The Annunciation Trust

to help you discover the God you already know

Month: May 2018 (page 1 of 2)

The Kingdom of Heaven

It is Saturday morning. There is nothing I have to do – or nothing urgent. I sit at the open window in my pyjamas with the sunshine, the trees now in full leaf, the early morning birdsong, the air touching my face. This is what I want to do. This is how I want life to be always: nothing I have to do. I feel my upper chest relax, right into my shoulder joints, as I allow the truth and trust of this fully to sink in. Though it is my ritual upon waking to sit here, to pray and meditate, I don’t feel the need to do something ‘spiritual’. I want to sit and look out of the window and do nothing (except for the mostly unnoticed actions that occur autonomically: respiration, blood flow, peristalsis: this body is a dynamic system that does not rest – until it does).

I have a completely clear day. Nothing planned. No one about. I am wondering what to do. I decide to sit here until I find out what I want to do.

But then I realise: Sitting here, doing nothing, enjoying the edge of the rapture of being alive, is exactly what I want to do. For a few seconds, now and again, I choose to be aware of breathing and I feel the air on this body. How amazing it is to be alive! What a surprise! How shocking that I am of the Universe!

A stranger here, strange things doth meet, strange glory see,
Strange treasures lodged in this fair world appear,
Strange, all, and new to me: But that they mine should be who nothing was,
That strangest is of all; yet brought to pass.
Thomas Traherne, The Salutation

Frequently an impetus arises, a feeling that I ‘ought’ to do something, and there occurs a frisson of anxiety in my chest. My shoulder joints tighten up again. (A seemingly trivial example: Last week on Radio 3, there was a series of lunchtime concerts given by Michael Collins, a clarinetist I like. The acquisitive part of me wants to record these. And then this wanting turns into an imperative with a deadline (they are only available for a month on catchup) that I must fulfil or else they will be lost to me forever.)

Truly being alive, being with You, experiencing “the rapture of being alive”, is a continuous flow, like breathing, repeatedly receiving the unexpected and unwarranted gift of life, and then letting it go. This body is a sacrament of this flow: inhale, exhale; systole, diastole; ingestion, elimination; birth, death – inspire, expire.

Death is not the opposite of life. Holding on is.

He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy
He who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise
William Blake

When did the simple pleasure in being alive get overlaid with the need to possess – to have and to hold, from this day forward … till death us do part? When did amazement turn into amassing?

Repetition” is not holding on to an experience, of God or of consolation or insight. It is revisiting and remembering and realising the eternal truth and reality revealed in that experience. To have felt God’s love once is enough to know that I am loved now.

So, in looking out of the window, which is also looking at You, I am not trying to get or achieve anything, something I can hold onto. I am being alive, being with You. This is my deepest desire.

Human being is a gift that is only on loan for a while. Growing up and ageing comes with the increasing apprehension (in both senses: understanding and anxiety) of the inevitability of death. With this apprehension comes a desire to hold on to life. This holding on – and the reverse of the same coin, a refusal to embrace – is precisely the condition of the denial of life. You really cannot have your cake and eat it.

Otto Rank described this life stance with a wonderful phrase: “Refusing the loan of life in order to avoid the debt of death.”
Irvin Yalom, Love’s Executioner

“Unless you become like children,” that is to say, unless you rediscover the simple pleasure in being alive that allows everything to arrive and depart, “you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” which is right here, now and always, within and among us. You do not need to search for it because it is what you already are; you do not need to possess it because it is what you always will be.

[Syndicated from thisbody.info.]

Some reflections on my daughters death

Sarah, one of my daughters, died suddenly about two months ago. Amongst other things she suffered from epilepsy and died unexpectedly one night after an epileptic seizure caused heart and respiratory failure. Its an unusual way to die, but it does sometimes happen, it always seems to be without apparent warning, and nobody appears to know why. It came as a terrible shock to her sisters and I, and indeed to all her family and many friends.

 

Her twin and I travelled down to the city where she died and visited her body in the hospital mortuary, something we both wanted to do. I wept there [we both did] and I talked to Sarah and said a prayer committing her back to the God Who had given her to us. I remember her and her sisters’ births, I was present at each of them, and recall how moved I was by a sense of wonder and awe at the creation of new life. Where did it come from?  I knew something of the biology, and my part in it, but that in no way even began to answer the question ‘where has this new life come from?’.   Seeing her dead body provoked a matching question: ‘Where has she gone?’  It was her body, it could almost have been her asleep, and yet the life force that is Sarah [call it what you will] was gone, where is she now?

 

The only answer that seems to do justice to the realities for me, is the one St John wrote about in his Gospel.  In the Prologue he talks about Jesus being with God from the beginning, and laying that down in order to be born as a human being, and at the end of the Gospel he talks about Jesus returning to be with God again. I take it that this is the model for each of us. We come from God when we are born, and after we die, we return to God. While we are alive the divine spark lives within us, and our task, like Jesus, is to incarnate that divine spark as best we can in a manner that will be unique to each of us.  I have felt increasingly sure over the years that there is truth in this way of understanding things, and Sarah’s death, her funeral, and all that went with it, has confirmed my faith in it.

