Book, books, I love books. They give us comfort, insight, enjoyment, sorrow, laughter.
They take us out of ourselves, see the other, the neighbour, the friend, the enemy, in a new light.
People who write are giving us a gift, and people who recommend books to us are giving us gifts as well.
I was recommended a book by someone who I met while working very briefly in a chaplaincy role, yet she has given me a gift.
The book is called “Phosphorescence” by Julia Baird. It is gentle and insightful about the human condition, about awe and wonder and about being a woman, here and now. How to find the light in the dark of life.
But Julia Baird has also given me a gift. A poet who I was unaware of, and who has written these beautiful words in a poem, called “Birthing the sky, Birthing the sea”. They are found in the book….
Hands on her belly of stone
Pebbles in her blood stream
She’s fervently dreaming of birthing the sky
birthing the sea.
She doesn’t want to live forever
Just long enough to be able to love a little harder
To become a little smarter
To heal the world just enough that
evolving hearts have a platform from which to start.”
To hear the whole poem, go onto YouTube, and as she speaks it, rather than has it written down. The poet is Candy Royalle and she sadly died a few years ago aged 37.
I discovered poetry, really discovered it through Mary Oliver. And now I love the way it can also speak to us at a deep, mysterious level, below what we can see on the surface of things.
Thankyou Julia for giving me these beautiful words by Candy.
Sometimes I wonder, can I be a writer like that, make words that sit us up and shake us out of our stupor?
I have just finished a series of 3 services and sermons for Wembley Downs Uniting Church, and I am feeling absolutely cooked, as my son’s would say.
Why you may ask, as I do lots of services since I am employed by the Church on a part time basis. Yet we had decided that I would do the services for a whole month based on a theme, to enable more continuity in our worship.
I think I feel so exhausted because they were very personal sermons, about my own journey, my doubts and exploring, and about what I trust and believe in, which actually has very little to do with the traditional doctrine and dogmas of the Church. This was the theme I chose for August, so it’s my own fault that I’m feeling this way.
I didn’t just use my ideas but lots of current and progressive theologians and scientists just in case you thought I may have been too egocentric! Yet they have helped me shape my ideas. So I wanted to be honest about my faith with those who were listening, my lovely congregation and anyone who reads them.
What I realised is that –
Honesty in faith can be quite costly, because it leaves you vulnerable for people to accept or reject something that is very close to you. You are sharing something very intimate about yourself and that takes courage if it doesn’t match the standard view. I am lucky that those I presented to are open and exploring too.
Honesty in faith can be difficult because we have to own up to who we are and what we really do believe in our hearts, in our very souls. What we trust in. And this may require us letting go of some long held images that were given to us in our early lives. Maybe there are some advantages of not growing up in the church!
Honesty in faith can be troubling because if we really look at ourselves, we may see we are not that perfect after all (I have never thought that, by the way), but it’s also about accepting things about ourselves that we may not like. Or that the things we hold dear sometimes are not seen in our day to day living. Sometimes what we believe and how we live and act in the world are poles apart. Even if we are trying!
Honesty in faith can be confronting when we see we may be miles away from those we hold dear, who have different understanding and truths that speak to them but don’t speak to us. Its about accepting diversity, real diversity, even within our own traditions.
Phew, a long list.
Yet to work out what really drives us, what we ultimately think about any of the really big issues, is good medicine. It clears the fog of pretence, of perfection and I think allows us to move forward, accepting both the good and bad about our faith and about ourselves. After all, part of being a follower of Jesus, is being open to transformation and renewal. Being able to start again.
In fact honesty in faith can ultimately be uplifting if it enables us to coalesce all that we know about the world, about ourselves and about our faith tradition into a meaningful, fulfilling whole.
I have to say, I was as honest as I could be in what drives me to stay in the church, well at least Wembley Downs, and drives me to still be connected to my faith tradition, as challenging as that is sometimes.
I am proud of those sermons, but I realise that these were as good as it gets for me, in terms of this sharing. From now on I will focus on others and how they can speak to us, and less about Karen Sloan.
The next series, starting in October, will be about women, both in the bible and in our world. Feisty, strong, inspiring women.
Less about me and more about them. As long as I haven’t been fired!
If you are interested in the sermons here is the link them.
I have just finished almost 3 months as a hospital chaplain, and I have heard lots of stories.
