Monday, December 31, 2007
"Lost in love and found in reason
Questions that the mind can find no answers for
Ghostly eyes conspire treason as they gather just outside the door
And every ghost that calls upon us brings another measure in the mystery
Death is there to keep us honest and constantly remind us we are free
Down the ancient corridors, through the gates of time
Run the ghosts of days that we've left behind..."
(Dan Fogelberg 1951-2007): Ghosts
For a while now I have flirted with this post
And at last (to my relief) it's here
This will be my last entry. Two years ago I started blogging 'to save on therapy' - these days it gives me more headaches than heart-filled moments of pleasure or hope. So, finally, this part of my journey is closing.
I have decided to finally put some bloody time into finishing the damn book I started after I finished my MA - I've given it a catchy title:
Asylum: Comfort for the Spiritual Refugee
Based on my thesis....it's a book of hope about my heart for those who live in the waste-lands and margins of spirituality, 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 me: 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:
My final thoughts for this blog though are rooted in sad days, in the loss of those who should have had more years in the sun, in those we lost too soon. Two beautiful people who left this world so very recently. Jackie Bowell, wife, mum, sister, aunty who now leaves a huge gap in our family - a woman of grace, love, compassion, courage and spirit - whose greatest legacy I think was that she helped everyone she met, and she did that because she loved without condition. Put simply she embodied selflessness and that's why now, many feel a great chasm.
Then there was Mr Fogelberg - an artist whose music has shaped thousands and helped us dream and capture the hopeless romantic within us. His voice like velvet, his storytelling drew us to the mystery and struggles of love and life. His music, philosophy on life (particularly Native Americans) without any question changed my life during my travels through North America over a period of months in 1994.
Dan left us on December 16 at 6:00am . He fought a brave battle with cancer and died peacefully at home in Maine with his wife Jean at his side. His strength, dignity, and grace in the face of the daunting challenges of this disease were an inspiration to all who knew him.
Once more my friend Martin Wroe describes how I feel about death far more beautifully than I......
Death is so far away
that you can't see it,
(when you are a child)
and so close
you can almost touch it,
(when you are old)
we keep it waiting
at a polite distance
(not wanting it to interrupt our flow)
the end of everything.
Death is highly predictable
and, usually, most unexpected
disorganising your affairs
(and your marriage)
frustrating your plans
for your whole day
deleting the calendar
of the life you had organised
We spend our lives
hoping we will never die
fearing we will never live
wondering if there is a compromise
for making us wonder
what life is
our quiet companion
from the day we are born.
standing next to us,
waiting its moment,
a shock to the system
(particularly for the living)
the beyond which,
beyond which we do not step
a clean cut through the tangled fabric of our friendships
a pinpoint thrust in the heart of all that we love
a serial killer, refusing to admit
it has lost its sting
(Pointing, reasonably, everywhere for proof)
An everyday terrorist
Detonating unknown futures
Where nothing, no more, goes to plan
Attended by many words and many tears
And a singular solitary ache
Death leaves a scar in a place
not located by x-ray
not healed by conventional medicine
Death speaks a language all of its own
words from a tongue you never knew you had
the great unspeakable
failing to express
the great unknown
a frame hung
around our days
three score years and ten wide
600 million breaths deep
stepping back for a better look
This abstract expressionism
that is all our days
Death is life
(for a second)
Zooming into focus
a post-it note on your heart
Death is parting
Less them from us
Than us from them
Part of us had gone with them
We have become separated from ourselves
We will not be ourselves again
Not until this parting is over
Then we will also feel like ourselves
Death is punctuation
Death is not a full stop
Death is not a sentence
Death is the absence
(not of your life, just your pulse)
everything to be frightened of
and nothing to fear
a valley of shadow
fear no evil
Death is the limit of your sight
stretch out your hand
hold tight to rod and staff
by going to ground
In the ground is a mystery
Which you cannot see - it is hidden
Which you cannot hear - it is silent
a seed buried in pitch black
Of time and season,
Knowing, beyond knowing,
Of all that's ahead
You have to be buried
in order to rise again
The darkness covers death
it is always waiting
to be overcome
for the last time
Like never before
(The Sky's Window: Lines and lyrics in search of a numinous now - available at lulu.com)
Two years ago on January 1st I, and a couple of mates, went into the mountains for an ice climb to welcome in the New Year. We climbed Blencathra by Sharp Edge which, with its high exposure, is one of the most difficult ridges in the Lakes – throw in Freezing snow and ice and it became a veritable tour de force on a beautiful clear but cold day. I’ve been climbing trees for years but mountains are something else, still, the two guys who were climbing with me weren’t exactly novices.
I was sandwiched in between two Marines, my brother-in-law Craig, a Sergeant, who having served in Bosnia and Iraq (twice) last year called it a day because of his disillusionment with our presence there, and Darren (aka Swifty), who is one of only fourteen people in over a hundred years to be awarded the ‘Stand Hope’ Gold Medal by the Royal Humanic Society. He was given this honour for rescuing a man on the summit of Everest four years ago. Due to head for the summit some time during the following 24 hours his team became aware of someone in difficulty. He sacrificed his chance at the top of the world at 7,600 meters at Camp 5 to save another. It still is the highest rescue that has ever been made on Everest. Suffice to say, I was in pretty good company on the extremity of ‘Sharp Edge’.