 

I have heard many people say that there is no worse experience for a parent than to have one of their children die before they do.  I have to say that I don’t feel that.  Maybe in the future I will, but right now I don’t.  Rather I feel a deep sense of privilege to have been gifted by God with Sarah as my and her mother’s child, to have tried my best to help the divine spark grow in her during her life, and then to let her go and return her with thanksgiving to the God from Whom she came, at her death.  I’m also humbled to be aware that she did as much and more to nurture the divine spark in me, than I was able to do for her.  Sarah taught me a great deal, and is a wonderful and rich gift to me.  She would be astonished to hear that, of course, which is an essential part of the mystery of it all.

 

I’m left with a number of things to attend to.  I need to name for myself where Sarah’s giftedness lies, both in herself and in what she called forth in me, and to do what I can to nurture it so that I can play my part in making it a giftedness for the world.

I need to do what I can to support her sisters and all those others who mourn Sarah’s death, just as they are supporting me.

I need to explore my deepening conviction that the dead, the yet unborn, and we the living, are all intimately inter-connected in ways beyond my understanding.  Prayer and love, which I suspect are the same thing but in different guises, are the key to this I intuit.

And behind all of the above, I have to look after myself: allow myself the time and space to grieve; listen to my body, head, heart and soul and attend to their needs; and to let healing come at its own pace.

Prayer is…….

Prayer is anything that nurtures the relationship between us and God

God in creating us and giving us the gift of life, has initiated and continues to nurture that relationship

God is the primary pray-er, not us.

 

Prayer is time consciously spent in God’s presence.

All time is spent in God’s presence, whether I acknowledge it or not.

God consciously spends all time with me, nourishing our relationship, whether I acknowledge it or not.

God is praying in me, even when I am not consciously praying.

God is the primary pray-er.

 

God is not just praying in me but in all others, including the dead and the yet unborn, and indeed in all creation.

God made, loves, upholds and sustains everything that there is, was and will be.

As I sit here God is praying through the chair I sit on, the clothes I’m wearing, the air I breathe, the window I am gazing through, the trees & the buildings that I can see

As I go outside, God is praying in each person I meet.

As we meet, the God in me meets the God in them.

God’s praying thus unites me with everything else that God has created.

God is praying in each and all of us, and in everything.

 

I am united in prayer with all those who have lived before me, and the yet unborn

The former will be praying that I build on their successes and redeem their failings

The latter will be praying for the world into which they will be born.

 

United by God’s prayer, my relationship with all other human beings, is transformed, for they are now all my sisters and brothers, and their well-being is now my concern as mine is theirs.

Prayer calls us all to social and pastoral action.

 

Similarly, as I sense the God whom I know praying in the whole of creation so my attitude to creation is transformed.

God is in it and meets me there, God calls me to care for it, and for creation to care for me

In caring for the world and all of creation, I am co-caring with the God Who cares.

 

I am mostly not very good at all this, but my attempts seem to be accepted, and so I keep working at it.

 

 

 

Everyday Miracles

When I get up in the morning I like to make myself a cup of tea, and a cup of hot water with a slice of lemon for my wife, and then spend time in prayer.  Usually that means walking down to my shed in the garden, but earlier this year the weather didn’t encourage that, and instead I sat in the front room, still warm from last night’s fire, and found myself gazing silently out of the window, which faces south east.  Each morning I either saw the sun rise over the horizon, or was aware that while I couldn’t see much beyond the road, nevertheless it got gradually lighter. The quality of the light was different, every day, and it always looked beautiful.  And every day my heart and soul were lifted by a sense of awe and wonder, and I began the day with my spirits lifted.  All because I watched the dawn.

 

There is nothing unusual or inexplicable about this. It happens every day, every where, and provided you’re awake and have your eyes open to the world outside, you cant miss it.  But every morning I felt a sense of awe and wonder and began the day with a spring in my step, my faith in life and in God [what’s the difference?] deepened and nourished.  It felt like a miracle.  And of course that’s what miracles are: not inexplicable events ‘out there’ beyond the ken of current scientific understanding, but experiences ‘out there’ which deepen and enrich faith ‘inside’, such that I engage with life and the world more confidently and with greater trust than I might otherwise have done.  The fact that there is a rational explanation of what is happening ‘out there’ when the sun rises, makes not a jot of difference to my experience and what that experience evokes in me. The miracle is in what happens inside, not in what happens outside. And it seems like a miracle because I have no conscious control over it, I certainly can’t will it to happen, and I experience it rather as a mysterious, unexpected, and wonderful gift, which I have done nothing whatsoever to deserve.

 

Looked at like this, miracles are potentially occurring all the time, and can be occasioned by all manner of events, many of them tiny and seemingly insignificant: the setting sun, the sight of the stars at night, the birth of a baby, the moment of death, the first heralds of spring, a friendly smile, any moment that touches the heart and soul in a creative and challenging manner, evoking awe and wonder.