Stories from people who are facing a major health scare, like a heart attack, people who are dying, or have had a major accident. They have been young and old, Australian born and migrants who came here as children, from all over the world. They have been indigenous, Indian, Croatian, and white Australian, all with incredible stories to tell.
Sometimes the stories are about an escape from another country, fleeing a dangerous political and government regime, full of terror and bravery and hope, and when they arrived in Australia, the conflict and pain of adjusting to a whole new culture and set of ways, while never thinking they would see their families again. And how they had adjusted to life, raised families, lost loved ones, and find themselves in hospital.
Sometimes the stories are about our Northwest, the difficulties of being aboriginal in remote communities, but the love of the land and of the sea and the creatures found there. About their pride in children, the pain of loss, the coldness of Perth, and of the past terrible history of this land where children were taken and not returned.
Sometimes the stories are made up, delusional, and scary, for while a person is cared for medically they may also still be struggling with their mental health.
Sometimes stories are about how people cope with life when it seems so, so hard, dealing with parents with dementia, children who are drug addicts, loved ones who are dying, divorces, deaths and drugs, the big 3, but also amazing stories of resilience, love and commitment.
I listened to these stories, brought out because in a hospital bed, apart from not having much to do, our masks are removed, and we are almost at our most vulnerable. When we are laying there, our normal life with its timetable and possessions is on hold, and often we are stripped down to what makes us who we are.
We want and need someone to listen and affirm our story, to acknowledge our pain, to cheer our survival and our strength, and to share our grief and loneliness.
So it has been a privilege to share these stories. It’s been harrowing but a joy. And sometimes in those stories we can hear our own. I can hear my own.
Because I also believe when we really listen, the truth of a person’s story gives us a deep connection to ourselves. Their stories were full of light and dark, joy and sorrow, laughter and challenge, guilt and grace, mistakes and wins along the way. And so are ours.
So listening deeply to another, standing beside them, gives us gifts we would never expect.
It helps us to acknowledge our own humanity, our connectedness to each other on the journey and paradox of life. Suddenly we are not alone. It is a profound truth that it is not a binary world, not this or that, but this and that, and all our experiences contribute to who we are as people.
Yet it’s more than this, not just that we can see in other’s stories our own, but that we can see that this is life. Life is not straight forward. Each one of our lives is a mixture of depth, richness, complexity and mystery, and if we are truly present to our own life we will see it for what it is, a marvellous creation, in all its shades. By listening to others, we hear our own story, embracing all the “ands”, embracing ourselves.
But there is still another gift.
A gift given to us when we are struggling.
Maybe by hearing another’s story, we see a way forward in our own lives, when things are hard. Sometimes they help us more than we help them.
When we can’t find hope, let’s find a story of someone who lives in hope, and use it to find hope in our lives.
When we can’t find the strength to continue, let’s lean on others who are strong, or who have been strong and who show persistence even when it seems crazy to do so.
When we can’t find answers to our questions about life, maybe rest on someone whose story shows the exploring, the searching, and the acceptance of uncertainty which is part of being human.
When we can’t find the light of life, let us find a story of someone who has found their way through the darkness of despair or grief or loneliness, and rest in it for a while.
And when we can’t find love, let’s find an example of someone who lives in love, who discovers love in everyday moments, and follow that path.
I think stories are what makes us human. We live and breathe by stories. Which is why I think the story of Jesus is so powerful. And the stories Jesus tells.
What do I want to write about this morning, from the couch? The last one, as I am now officially off the couch. Our little church is reconvening next Sunday after 2 months being closed, in fact more than 2 months.
Well, it’s actual raining here, and I have been sitting reading a beautiful book, well finishing it, called “On the Brink of Everything”, watching as the raindrops fall. I think I have mentioned it in a previous entry. It is still wonderful.
It’s an apt title for this new beginning we are about to have.
But as I was reading the book from Parker Palmer, my phone pinged, telling me I had a notification from facebook. Often I would think to myself, “too tied to that *** phone”, and would ignore the ping, but this time I looked, and I was so glad I did.
Carrie Newcomer, one of my favourite singer/songwriters was doing a live concert, and because I follow her (all those who are on facebook know what that means) I clicked the link.
There she was singing away from the Sisters of Mercy Retreat Centre in St Louis, in the US, just her and a few guitars, for free. To all those who wanted to hear songs of hope, of challenge, of support and of community. Songs that are so needed there, at a time of protest, upheaval, and violence, and lack of compassionate leadership, all the time while the pandemic still rages.
