Wednesday, 28 September 2016

A BUSY DAY

Today I have been decorating among various other activities including attending the funeral of a 104 year lady from our church, chatting in the coffee shop, and attending a monthly reunion tea party for friends of a recently closed Methodist Church., and not least preparing some notes and a handout for tonight's continuing study of st Paul. Having a rather strange sort of brain (no comments thank you!) I find actually moving about much more effective than sitting. So the decorating process aided me in getting my thoughts in some sort of order. So an interesting day that isn't over yet.

Having written about quietening our minds in yesterday's piece I had a further thought. Because from time to time I  secure photographs on to blank greeting cards I discovered how simply looking at certain richly coloured photographs seem to invite me into its depth. I can still do this and usually find it very restful. The monkeys in the tree are forgotten as the aspects and colours of the photograph absorb my attention. This is a matter well known in Buddhist practice and I believe they call it 'bare attention'. Even if I am wrong on this interpretation of another religion the facts remain and might be worth trying with a carefully chosen photograph or even a painting.

I have also made contact with the little Methodist Chapel in Galgate, near Lancaster. During retirement I have served there for two separate years as a fill in between permanent appointments. I sometimes wonder if I am one of the few who actually volunteered to go back to any church for a second year. So these years on it is good to join them again, if only for one Service.

Being a substitute like that reminded me of the story I must have told before (all stories get retold) of a chapel where the appointed preacher did not turn up. The stewards asked for volunteers and a young local preacher in training went forward. Not knowing quite what to say the young man spotted a broken window with a piece of cardboard over it. " I feel like that cardboard " he said "Just covering a space".
On the way out an old steward took his hand and said " Don't worry lad, you were more than a piece of cardboard, you were a proper pane"
Which makes me think that there are occasions in the Christian life when we must not be afraid of being a 'proper pain'


Tuesday, 27 September 2016

A WAY OUT OF OUR TROUBLES?

How troubled people seem to be these days and I wonder how representative my encounters are. I add to this a question: are these problems worse than they were say 30 years ago? I suspect they are, perhaps the result of economic concerns, perhaps because we seem to be given new things to concern ourselves with that didn't bother previous generations. 

One area that may well have caused problems in the mind is that we are over exposed to the views of others, images that cause us to think how we should be. We really need to keep saying 'What is that to me?' or 'Why do their values, habits or lifestyles matter to us. I am convinced that to insulate us from these things will give us more peace of mind.

One of the problems people face is sleep and here again I meet so many people who do not benefit from quality sleep. So many. Sometimes it is caused by particular physical problems but in my experience it is simple sleeplessness. It did occur to me that perhaps we seek to sleep too long and I heard a comment this morning that the people who rest for 5 hours each night are found to be the most relaxed. My response to this was that this could be a coincidence, but who knows?

What did come out of the discussion earlier today was that we need to separate sleep from rest, the assumption being that however much we sleep or need to, we need to give more attention to resting. But what is resting ? I suppose one way of describing our un-ease is to picture  monkeys chattering in a tree. We need to silence them if we have rest. Now that is quite a challenge but one with rich rewards if we can manage it. But how? 

One recommended method is meditation. I am not a meditator but would like to be. One of its aims is to silence those monkeys. Meditators often find a quiet place, relax and find a phrase or word to say over and over again in our minds. And the result promises to clear a space in our minds to enable us to find a deeper peace. I also observe that meditation is often at the heart of healing. To mention healing is to turn on a switch in my mind. We really do need to know more about the power of our minds in the healing. If I had doubts about this I would simply remember the 'Trust Me I'm a Doctor' experiments when sometimes the placebo effect (i.e.power of the mind) wins over the medicines dispensed.

Monday, 26 September 2016

A MIXED DAY

I have experienced a mixed sort of day. It began when I took the car to the garage for a new light unit, the one I bumped in Fleetwood. It cost me £127 and it served me right for gross carelessness. 

Having collected the car it was time to get into decorating mode. It was a wallpaper day and I am pleased to say that I have almost completed our bedroom. I am reasonably satisfied which is the most I have ever been able to grant to myself. We need a brighter light in there but for now I am content with it because it does not show up my various (admittedly minor) mistakes. Besides, does it matter if there is a quarter of an inch gap between the sheets on the wall? (only joking- at least I think I am).

 The mention of light reminds me of so many comments about the shortening days. Many folk dread it, and who can blame them. And the days seem to be shortening at an alarming rate. 

The mention of Fleetwood in my opening paragraph prompts me to say 'Did you see the news items about the town?' National news too. The town has declined in recent years made worse by the loss of the fishing fleet and the closing down of a large employer. The rates of obesity, diabetes result in seriously shortened life expectancy, several years below the national average. Now a Fleetwood GP has called together a wide ranging group of experts and representatives determined to  concentrate on activities that enhance wellbeing-  green spaces and activities, education, incentives to stop smoking, initiatives to encourage exercise and sport, weight loss.

You will have read my grumbles about all the bad news we are offered by the media, but how good to hear and see the opposite. I am looking forward to seeing the story of a refugee from Afghanistan who became a doctor, now a specialist at a Liverpool Hospital. He is soon to use the medium of Skype to educate doctors in his native country. More good news to inspire.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

KEEP SINGING

This morning we had a stimulating Service from one of our lady preachers who is  the wife of a retired ministerial colleague. She took as her theme the need to sing even in the worst of circumstances. In particular she referred to St Paul singing instead of escaping when an earthquake gave them the opportunity to escape. I cannot remember a sermon that began with the verse of a song but today that was how it started. The song was perfect for the theme and was 'By the rivers of Babylon I sat down and wept when I remembered Zion.' And the congregation joined in!

