Thursday, March 30, 2006
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Every morning, i take a moment of quiet...and in the stillness i pray this prayer...
'Broken...I now talk with God.
O Lord Jesus my saviour.
Today my heart is empty.
Pride is the thing I will miss least when time comes to and end.
I need a priest.
I need a preacher.
I need an exorcist to banish the snake I've been handling called...self.
I need you.
Broken...I now talk to God.
(Ben Pearson: Taken from Ragamuffin Prayers, CCM Books)
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
...watching the news, thinking about my own troubles, mean nothing compared to what I saw tonight from Niger. The image you can see and the report from the BBC have left me numb, there are no fucking words to describe this horror...decades of imbalances and injustices visited on Africans by both African rulers and their western collaborators bring a shame beyond words...it is a callous and wicked conspiracy that has brought the beautiful and virgin continent on its knees, largely impoverishing its people and turned them into beggars...but to see this kind of desperation, a boy trying to find some kind of sustenance from a cows anus...dear god in heaven forgive us
i make no apology for publishing this blog only that i wish i couldn't or didn't have to...
Sunday, March 26, 2006
Have struggled to find any words for a while now. Someone once told me that God treasured our too many words - pretty generous really because words without actions mean bugger all...anyway, any words I have seem cheap at the moment so I'm going to borrow someone else's...someone who has devoted his life to doing something beautiful with the poor and broken of this world, one of the warmest people I know...Garth Hewitt. In these words he tells the story of 3 other humans whose words had great depth because their lives were much more than those words...
Light a candle in the darkness
light a candle in the night
let the light of God unite us
light a candle in the night
It was raining down in Memphis
on the night before he died
a shot of hate would come tomorrow
maybe that's why the heavens cried
It was on a Monday evening
in the town San Salvador
that he took the fatal bullet
all because he loved the poor
On a Sunday down in Gaza
Rachel Corrie took her stand
as the bulldozer kept coming
her blood was shed upon the land
But she held high the torch for freedom
she lit a flame without a doubt
for the ones the world's forgotten
it's a flame that won't go out...
Thursday, March 23, 2006
...finally in a really dark time comes a little hope and light...Norman Kember is a good man and is finally free. I am so happy for his loved ones...and it reminds me we all need prayers for our future when most of our actions only bring hurt to our present...
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
"I thought I had worried about everything. I never thought my son would be killed at school."
Words from the mother of Hassan Abdulamir who was killed in his classroom at Dijla Elementary School in Baghdad last week. 64 children have been killed at school since November last year...dozens of teachers have died too...sobering isn't it...
'War! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing! say it again...'
Monday, March 20, 2006
And the other half goes too...
Martyn left this morning - am very sad he's gone...he's a soul brother and it has been very moving to reconnect after a few years. (find out about one of the finest singer-songwriters of his generation at www.martynjoseph.com)
yesterday we remembered that we'd written a song together a few years ago called a 'life too hard to hold'....some things don't change me thinks...
the pic is by my friend the amazing John de Garis (www.johndegaris.com) - if the 3 of us ever write a book or and album, here's the cover...along with the lyrics to the song...
A LIFE TOO HARD TO HOLD
How can a soul that looks to heaven
ever feel so damned?
Sometimes it's just uncomfortable
to try and hold God's hand.
Longing for the smell of roses
I only feel the thorns,
It makes me cautious for the gentle ones
who will hate just for being born
Questions to which there are no answers
Rain down lessons that no-one can teach
Places in a troubled soul
And though we run we can never reach
In a life too hard to hold
I wander through this wilderness
This lonely path of life
to a secret and a quiet place
where a pilgrims dreams can come alive.
The past could have been so different
and the darkness is not yet gone.
But these dreams that are so heavy
they help me carry on
Yet somewhere down this journey's road
we face the long goodbye.
In a land of blinding beauty
we rise into the desert skies.
Returning to a carpenter
who questioned long ago.
Maybe I'll find some peace there in that place
And some mercy for my soul
(M Joseph & P Chambers 2000)
For anyone broken on the wheels of living.......
Sunday, March 19, 2006
Said goodbye to half of the 'because we can' tour today...Mr Henderson has departed. Stewart is a wonderful bloke who embodies dignity and compassion more than most. He's both mad and full of grace, a cross between Lily Savage and Kenneth Williams but with the heart of Mother Theresa. His soul is the most gentle i know...