But also songs that are needed here, with our own history of violence and racism. Black lives matter everywhere, and Australians also needs to wake up from the slumber we have been in about our own culpability and actions towards our indigenous brothers and sisters. That have led them to die early, be over represented in prisons, and have poorer outcomes in health, education and employment.
Sometimes things that happen overseas, strike a match in our own home…
I loved the songs, I love Carrie’s big heart, and her honesty. I loved that so many people connected to the concert online, sending messages of support and gratitude. That they connected strongly to her message of love for everyone.
But the most amazing serendipity about this morning, is that she is very good friends with Parker Palmer, and has written a few songs to go with the book I was reading when the ping came in!
Life is funny and sometimes very surprising.
I am not going to put a link to those songs but to one she played during the online concert.
It’s called, “There is room at the table”. Says it all really.
So be encouraged by the fact there are many, many people in the USA who are horrified and ashamed about what has been occurring and still is occurring, every single day. But also know there are many people here who are ashamed and horrified by what has occurred and continues to occur here.
If you too want to support the idea that racism and bigotry and injustice, is not how we should live together, if you want to support the idea that “Black lives matter”, join the march next Saturday that is being held in Perth. A peaceful march to focus the light on our own society and its inequality.
Of course, that may not be you, or you may be feeling cautious about doing that if you are older.
There are many other ways to get connected and be in solidarity with those protesting and with their message. As Parker Palmer says when he talks about it in his chapter “Keep Reaching Out”…..
“Our youth orientated culture sends a message to elders that can discourage and defeat us: It’s time to withdraw from serious engagement with a world that’s changing so rapidly you cant possibly keep up. So take up harmless hobbies and hang out at home.
There are only 3 problems with this message: 1. It robs older folks of sources of vitality, meaning and purpose. 2. It robs the world of the gifts elders have to offer. 3. Its ridiculous.
Other than that, it’s a great idea.
When I am with elders who have a mind heart connection with the world beyond their walls, I find find their vitality contagious, even if they are confined to their homes.”
So Parker Palmer suggests –
“if you can’t march, stay engaged with public life by using your voices and speaking your minds. You can write letters to the editor, speak up at local forums, or talk with family and friends about the things that matter to you and to them.
“Keep reaching out” means saying to the world, “I’m still a member of this community. I have a voice and things I need to say, and I want to be part of the conversation. Even more important it means saying all of that to yourself until it’s engraved on your heart.
It’s time to get off the couch! I think this is what Jesus was after, all those years ago.
Here’s the link to the song.
So many people are writing about change. The change we will face after the pandemic is over, particularly in the church/worship space. While I totally agree that change is coming, it’s in all spaces. How do we do medicine, shopping, sport and even concerts and music? It may never be the same again.
Of course, as I said, we are interested particularly in the church space. Sometimes people think it’s one massive entity, where everyone is doing or aiming for the same thing. This could be further from the truth. I know at Wembley Downs Uniting we have never seen the worship on a Sunday as the be all and end of our faith. It has always been the beginning, giving us insight and energy to take our faith, and our love and compassion out into the wider world.
We do always seem to meet on a Sunday, in the morning, although for many years we had a service once a month in the evening and with a shared meal. Perhaps we do need to become more flexible on what day we get together, since Sunday is now not seen as a rest day for many. Yet I still like the idea of a sabbath, when time is taken to reflect and gather oneself for the start of another week. So it’s open for discussion!
It does seem funny that I have just finished writing a sermon for Pentecost, about the Spirit of God, the divine presence that goes where it will, and urges us all, church goer or not, to do the best we can in the communities we are in. I totally agree with this.
So then why do I have a commitment to a church gathering together? Particularly since after the period of isolation, we have much more online material, and ways of communicating that is not in person. Clearly it doesn’t need a building!
What are we doing or being when we meet that I deem necessary to my life?
Well, I do think finding meaning and purpose in our lives, and developing a spiritual framework to guide us, can include a church gathering and a faith journey. Because our spiritual framework affects how we live and work in the world and how we deal with challenges, both sorrows and joys. It doesn’t require a belief in something we call God, of course, but for many of us this sacred element is part of the story. And our commitment to it leads us to seek and explore together, in person!