 

But there’s the rub.  They do happen all the time and so we easily take them for granted: we develop a sense of entitlement to such things rather than one of thankfulness; and we are usually too busy elsewhere to notice them. And if we don’t notice them and allow them to work their magic on us, they will have been to little avail for they need our active co-operation to maximise their effectiveness. Despite my winter awakening, I know that I still miss most of them, but I am more aware now, at least for a time, that I need to get better at paying them attention, because miracles are the food on which faith feeds.

 

Faith means trust.  If I have faith in somebody it means that I trust them. To have faith in God is to trust God, to trust life. Faith in God is innate in all of us, it comes fitted as standard, when we are born. It comes as a gift. Some people seem to have been endowed with a lot of it, and nothing in life ever seems to shake it, others seem to have been born with less, and any serious setback seems to crush it. But it is innate in us and we never lose it entirely. The right stimulation will bring it back to life and strengthen it.

 

You can’t buy that stimulation: it’s not available on amazon. It comes, unexpectedly, out of the blue, as an unexpected gift. All we have to do is recognise it when it happens, receive it, and allow it to change us. When it does it feels like a miracle.

Sigh no more

Then sigh not so, but let them go,
   And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
   Into hey nonny, nonny.
Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing

People will often say that they can’t pray. When asked they will say that they are unable to make their minds still or empty of thoughts. Somehow they have acquired the fantasy that to be able to pray they have to be able to stop the hubbub of thoughts that happen. At this point I am reminded of what was said to me on a course in mindfulness: “When your mind wanders, this is not a problem.”

The reality is that everybody’s head is full of noise. It never stops. There are many things that go on in the mind. Try to be gentle with it. It is just trying to preserve and prolong your life and the life of those you care about. That is what it evolved to do. It is the nature of the mind always to be thinking. Prayer does not stand or fall on having a quiet mind.

There are many kinds of noise. Two of my favourites are planning and reminiscing – thoughts about the future and the past. The trouble with the brain is that, by evolutionary design, it is defensive. Planning easily turns into anxious thinking about how to make the future safe, either about a situation that is coming up that is worrying me, or a much longer-term concern about old age finance, health, and mortality. Reminiscing easily becomes rumination upon my failings and mistakes – “sighs for folly done and said.”

Ignatius would call these defensive strategies the work of the enemy of our humanity, inasmuch as they bring about “spiritual desolation”. Our hope and trust in God’s grace and mercy is undermined by anxiety and sad rumination allied with flawed thinking (what Ignatius called “fallacious reasoning”). Or, to put it in more modern language, because the brain likes the negative we can easily lose our momently delight in being alive.

There is a kind of work to be done to counter this preference for the defensive. I say ‘kind of’ work because prayer is mainly down to God’s grace, which is always present and active and abundant. Grace, it is said, abounds. God is only to be experienced in the present, and so our work is only to try to remain present and open to grace.

This ‘work’ is helped by two practices I have written about elsewhere:

There is another kind of noise which might be called censoring or filtering, and could be likened to a copy editor. A critical eye monitors our thinking and makes a judgment. “Stop thinking!” Don’t think that!” “That’s not allowed!” “Get a grip!” “Thank God no one else knows what I’m thinking!” And so on. Etcetera, etcetera. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights might recognise our right to freedom of thought and expression, but we don’t always extend that right to ourselves.

This too though, in its own way, is still the mind’s attempt to keep you safe, making sure you remain acceptable and don’t stray too far from social norms. For the human creature, belonging to the group is a significant survival strategy. In the not-far-distant past (on an evolutionary scale) it was a dangerous business to be excluded from the group. Here again we see how defensive thinking, by undermining our hope and trust in God who always includes, can lead to spiritual desolation.

I hope I am conveying that this is all utterly normal. No one who prays, however experienced, is without brain noise. You are not a remedial pray-er when your head is full of noise. Thinking is merely what happens. So rather than berating yourself for your lack of attention, be kind to yourself in your humanity. The human is a fragile construct.

In the end, three things matter in response to the noise in our heads:

  • Be kind and tender towards yourself and the thinking, planning, reminiscing, censoring, protective mind. It is not your fault when your mind wanders. This is simply what minds do. Reality is not as we would wish it to be. There is no blame attached to this.
  • Show and tell your thoughts to God, to Jesus, to Buddha, to whomever you pray. Realise that they present no lasting bar to loving relationship with the Divine. One way to do this is to turn what might feel like random thoughts into a conversation with God. If you find yourself making a shopping list or a to-do list, then talk with God about what is on the list. If you are anxious about a meeting you are soon to have, share your anxieties with Her. If you feel the shiver of shame at what you said to someone, let Her look at the situation with you. When you judge yourself, show this to God and let Her be the judge. These thoughts might not be what you hoped to happen in prayer, but to show and tell will cement the relationship you have with God.
  • Then sigh not so, but let them go. Your thoughts are not that important. They are not you. Hey nonny nonny. Be you blithe and bonny.

[Syndicated from thisbody.info.]

Older posts

© 2018 The Annunciation Trust Registered Charity 1017702

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

%d bloggers like this: