Truth is beauty', and all that. Is there anything beyond the aesthetic here? Are the words worth writing or reading? Is it worth the disc-space?

Perhaps it is just another attempt to become immortal (Ernest Becker), or to construct a sense-of-self (David Loy), as is so much of what we do in our (little) lives.

On the vaguaries of Internet Explorer

I've been fighting with Internet Explorer, or rather, fighting to write HTML/CSS that IE6 displays properly. I use Firefox as my default browser and I wrote some pages that displayed well in it. At work, of course, we're wedded to all things Microsoft. Imagine my surprise...

I've now downloaded all the popular freeware browsers: Mozilla, Opera and Netscape. All are pretty much identical in their handling of the code. IE6, however, does something quite different in certain cases.

The good news: it's a great way to learn more, and better, coding syntax and techniques, and to join, however tangentially, the community of web designers who also know about the code behind the design.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

My first time

Thanks to John Davies for introducing me to the concept of blogging. It's taken me a long time to get here, John!

john Davies cartoonThis is an experiment for me: a chance to think out loud and not just let the thoughts wash around in my head. I'm interested to see where it takes me. I hope to get some more consolidated writing out of it.

I'm still spending far too much time at this ridiculous hour of the morning getting the settings just how I'd like them to be. I think it would be really hard if I had no experience of HTML and CSS. If you want to know more about these web technologies I've found loads of help in W3Schools, BlueRobot and CSS Zen Garden. The last two are worth a visit anyway: simply beautiful to look at. Web-design at its best.