Two themes stayed in my mind as I reflect now. How many people are imprisoned in the world today. Millions imprisoned by poverty and want. So many imprisoned because they are refugees from war or oppressive regimes. Then nearer home many still imprisoned by poverty, loneliness, sickness and pain. Whoever they are, or wherever there is usually some opportunity to set them free and we must never despise the opportunity of the small gesture.

But for all of us we need to keep on singing. Perhaps not vocally but in our hearts and our lives. Do you remember the lines of the verse we used to sing as children?

God make my life a little song
That comforteth the sad
That helpeth others to be strong
And makes the singer glad

Singing can become a habit, hard to cultivate in difficult times, but still worth the effort.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

OUR REAL SELVES

Sometimes I am very taken with something I read, especially if it is spiritually and mentally stimulating- or challenging, or comforting. I came across an illustration from a book of sermons delivered many years ago. The minister- also an author, psychologist and philosopher- was walking at night in the countryside and saw the dark outline of a cottage. As he passed a light came on at a window, revealing the lovely face of a child. After a short time the light went out and the cottage was dark once again.

A few days later the minister had addressed a meeting of important businessmen and over coffee an important conversation took place. One of the men- suspected of unseemly business ethics- suddenly said 'What have I been doing?". The minister suddenly saw a light in the man's eyes, rather like the light in the cottage window. In that moment he was sure he caught a glimpse of the truest self of the man. Sadly the light went out again but the image remained.

And the meaning? That hidden away in all of us is our truest self. The person we long to be but cannot get to it. I have shared with you previously the notion that we are not our minds, however necessary they may be to our functioning lives.We get the sense of this in some of the things we sometimes say:

I don't feel myself today
I am ashamed of myself
Pull yourself together
I forgot myself when I did that

And here a verse from poet Christina Rossetti, who I think has good things to say:

God harden me against myself, this coward with pathetic voice
Who craves for ease and rest and joy, myself arch traitor to myself
My hollowest friend, my deadliest foe, my clog whichever way I go
Yet one there is can curb myself, can roll the strangling load from me,
Break off the yoke and set me free.

Free to aim to be our best self. never losing that vision and that aim. No doubt you will recognise what a deep issue this is. I think it is best summed up- at least for now- with the crucial moment of that wonderful story of the prodigal son. He was in the 'far country' descending into the lowest place. And what happened?

He came to himself and so was able to find his way home.

Friday, 23 September 2016

TURNING UP THE POSITIVES

Most of us watch the news in one form another, indeed it would be difficult to miss it. We watch it but do we ever analyse it, seeking its emphases and its headlines. They certainly repay scrutiny and I am often driven to the conclusion that it is audience figures not  essential news that really matters. And have you noticed how one day a topic (I wish the BBC would not call them 'stories' when they are anything but. Can they not get jackanory out of their heads?) will be high on the list and vanish the following day? We are left wondering 'What happened to...?'

One of my chief complaints is the way they emphasise the negative. If the regional programmes can get the scent of a negative issue they will chase it like a cat after a mouse. Their very favourite area is the NHS. Waiting lists, cancelled appointments, minor incidents? They are waiting to tell us all about it. This comes to mind today because our son David has been to hospital to have a grommet inserted. He had to wait an hour or two but reported the equipment and expertise he experienced in the operating theatre , his being a local anaesthetic .His is an entirely positive view of the NHS. Only a week ago a neighbour went to hospital for tests and he told me he could not have been treated better had he been royalty.

Yes, there are things wrong but much that is right and we need to hear of it more than we do. Of course such reports may not be as good for viewing as the sensational ones clearly are. And yet we are unable to appreciate how vast are the increases in demand as we live longer and more help is available. Of course we don't want to pay more 'nasty' taxes do we? The money lovers among us have poisoned our minds to just what small increases in taxes could do- hospitals, caring services for the elderly, public recreations, better roads.

Perhaps I am being a little contentious but most will agree I think that we need a firmer turn of the positive button in public and private life.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

A BIT OF VERSE

From time to time I like to read some lightweight poetry, one of my favourites being John Betjeman. I find his brand of humour similar to mine, and some of his theological explanations quite enlightening. Today I am going to share a couple with you, the first one an example of his gentle humour (often fondly directed at the Church of England) the second one his understanding of what the word 'conversion' might mean.

THE BISHOP
All the village street is humming,
What's the news? The bishop's coming.
All the Mothers' Union say'
They'll be baking cakes today.
The Bishop will be asked to try
Mrs Brewer's apple pie.
The Bishop will be asked to taste
Mrs Stewer's almond paste. 
The bishop will be given part
Of Mrs Gurney's cherry tart
The bishop will, without a question
Leave with violent indigestion

This reminds me of Harvest Suppers in the Garstang Circuit of country chapels (without the indigestion).

CONVERSION
What is conversion? Turning round
From chaos to a love profound.
And chaos too is an abyss
In which the only life is this.
Such a belief is quite alright
If you are sure like Mrs Knight
And thin morality will do
For all the ills we're subject to.
But raise your eyes and see with Paul
An explanation of it all

What is conversion? Not at all
For me the experience of St Paul
No blinding light, a fitful glow
Is all the light of faith I know
which sometimes goes completely out
And leaves me plunging round in doubt
Until I will myself to go
And worship in God's House below-
My parish church- and even there
I find distractions everywhere

What is conversion? Turning round
To gaze upon a love profound.

God grant before we die we all
May see the light as did St Paul.