So I believe a church gathering is a time to become aware of the divine voice found in all of life, including our own, to sense community with those who might have a similar passion and faith, and to support one another as we do the work of Jesus and be his disciples in the world. It is has very little to do with a sacrificial sacrifice of Jesus. We don’t gather to worship Jesus, like an idol, but follow him, and we don’t gather to worship God, as though God is a person who needs worshipping, but to sense the presence of the spirit in our lives. And in the lives of those who have come before us.
It also has to do with our common humanity and the rights of every person to feel safe, have enough to eat, be educated, be included in societies decisions, be recognised as of value and share in the resources available. And the rights of the rest of the non-human creation, for without them we will not survive. Jesus spoke so much about inclusion and unity of purpose that it’s hard to believe this is not the main message. I believe it’s about how we see the world, how we see each other, and what we can contribute.
So how do we come together to worship post Covid-19? Well for a start I think it will be a long time for it to be post. We have to live with these changes for some time if not forever. And maybe singing and hugging will not come back for a while!
That’s the practicalities of getting together, and they are worth doing. I must admit I am wanting to reconvene, as I miss seeing my community gather in friendship, fellowship, and in hearing their visions and ideas.
Many of us find a church community helpful in getting this big picture. So I don’t encourage people to come to church to keep me in a job, but so that we can journey together in love and make a difference in the world, or in our little patch anyway.
Seems like a good reason to meet. Even if society thinks it’s kind of strange.
So, as I come to “Reflections on the Couch 9”, I seem to have had too much time on the couch!. Because I have reached a bit of a crossroad in my life, which I get at various times. I often wonder whether it’s because I am an explorer by nature (thanks Dennis), and love everything from science to faith questions, to music and literature, to philosophy and psychology. Phew, too many to become an expert in. And I also love just being with people and sharing their story or stories.
Yet eventually all the things I love to do collide, and I have to choose!
So what’s my dilemma. Ah, that I can’t tell in a public space, but it has to do with meaning and purpose, ours and others, how do we find it, how to we hang onto it when we age, and does working for a church, a rather anachronistic job in our fast paced science driven world help people to clarify it in some way.
Parker Palmer, a wonderful writer, has written a book called “On the Brink of Everything”. In one of the chapters he addresses this idea, since he is over 80, asking “does my life have meaning?”.
He writes, “at the moment I rest easy with the notion that I don’t need to ask or answer that question, does my life have meaning. All I need to do is to keep living as one among many as well as I can, hoping to help myself and others grow ripe with life and love as we stand under the sun.”
Beautifully written, from someone who has been a fine writer, activist, but also suffered severe bouts of depression all his life.
How do we get to that wise point in our lives? Because, like Parker Palmer, our journey has many ups and downs.
Can I, as a part time minister of the Uniting Church, help people on this journey?
I spoke to a friend recently about this, also a minister, who gave me some direction . He thought his role in being a minister was about finding meaning, for him and for others, and not only from ancient texts but also from the world we live in. I would like to repeat his words to me here –
“Sure, religion is messy. But imagine there’s no religion. Imagine a community of folks approach you and say hey, we’re into trying to figure out life. We’d like you to be our philosopher in residence. Like an artist in residence, with words and ideas and feelings. You’ll live in a little house we built for you. You’ll counsel us, and help us think through stuff. You’ll be there for us when we go through changes, go through bad times, feel lost, feel inspired to help others, and when we die. You’ll basically just be supported by us, to be you, for us.
I really do think this is the greatest gig in the world.”
Mm, I love that, that we, as ministers, are to help people find meaning and purpose, not just through our faith tradition, but also by exploring how the world works, how we work, and then to help work out how we are all to live in this world. By just being, us, who we are!
That’s a pretty good thought, since quite often I feel I am a real mixture of interests and ideas, and I bring them all to the table in my role at Wembley Downs, including a half finished PhD in science. I now realise that’s what I have also wanted to do, and what I have to offer.
So as a note to self, more than anything else, let’s widen the role of a church minister, maybe even drop the title, (I am actually called a Pastor, which is also slightly cringeworthy) and open the doors of the building to let in the light of stories, and experiences, and knowledge, some from our tradition, some from our world, including science, and lots from each other. Let’s embrace the opportunity we have to help people find meaning in a society which can so easily swallow them up and spit them out. Let’s make an inclusive, exploring community.
Maybe if we do we will all grow in our understanding of what life is and how we are to live it together.
Or as Parker Palmer said, “help us and others grow ripe with life and love as we stand under the sun.”
Not a bad thought really!
