Quote of the Day

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Friday, May 30, 2008

Thomas and Friends


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


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.