The poetry he crafts is so so moving...here's the two of us at Greenbelt last summer...and a gem from the lovely Mr Henderson.
I'd rather not...
I've got a bad knee
and I may fall over
and make it badder.
If I could just sit at the back
and read a book or draw.
I'd be so quiet
you wouldn't know I was there.
...Well obviously if you looked up I would be there,
but if you didn't, look up that is,
you wouldn't know I was...there.
I'd rather not go into the playground, Mrs thomas.
No, I don't think I'm trying to tell you something
but it looks like rain
and it will be such a bother
for you to send me out there
only to have to bring me back in again.
It hardly seems worth it.
So if I sit over by the radiator
and start drying off now
we'll be ahead of ourselves, won't we?
That would be quite good, wouldn't it?
I'd rather not go into the playground,
No, nothing's frightening me much...
...My father said you've got to stand up for yourself,
so that's quite good isn't it, Mrs Thomas?
You're going to the staff room to some marking...
...can I come with you, please?
I'd rather not go into the playground, Mrs Thomas.
Please don't make me go into the playground,
(I'd rather not... by Stewart Henderson from his book 'Who left Grandad at the Chip Shop' published by Lion)
Saturday, March 18, 2006
Along the borders of the mountain ranges of North America, where unmanageable fortifications and regal satellites of rock surrender to lower plains, lies a series of lesser ridges. They are known as the ‘outer range’, and winding through these barren lowlands is what the Native Indians call “The Trail” – the pilgrimage to go beyond the here and now, and on toward the colonies of heaven. To many indigenous cultures ‘the trail’ is widely regarded as the most precious gift we humans have, and during the autumn of 1994 I remember sitting in the bar of a small town due south of the Adirondack Mountains with an old Indian. That night he told me the story of the ‘coal holders’.
As the seasons changed, when winter would eventually arrive, the tribe would have to move camp. Each tribe would designate coal carriers, and as the fire burned low, when the time came to move on, someone would have to carry the last hot coal to start the next fire at the new campsite. The old man explained that the community needed this fire to cook with, to sleep near, but most importantly this fire was the place of communication. It was the sacred place of storytelling, of dance and song. In short it was the heart of community.
For many a weary pilgrim today it may feel as though the fire has gone out completely. For those spiritual refugees who have connected to something they know to be true but no longer know where to go to explore and develop that connection our current spiritual climate may seem very cold indeed.
Could it be that faith in God (however God is perceived and understood) is not a rational, responsible decision, but rather a blind daring leap of trust into the unknown? Henri Nouwen spoke often about the need for restlessness and loneliness so as to mould and shape us into the kind of pilgrims it is possible to become. This is not a new phenomenon, for Centuries men and women have found their spiritual calling not in familiar comfortable religious institutions, but on the geographic peripheries - the edge of the abyss. Maybe we all need to lean in – and engage the divine from within the uncomfortable, the wilderness, that place where we are shaped and moulded by God into the coal carriers of today
Friday, March 17, 2006
‘Life is a funny thing’ my Grandma used to say. Now I understand that only years coupled with (and maybe because of) wisdom can birth and give understanding to such a seemingly glib remark. Yet the cradle to the grave is a peculiar journey, and one of the most difficult qualities to be found is something I call hopeaholism. I’m not even sure it’s a real word, but then if Shakespeare could make words up, why can’t I?
You see, of late one particular question has been biting at my heels. How does one shift cultural conscience to allow in the confusion and at times hopelessness of our world? Well, I have come to think that maybe doubt and hope are inextricably linked, maybe even two sides of the same coin. This is also a theological dimension that lurks deep within our souls, a dimension that surely must be explored if we are to see the other side of that coin. What if it is God behind all these doubts and disillusionments? What if this is God’s peculiar way of revealing mystical truths to his peculiar people? It’s as if God uses our disappointments to actually allow us to glimpse hope and so ultimately lead us all to the point of being hopeaholics.
Maybe the reason is that when we doubt. When we have questions, we are humbled – admittedly perhaps even a little pissed off – but moreover we realise that we are small and the mystery of God is much bigger than our finite minds and weak hearts can comprehend. The flip side to this is that when we are sure of things we stop questioning, and actually if truth be told, we become conceited. In my 35 years on this planet I have met very few people who can dovetail ‘knowing it all’ with humility. Ego’s are swelled when we (think) we know it all. Yet we are usually brought to our knees when we recognise and accept our place in the grand scheme of things.