So we are opening up things! Little by little, we can go and have a coffee, or dinner with a few people, go for a swim or into the gym for the first time in ages.
Where does that leave those who are still on the couch!!!
Well, when I look back at the last month, I realise I haven’t been on the couch all that often. Most of my work has continued, but using an online platform, zoom, or YouTube or communicating via email and text, or even the good old phone.
In fact, I have been busier work wise than I was when we weren’t locked down.
So I was a bit envious to see what people were trying to do when they were supposedly not able to go anywhere. I read that lots of people wanted to learn a musical instrument, a new language, to garden more, cook more, renovate more, in fact just do more of everything.
Self-improvement, house improvement, relationship improvement were all on the agenda.
Yet here we are, about to come out of our isolation and suddenly people are asking, what have I done! Because I also read the other day that as we move back into our normal or slightly normal routines we might have to face isolation regret.
Ah the regret that comes from not doing what we thought we might, while locked down. In fact, we may realize, we still can’t play that guitar, speak Spanish apart from Ola and still haven’t yet written the first page of the novel we had an urge to write! And what about the spring cleaning of the whole house, and decluttering! Even while working at home I had high hopes of doing this.
While I am sure some people have achieved amazing things, what about the rest of us. Crap, I need more time!
But isn’t life that like, that we aim high, but often fall flat. We image ourselves as something that we aren’t, make lists of things we are going to do, attempt to achieve those things, those changes, and then are surprised when our lofty ambitions, remain just that, lofty ambitions.
I have suffered from this as much as anyone else. For many years I was known as “Gunna Dutton”, as I had so many things I wanted to do, like run a marathon, be a world leading scientist, write a novel, become organised, with only a quarter getting done. Actually I haven’t done any of these things!
But as I get older, and hopefully a little bit wiser, maybe it the things we have done that count, not what we haven’t.
So if you have spent time with the kids playing ball, watching crazy movies or cooking pancakes, give yourself a tick.
If you have read one book, trashy or not, give yourself a tick.
If you have tried one new recipe, or in fact just been cooking at home rather than going out, give yourself a tick.
If you have taken a walk, even to the letterbox (hopefully a bit further), give yourself a tick.
If you have rung someone, texted a friend, emailed or in any way communicated with people outside your house, give yourself a tick.
If you have felt gratitude to the life we have, and the people who serve us either in government , health, school or in the supermarket, or anywhere, give yourself a tick.
If you have managed to clean one cupboard or small space, give yourself a tick.
If you have managed to get off the couch sometime during the day, give yourself a tick.
Sometimes when we aim high, we miss the gifts we already have and are exercising.
Don’t fall for isolation regret, instead we should cut ourselves some slack. Life is a journey, and it’s the journey and the people in it that gives us life, not what we have achieved along the way. Particularly in a Covid-19 pandemic!
My son has just started a graduate position at a law firm that does a lot of local government work. He recently was asked to do some research looking at the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on contracts, and particularly when the contract has not been fulfilled. Apparently, in the absence of any specific rules, parties may instead seek to rely on a more generalised “Act of God” provision to protect themselves from any potential liability
I won’t go into the details of the legal argument, but it did start me thinking about the term “Act of God”.
“Act of God”, I wonder what people think when they hear that term. That God is sitting somewhere in the sky, away from the Hubble telescope and Voyager, smiting us when we do bad things, and rewarding us when we do something good. Or worse rewarding those that think or believe a certain way and punishing those that don’t.
Historically, these are ideas about God we could find in the bible if we looked, in the Book of Proverbs in particular. Funnily enough, another book in the Old Testament contradicted this way of thinking. In the Book of Job, Job ends up on the ash heap, having lost family, income, basically his life, even though he is a fine upstanding and faithful individual.
And of course, in the New Testament, Jesus was incredibly inclusive, and was heard saying, the rain falls on the just and the unjust. It’s what we do with it that matters (that’s me!)
So, it’s curious that the term Act of God is still around and still used. I know that when used in a contract it means things that are out of our control, like earthquakes and storms, flooding or drought, or in this case a pandemic, but really, do we have to blame God for them, even if it’s not literal.
The problem is, these days there are still plenty of people who see that bad things will happen to people because they are bad, and so the earthquake or pandemic is an infliction brought on us by God. Maybe because we have not been faithful enough, gone to church enough, haven’t followed the rules enough or been too self-indulgent, mean, or power hungry. Basically, been too human!
We don’t need an external deity to bring about destruction on ourselves by the way we live sometimes, either individually or as a community. Sometimes we do a good enough job on our own. Yet when things happen to us, terrible things, often it’s out of our control.
Those of us who suffer, suffer from illness, or from an accident, or from the effects of natural disasters are not reaping the vengeance of an angry God. They are dealing with the thing’s life has thrown at them, sometimes with an incredible amount of stoicism and inner fortitude. This is particularly the case when children are involved. People don’t deserve for their baby to be born with a disability or die from a condition because they have somehow upset God.
I remember going to a church, where a young lad was up the front, being prayed for so that he could throw the wheelchair he had been in for many years, away. Of course, you can pray all you like and that is a difficult miracle to attain, since he had a genetic condition from birth! What was horrendous was that the onus was placed on the lad, that he must not have had enough faith or that his life in other ways must have displeased God. Talk about digging a further whole for him to slide into! I know he left the church, and felt abandoned by the God he thought he believed in.
So where does that leave us.
The God that I trust is with me through thick and thin, when times and good and times are bad, nudging me toward the light of compassion and love and wholeness. And when I can’t find it, others bring that light to me. I do not trust in a God that lives elsewhere and operates like a policeman but rather my belief lies in a God that is part of who I am and all of us.
So maybe we should get rid of the term “Act of God” and call these events what they are, tragic and terrifying and occasionally fatal events, part of the muck and misery of life. Sometimes not helped by us, but definitely not brought about by a malicious, vengeful and spiteful God.
Just a thought.
I have been delayed in putting thoughts to paper on the couch this week. For a number of reasons! All valid I hope.
We lost a beautiful member of our congregation last week, after a long battle with cancer. The funeral is Friday, but it is hard to say goodbye to people who have been in your life a long time, and made a significant contribution to it. So it makes for a slow week.
I also started a part time locum chaplaincy role at Royal Perth Hospital. Which was like coming home in some ways, as I have spent almost all my adult life working there, not as a chaplain mind you, but as a clinical researcher. But this is a new and different role.
So change has been on my mind, how do we face change, which we are all having to do at the moment, with Covid-19. How do we incorporate it and move forward, knowing that our life may not return to what it was but be something else. For change can be difficult, frightening, challenging, and heart breaking, particularly if we weren’t looking for it.
But sometimes we need it. And hopefully we will be different, maybe more open and wiser, after it.
Funnily enough, each day at hospital the Pastoral Care Department starts with someone taking reflections, and the person yesterday used Michael Leunig’s prayer about change, rather apt really. Here it is –
God help us to change.
To change ourselves and to change our world.
To know the need for it. To deal with the pain of it.
To feel the joy of it.
To undertake the journey without understanding the destination.
The art of gentle revolution.
Leunig gives a definition of God before he gives us the prayers, which I will also put here, in case you think I have reverted to praying to an external deity.
“I use the word ‘God’ conscious of the fact that there are many who may find it objectionable – and others who may find my casual use of the word too irreverent or shallow. For all sorts of reasons people can be very touchy about this word; in my view they seem either too earnest, too proprietorial, too fanatical, too averse, too phobic… There is however no ultimate authority or definition. The word is yours or mine to make of it and hold or discard it as we will…”God” as a sort of shorthand password, an inconclusive folk word, a signpost, a catalyst, a spark, a stepping stone, a simple makeshift handle … A simple robust word used lightly and loosely or as devoutly and deeply as we might feel – a bridge, and a way to break free from this material world for a moment or two, a day or two… or for what’s left of a lifetime.”
So change is difficult, and often is foisted apon us, when all we want is for things to stay the same. But change is also necessary, for without change there can’t be any growth. Sometimes staying the same is the easy option, but growing, exploring, venturing inside of ourselves, venturing outside of ourselves, helps us to be all that we can be in this world.
There’s another prayer by Leunig which I have always loved –
We pray for another way of being:
another way of knowing.
Across the difficult terrain of our existence
we have attempted to build a highway
and in so doing have lost our footpath.
God lead us to our footpath:
Lead us there where in simplicity
we may move at the speed of natural creatures
and feel the earth’s love beneath our feet.
Lead us there where step-by-step we may feel
the movement of creation in our hearts.
And lead us there where side-by-side
we may feel the embrace of the common soul.
Nothing can be loved at speed.
God lead us to the slow path; to the joyous insights
of the pilgrim; another way of knowing: another way of being.
Change may only come if we see the necessity for it. And if we don’t take time, that insight will never come.
So it’s okay to have a slow week!
Just a thought.
I haven’t been on the couch very much today! Too busy with a zoom bookclub meeting and preparation for Uni teaching, and a walk, and talking to the neighbours, and watching a bit of “The Crown” over lunch and, and, and….
Then I remembered that I wrote a blog some time ago, based on a book, called “The Art of Stillness, Adventures in Going Nowhere” . Seems totally apt that I revisit that blog for my “Reflections from the Couch” series. Since we really can’t go anywhere!
Okay, so here I am, two weeks after my last blog, ready to share what I have read in this intervening period. I have selected as my first book a small offering, as I have been laid low with a cold for most of the time. I know, excuses, excuses.
Yet this book is really a gift. It is called “The Art of Stillness, Adventures in Going Nowhere” by Pico Iyer, and it is a TED book, based on a talk he gave some time ago.
Pico Iyer is a travel writer, and has travelled the world for about 40 years in search of stories and experiences. But he has discovered that our best most fruitful travel is done when we stay home. When we find stillness in the course of our days and when we explore our inner world instead of just rushing from one event or job to another. When we stop, even for a little while.
Pico uses as his starting point a conversation he had with Leonard Cohen, who he calls later in the book, “a 70 year old Zen master”. It is Cohen who leads him on an exploration of stillness. “Going nowhere, as Cohen described it, is the grand adventure that makes sense of everywhere else. It isn’t about turning your back on the world, it’s about stepping away now and then so that you can see the world more clearly and love it more deeply”
I love that. We are a part of the universe, part of the stars and planets, and part of nature, yet we act as though we are just flying by, and that the rest of the natural order is just here for our own amusement. Where is the awe and wonder that ignites our imagination and equally our care?
Brian Swimme remarked that if the stars only came out once every year, or every 10 years, it would be a cause for huge celebrations and incredible amazement, but because they come out every night, we can happily ignore this most spectacular event. We walk around with our eyes closed.
In fact, I think that awe and wonder is lost in our busyness.
As Pico says in his book, “sitting still is a way of falling in love with the world and everything in it. Going nowhere is a way of cutting through the noise and finding fresh time and energy to share with others.” To find our awe and wonder.
It doesn’t have to be religious, although all the great religions and philosophers have at their heart some form of stillness, or meditation or spirituality practise
But it does seem to require letting go of things, and that can be scary, even for a moment. To let go of those decisions we have to make, the power we hold, or even the information that is out there begging us to read or listen to or respond to is hard. We are almost programmed now to look at our computers or phones endlessly, as though if we don’t know what is happening we will be left behind. I find these days that I have become slightly obsessive about my social media, and overwhelmed by the number of emails. Something has to change!
Many, many people are now realising just how counterproductive that is, and are allowing some technology free time into their lives. I say yes to that. As Pico writes, “the point of sitting still is that it helps see through the very idea of pushing forward, indeed it strips you of yourself, as a coat of armour, by leading you into a place where you’re defined by something larger.”
Sitting still, not doing anything, seems a good place to start to change these crazy dynamics, to take a breather. To remove the clutter and distraction of our hyper active lives. To leave space for other possibilities to enter. To listen.
But Pico doesn’t suggest we sit still for hours, but instead find some way to cultivate a period of stillness into our everyday lives.
So we could all start by just taking a few minutes each day to sit quietly and do nothing. Just do nothing. As Cohen says, “to clear the head and still the emotions, and the to-do lists”.
Or we could just sit quietly for 30 mins every morning
Or we could if we desire a bit more direction, take up meditation, or yoga
Or take regular walks in nature, so that our connection to the whole of creation seems more real, more tangible.
Or you could go fishing, where you can linger for a long time with the hook in the water
Or go for a run, a long loping run that enables you to breathe in the life that is all around us. Running, or in my case, jogging, can be a profound form of meditation.
Whatever you choose, I have already decided that going nowhere is a good place to start.
As Pico summarise –
“In an age of speed I begin to think nothing could be more invigorating than going slow.
In an age if distraction nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention.
In an age of constant movement nothing is more urgent than sitting still.”
In honour of Leonard Cohen, a 70 year old Zen master, sadly gone, and the inspiration for this book, here is a clip of one of his most famous songs, “Anthem”.
“There is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”.
Let’s hope by taking some time to develop the art of stillness, the light might get in!