Just yesterday though, the same close family who lost dear aunty jackie had to deal with a man who fell from this ridge - he fell a long way - in vain they tried to keep him alive, but his injuries were too horrific.
Just days after saying goodbye to a wife and a mum, this - in trying to find solace in the hills, more death. Sting was right...how fragile we are
When I heard of Aunty Jackie's passing I put down these words, ‘Last night felt the sky fall, and it just kept on falling, relentlessly out of my control.’ She was gone, she was gone to a place I’ve heard of, a place I’ve even allowed myself to dream of, even journey toward, yet in my dreams I always return, Aunty Jackie cannot. I talked with close friends concerning how we might best deal with this kind of loss. We concluded that just maybe we need to look into the void that remains, be still, and sit with that emptiness for a while.
This life we lead is not the kind that gives us any peace of mind. I’m not sure it was ever meant to. There are times when I find myself enveloped in circumstances which beg me to ask of God the question, ‘Why?’ Less cynical people might counter the question by asking ‘why not?’ I think, from a place that is not often visited, I know what they mean; but I am not in a place where I can neither say it with any conviction nor own it.
These things can’t be explained; why it happens, the providence of God and the mysteries of life and death are the very fibre of our faith. They were gifts of love and life, and so are we, let us not turn our backs on them. A friend penned the words that, ‘love is as strong as death, and many waters cannot quench it when it’s true.’ The bible talks of love being set as a seal on our hearts. These are beautiful and affirming words, until that love somehow seems to be erased in some fashion. There are those who now stand before the abyss, not knowing how to put one foot forward for fear of falling. I suppose the fear is that you just keep on falling, and that you’ll never make it back. Some journeys though are harder to make than others, and for the broken hearted who mourn, the journey may seem impossible.
Philip Yancey suggests that, ‘sometimes the only meaning we can offer suffering people is the assurance that their suffering, which has no apparent meaning for them, has meaning for us.’ Our real power lies in our brokenness and pain, and it’s a power that even the angels in heaven do not have. There is no rhyme or reason to it, but Jesus ruins our lives, yet out of those ruins he does make something more beautiful than we can imagine – it’s just a different kind of beauty than this world is ruled by.
Bebo Norman sang, ‘It was not your time, that’s a stupid line. A fallen world took your life.’ This is a hard truth to face though when the void you stand before is as wide as the Grand Canyon. Maybe that’s what living for a cause greater than ourselves enables us to do – to face eternity with the strength that comes from faith. For those left behind, somewhere deep inside, I believe there is an assurance, even today, in our culture of isolation and death, of hope in a Nazarene who embodies a bigger picture and a bigger love. My prayer is that we all have the courage to find it, regardless of what the journey holds. Jesus always had a very special place in his heart for the broken…and I do not believe for a moment that anything has changed.
Thanks for journeying a while with a vagabond and ragamuffin - just because I will not be blogging doesn't mean I won't be dropping by the gems that have amused, stretched and stirred my soul - who knows, I may even comment!
Grace and beer always.....and a very happy new year to all, from Australia through London, Belfast through to Canada and the West Coast of America.....I'll be seeing you!
Saturday, December 01, 2007
(Susan Segu: HIV +)
More than 25 million people have died of AIDS since 1981.
Africa has 12 million AIDS orphans.
By the end of 2005, women accounted for 48% of all adults living with HIV worldwide, and for 59% in sub-Saharan Africa.
Young people (15-24 years old) account for half of all new HIV infections worldwide - around 6,000 become infected with HIV every day.
Of the 6.5 million people in developing and transitional countries who need life-saving AIDS drugs, only 1.3 million are receiving them.
AND....Global Military Spending now tops $1T
Not so long ago Donald Rumsfeld aimed critisicm at China's military spending, suggesting that; “Since no nation threatens China, one must wonder: Why this growing investment? Why these continuing large and expanding arms purchases?” A question he may well ask of himself. According to a report recently released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Global Military Spending topped $1Trillion in 2004. The United States accounted for 47 percent of all military expenditures, while Britain and France each made up 5 percent of the total. In all, 15 countries accounted for 82 percent of the world's total military spending. The BBC reported last month that Chinese military spending increased by 12% in 2004 to $25Bn - or one twentieth of what the US spends.
Makes me want to puke
The problem is not just about Aids it’s about poverty. As photojournalist Don McCullin describes: ‘this isn’t just a medical situation. It’s a combination of things. But the primary cause is poverty, which leads to hunger and despair.” Whilst in Tanzania a couple of years ago I met with a group of women (Susan being one of them), all of whom had tragic stories to tell, all of whom are (if still alive) living with full blown Aids, all of whom (bar one) would be leaving children behind when they die – this they said was the hardest part of living with the disease. I remember stopping writing when they told me this because there were no words to describe how I felt...