So maybe when we feel so lost that we just can’t go on God just might have the space to whisper into our souls. And maybe that whispering goes something like this prayer of Jen Gray: ‘If I could, I would sneak into your head and sweep out all the crap of your past. I would give your mind a clean room, allowing the company of truth. And the truth is, and always has been; that you are not bad, and that you are not going to hell, and you are enough. You can choose today to beat yourself up or you can choose today to value your being and create some magic. I hope you join me on the magical side.’
Thursday, March 16, 2006
...so many to choose and so many to travel down....some pretty smooth some not so....Some journeys are reasonably straight forward, with a destination assured of and recognised. Others are, to put it plainly, bloody hard work. You have a vague idea of a direction, hopeful of a destination that will be kind, but that’s all you have...
...i have been listening to the new Kris Kristofferson CD... very impressive indeed...these lyrics moved me so much...they dig deep into my soul...life is so precious, and yet sadly so short...I'd like to think though we are all Canaan bound....that place where the grass is soft and green and the trees are honey filled...
'Look at that old photograph
Is it really you
Smiling like a baby of dreams
Smiling ain't so easy now
Some are coming true
Nothing's simple as it seems
But I guess you count your blessings with the problems
That you're dealing with today
Like the changing of the seasons
Ain't you come a long way
This old road
Looking at a looking glass
Running out of time
On a face you used to know
Traces of a future lost
In between the lines
One more for the rainbow road
Thinking of the faces in the window
That you passed along the way
Or the last thing you belived in
Ain't you come along way
This old road
So you tried to chase the sun down
And you let it slip away
And the holy night is failing
Ain't you come along way
This old road
Look at that old photograph
Is it really you?
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Thursday, March 09, 2006
If there is anything in life that constantly returns me to the search for God, it is these words of Jesus Christ: ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’ In these words I hear the tender voice of a God who longs to hold me as a mother caresses her exhausted child; I hear the yearning soul of an estranged lover longing for a second chance; I hear a mysterious call to community, a call to that mutual dependence in which our salvation (understood as love, liberation and freedom) is to be found.
I was talking with a friend the other day and we discussed our frustrations concerning the shadow side of evangelical faith, about our heart for those who live in the waste-lands and margins of spirituality, but mostly we yearned for the kind of inclusive community that brings the kind of solace and comfort that challenges, enriches and elevates our souls.
A Bruce Springsteen song profoundly moved us both: Land of Hopes and Dreams. Based on an old folk song called ‘This Train’ that had often been performed by Woody Guthrie, this new song seemed to encapsulate the possibility of redemption for all those people who were beat up and broken on the wheels of living. Those people who struggled to find a spiritual home; those refugees caught in a divine asylum. It is a song that gives integrity and hope to the human spirit which aches from within the stress of the most desperate conditions, a song which gives an alternative promised land to the one most spiritual refugees meet; no abject hostility, no shame, and no destitution – just a place of belonging where sunlight streams, where we meet in a land of hope and dreams. In short it became a hymn to perseverance:
Grab your ticket and your suitcase, thunder’s rolling down the tracks
You don’t know where you’re going, but you know you won’t be back
Well, darlin’, if you’re weary, lay your head upon my chest
We’ll take what we can carry and leave behind the rest
Big wheels roll through fields where sunlight streams
Meet me in a land of hope and dreams
Well, I will provide for you and I’ll stand by your side
You’ll need a good companion, for this part of the ride
You’ll leave behind your sorrows, and let this day be the last
Tomorrow there’ll be sunshine, and all this darkness past
Big wheels roll through fields where sunlight streams
Meet me in a land of hope and dreams
This train carries saints and sinners
This train carries losers and winners
This train carries whores and gamblers
This train carries lost souls
This train carries broken-hearted
This train carries sweet souls departed
This train dreams will not be thwarted
This train faith will be rewarded
This train carries fools, carries kings
This train hears the big wheels singing
This train bells of freedom ringing
Very exciting to hear about Mr Springsteen's new album due for release next month!!!!!!!
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
There is a beautiful Haisidic story of a rabbi who always told his people that if they studied the Torah, it would put Scripture on their hearts. One of them asked, "Why on our hearts, and not in them?" The rabbi answered, "Only God can put Scripture inside. But reading sacred text can put it on your hearts, and when your hearts break, the holy words will fall inside."
Just had level 5 with my eccentric priest friend. He bimbled into my office with his broken memories shared and told me the story of when William Temple was asked by a 'God fearing' evangelical if he was saved. 'Dear sir' he gently replied, 'I am saved, but not safe.'
I liked that and decided that there was a streak of the Jesuit in my warm friend...
I liked that and decided that there was a streak of the Jesuit in my warm friend...
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
A wise man once said to me that there were many paths to follow in this life, but when you find the path of heart as opposed to the path of convenience, well it’s a good path to be on. I watched part of the programme on reconciliation with Desmond Tutu last night, and being exposed to his humility, wisdom, energy and profound sense of what it means to be both a spiritual and human being has brought me to a border of maybes. There is something about borderlines; that place of decision, of something new – the unknown, the chance to begin again. I have always believed that borders embrace hope…they allow us to reach out beyond ourselves. The chance I suppose to embrace faith in some way – the environment where faith in humankind can manifest itself once more.
Some maybes are precious – they take you to the edge, and although you don’t go over you become richer for the maybe. The maybe leaves you at the place of choice and consequence, revealing the different textures in life. I suppose it’s this juxtaposition which makes it apparent. Some maybes don’t go away – one must learn how to manage them day to day. On one hand we have come a long way, and we should, as a community of faith draw strength from that. Yet in many ways we are no farther forward, just farther along. There is an horizon before us, which holds uncharted territory; and the question remains, what are we to be?
Monday, March 06, 2006
'Lord save me from trendy religion that makes cliches out of timeless truths.'
Rich Mullins...someone who I wished I'd met and level 5'd with...more than a poet and thinker, he left a timeless legacy. Rich died in a car accident September 19, 1997. My friend Stocki knew him and wrote this poem when he was taken from us.
BIG MOMENTS (for Rich)
There are sweet moments of grace
And times when saints come touch us
Chance meetings that seem meant to be
Coincidences far too obvious
And I can hear the water falling
The ocean crash on New England's shore
The brown brick spine of some dirty blind alley
The shaving that fell on the carpenter's floor
I can feel the hammer dulcimer move me
That voice proclaim truth and love
Giving me glimpses and clues of this life on earth
And inklings of the promise above
Like just a speck upon my time line
That the Son caught to make shine bright
Such big, big moments in tiny seconds
Leaving me to follow in your traces of light
How I longed to spend more time with you
Maybe now someday that time will come
You've left a legacy to think on until then
Thoughts to fill my life and then some
Someone said that you know a saint
By how alive they make you feel
Not by how much they show you
But by how little they conceal
You left us with broken hearts and souls
Our hope is feebly attempting to temper it
We lost so much more than skin and bone
You are the world as I best remember it...
Saturday, March 04, 2006
Here's the script in full...
...It was getting late and the sun was beginning giving up her fight on another ridiculously hot day in West Africa. Our guide led us through some thick savannah bush, and there in the clearing we met them – the cocoa farmers of Bipoa, Ghana. Introductions were made, but with fewer smiles than we had previously experienced. What followed has haunted me ever since. “Why does cocoa have no value anymore?” asked a weary, hungry and disillusioned farmer through our translator. I suddenly felt sick, the reality of the abusive policies of multinationals in the West was suddenly all too vivid and real, and there was nowhere to hide. How do you explain to a humble farmer that cocoa still has remarkable value…it’s just that he, and too many like him, sadly do not? Some irritations need to be refreshed…and this was one of them.
Our small group of Christian Aid volunteers visiting partners and projects were witnessing something journalist John Pilger describes as, ‘the rise of rapacious imperial power, a terrorism that never speaks its name because it is “our” terrorism.’ Chocolate in the West is big business, but the majority of Ghanaian cocoa farmers live in shocking poverty. The industry in the U.K. alone is worth around £3.6 billion a year; the terror though is that those who farm the cocoa in countries like Ghana see barely a fraction of this because the present structures of international trade are continuing to disable the poor. Fair-trade is one way of ensuring that producers get properly paid for their hard work, so enabling them a quality of life that should be the norm in this world. Both Fair-trade Foundation and Christian Aid are part of Trade Justice, a movement of organisations campaigning for a change to the current trading system. So as to create rules that are weighted in favour of more of the world’s poor.
Are we prepared to begin serious dialogue concerning how a more equitable and sustainable global economy might look? Or are we going to stand by and watch the new rulers of the world subject the poor to abusive trade rules to protect our way of life? Propaganda is very much alive, maybe we could try another way – the way of the Nazarene – where at last liberation and equal opportunities for the small people of this world allow the truth to sting; where at last refreshing the irritation of fair-trade liberates the downtrodden. My prayer is that during this fair-trade fortnight we embrace this crisis together and bring some grace and equality to the lives of those who have so little. Is that really a water too wide to cross over?
Friday, March 03, 2006
today has been one of those days whereby i feel as though i have talked way too much. i have given 2 lectures concerning 'fairtrade' to guernsey's elite youth, then an interview with the BBC and tonight have spoken to a few hundred women (and a couple of men) to celebrate the 'Women's World Day of Prayer'
I just hope God really does treasure our too many words....
There was though a very liberating moment tonight in the liturgy of prayers. crafted by the strong women of south africa (where I am bound in a month or so) we gave thanks for so many gracious gifts - apples, peaches, drums, elephants, bony cows, baby's skin to name but a few of hundreds - but then came the quintessential moment of the day, the dear strong and beautiful ladies of S Africa in their liturgy to the world thanked God - praised him/her no less for, and i quote, 'high heeled shoes'!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
On reflection i think its beautiful...goodnight crazy people...wherever you are x
Thursday, March 02, 2006
Thank you for those who have asked to take a look at my first nationally published article - I almost feel like a proper writer - don't worry though I won't get carried away. It does though feel like a great ahievement for someone who got thrown out of English Literature in school and was told he was, and i quote, 'useless at writing'. When I finally get around finishing my book (2020!!!) I shall send a signed copy to the dear man who was so encouraging....
HUNGRY LIKE THE WOLF
Roaming the solitary places of untamed nature is every bit as important to our spirituality as it was for Christ’s, says PAUL CHAMBERS. Just as long as we remember to come back again...
“The edge does not have to lead to nihilism. If we are careful, it is possible to recognise, accept, even grow from spirituality’s borderlands without being consumed by them…Historically, when the mainstream has been stunted, many look to the fringes for their spiritual life.”
Niles Elliot Goldstein, God at the Edge
THE Portuguese call it saudade: an inexplicable longing, an unnamed and enigmatic yearning of the soul. It’s as good a word as any for what took me out into the Adirondack Mountains of Northern Vermont in 1994. I needed some space to be still and to allow the Spirit to whisper to me through the beauty and solace of wilderness. And as I hiked homeward after two peaceful nights in my sleeping bag under the stars, I had an encounter which has stayed with me ever since.
Heading back towards “civilisation”, I realised that I had miscalculated both distance and time. I wasn’t going to make it back to the highway before the sun went down - unless I left the trail and cut through a larch forest. On the other hand, I didn’t much care for wandering the mountain without light, so I made an instinctive decision. Hurrying off into the unknown, I felt a mischievous, child-like elation at leaving the path. Until, that is, I lost my footing among the trees, tumbled disorientated down a bank, and landed face down in a clearing. Relieved to be intact, I slowly lifted my head to find myself looking into the yellow eyes of a wolf.
It was the most terrifyingly beautiful moment of my life. He was only a few feet away, and as I stared he shifted his head to one side and softly growled, revealing his sharp teeth. Time seemed to stand still – though in truth the moment could have only lasted a few seconds. I genuinely thought it was the end of the road for me. Yet as real as my fear was an accompanying awareness that something profoundly spiritual was taking place. As this stunning creature tilted his head I found myself instinctively imitating his actions. Observing me carefully, the wolf came even closer. He lowered his head like mine, and I experienced what I can only describe as mystical connection. Padding off towards a grove of trees, he stopped to look back once more with lowered head, before disappearing into the forest.
As I lay there, my heart pounding, I felt both shaken and elated. We humans are so temporary on this earth, and yet this wildness seemed so timeless. I realised that for the first time in my life, I felt part of something much bigger than myself.
FORESTS OF NIGHT
It was John Muir, that patron saint of the great outdoors, who stated that, ‘in wilderness lies the hope of the world.’ And if we understand that everything within God’s creation is connected to everything else, then this isn’t some romantic vision, but a prophetic word providing a legacy for a deep spirituality available to us all. The truth is that the great religions of the World have always been nourished in the Wilderness.
Soren Kierkegaard called God ‘the absolute frontier’, believing that it sometimes takes a journey to the wild to locate Him. It’s a strange paradox that in the loneliest landscapes, as spiritual refugees, we can find healing by encountering the brokenness within us all - with or without the help of a wolf. Jesus himself embodied this kind of wilderness pilgrimage – a man of no fixed abode, with nowhere to rest his head, who wrestled with questions and sweated blood.
In the years since my trip I have become a great believer of questions, especially the ones that take us deep into the troubled places of our soul where we come face to face with our inner demons and resident Pharisees. It’s in this particular landscape of questions that we find ourselves spiritually naked, vulnerable and without our masks. Questions usually bring us to our knees – answers tend to swell our egos.
Yet in church culture the dominating voices make Christian maturity easily available and accessible, appearing to anaesthetise difficulties and hypnotise us into not walking hard terrains. Loneliness, brokenness, and traversing the wastelands of this world have become signs of weakness in many churches. This is more than unfortunate; it is a lie that has caused great turmoil for many tired people. It actually borders on heresy. It was enlightenment, not Christianity, which demanded that we remove the mystery from life and replace it with hard, provable facts. And in any case, it failed.
Wilderness spirituality is not about finding some blue-print that leads to salvation through nature, neither is it about worshipping mountains or hugging trees. Rather it is for those who truly seek the light, but recognise that this can only be found once one is willing to first explore the darkness.
In his extraordinary book on Wilderness Spirituality, Rodney Romney suggests that the image of the wilderness as a metaphor for life has a long tradition, from as early as Moses and the people of Israel to the temptation of Jesus. More than anything else though he challenges the idea of the wilderness always as a place to overcome, seeing it rather as somewhere we both live and learn. “A wilderness is an unexplored place,” he writes. “To the average person that means it is unmapped, unsettled and unfriendly. But every wilderness has its own distinctive markers and its own set of inhabitants. It is neither hostile nor friendly. It is what it is – an unexplored place that challenges and lures us away from the human institutions of civilisation and tradition.”
Part of the problem is that we are conditioned by much of traditional (Enlightenment) religion that these landscapes – the ‘Forests of the Night’ – are places where good, civilised religious people should never be found. Yet a God who was as as civilised as most Christians like to imagine would be useless to Christianity. For God is wild by nature (wonderfully tender also) but he/she is the embodiment of all that is full and untamed from this gift we call life. While God is everywhere by his Spirit, to encounter the full passion of God comprehensively we have to visit the wilderness edge, whether that be the desert, mountains, or deep forests.
Why, for instance, was Moses called to scale the 9,000-foot peak of Mount Sinai on foot before he could experience the abundance of God? It wasn’t just to discuss the weather. The climbing was a profession of faith. Mountains, forests, and even labyrinths function as metaphoric and symbolic holy space of encounter. In their geographic remoteness from the inhabited earth, these places provide a space in which our minds may not be so prone to wandering. Where we empty ourselves of everyday clutter, and are still in the presence of that which longs to draw near. When we drift along the margins we become part of their story – we come face to face with God, closer maybe than a lover – and so consequently we find we can temper our inherent obsession with destination.
In 1845, Henry David Thoreau left ‘normality’ and moved to the wilderness to live a simple life, free from materialistic complications, and to contemplate the wonders of nature. Walden is the classic account of a man who chose to live on the edges of society, the borderlands - a transcendentalist’s yearning for freedom and spiritual truth. Thoreau once said: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” Leo Tolstoy echoes this sentiment: “I wanted movement and not a calm course of existence. I wanted excitement and danger and the chance to sacrifice myself for my love. I felt in myself a superabundance of energy which found no outlet in our quiet life.”
Both Tolstoy and Thoreau remain convinced of one thing: that courageous pilgrimage is a must for a deep authentic spiritual journey. The way of the pilgrim is a constant perpetual moving on, a venturing out into unknown territory, where we find the comfort and companionship of God through fellow travellers we meet on the way.
Where do you feel God’s presence most: in a church, synagogue or mosque, or on a mountain, dwelling within nature, and embracing creation? I have been to moving services in many different buildings, built to allow spiritual expression and connection, but my deepest and richest encounters with the presence of God (apart from the birth of my son, Samuel) have come while spending time exploring the frontiers of creation.
For me wilderness matters first and foremost because it humbles us – we realise how very small we are and, more significantly, how incredible and vast are the love, heart, and creativity of God. It also provides the purest of environments to experience a direct connection with God. But maybe even more importantly it provides us with something the Jewish tradition calls Yirah, which translates roughly as awe and wonder. Another meaning is fear. Wonder, mystery, attraction, fear and danger are all vital signposts to the gateway of an awe-filled encounter with God.
It’s tempting nowadays to see fear as a negative force rather than a positive one. But the Bible tells us that fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. (Psalm 111:10) It’s a healthy part of life, which we should embrace, because its gift to us is the knowledge of our own insufficiency, and so consequently this sets us on a path of humility (filled with questions) rather than arrogance (where we are full of answers).
What wilderness does so richly is force us to embrace the present where we become aware of the responsibility to our soul. Not dwelling in our past prisons, and not worrying about a future that doesn’t yet exist calls us to the present, is both psychologically, and spiritually liberating. This practice literally makes room for God from within the cluttered mess of our lives. It was for this reason that I walked into the hills of Vermont all those years ago.
DOWN THE MOUNTAIN
Then as now, wilderness was not the end of the journey. Hitching back into town after my encounter with the wolf, I shared a whisky with a Native American elder who helped me understand what had happened. He listened intently as I retold my story, watching me with the kindest eyes I had ever looked into. ‘I suppose you think I’m crazy?’ I said, after telling him about my moment of connection. ‘Not at all’, he answered softly, ‘not at all.’ In fact, as a hunter of the Huron tribe, he had an understanding and respect for animal life often sadly lacking in Western spirituality. The wolf, he informed me, was known among Native Americans as a seeker of new ways – a pathfinder to new beginnings. He concluded that I had been graced by the presence of the greatest of teachers.
I was 24 years old at the time and whilst I remember being transfixed by his wise, almost prophetic insight, I had no real clue as to what that meant for me. But what I have discovered in the years since my encounter with the wolf is that a stay in the wilderness should inevitably direct one’s attention outward as much as inward. It is impossible to dwell in the margins without our mystical encounters calling us to the position of engagement – engagement with community. It was Bruce Springsteen, as he searched the mystery of love, who said that ‘in the end nobody wins unless everybody wins’. The call of the wild is always with certain people, but it only becomes useful when we learn the spirituality of the wolf: where having gone into the wild, the knowledge and experience acquired is then shared and incorporated into the lives of the rest of the pack.
It is a Protestant myth that salvation is only worked out individually. We need to get back to inclusiveness, friendships, belonging and community - these are the catalysts for effective spirituality from within our post-modern, post-Christian culture. And of course for those of us with children to feed and responsibilities at home, a literal trip to the wilderness may not often be possible. Perhaps we may to find sacred space closer to home to hear the Spirit’s whisper. Either way, spirituality has to reach into those dark places we would rather not visit. Not just the geographic borderlands, but also the wilderness of our soul. The wilderness is as discomforting as it is seductive, but philosophies in isolation are no good to anyone. It is from within these wastelands that we start our journey to spiritual maturity, so allowing a spirituality that will be earthed in the often mundane and broken lives of each other.
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
Just for the record, Nessie is not in the loch...I found her in Edinburgh!
My good friend Nick Thorpe spotted her and quickly took this pic! Nick is a fabulous writer and anyone who is warmed by a good travel read will be moved so much by his work. His second book is about to be released - his first is a classic. You can find more about him at www.nickthorpe.co.uk
The boys are coming back for the last time...I will be no longer in my job soon, so my faithful friends are coming back to ruffle feathers one last time...if you've never experienced them and you can make it, do so....they are as Pip says beautiful humans becoming
more info on www.martynjoseph.com
.....remain but maybe in time the pain numbs, maybe even seems to slip away, but the scars of struggles and battles lost always remain, and with good reason.
There's a scene in Thornton Wilder's play 'The angel that trouble the waters' where a doctor suffering from meloncholy comes to the magic pool with healing powers to be healed of his troubles and his gloom and sadness but the angel guarding the water tells him he cannot enter. The man says, 'but how can I live this way?' the angel again says, 'I'm sorry this moment is not for you, this healing is not for you'. So the doctor again pleads 'but I have to get into the water, I can't live this way' And the angel then says...no this moment is not for you, and he says, but how can i live this way? And the angel says to him, doctor, without your wounds, where would your power be? it is your melancholy that makes your lower voice tremble into the hearts of men and women, the very angels in heaven cannot persuade the wretched and blundering children of this earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of living...in loves service, only wounded soldiers can serve....
truth is communicated through brokenness, sadness and vulnerability...and our scars should always remind us of this
I dedicate this blog to the lovely Jen Gray