Welcome, Namaste, Peace, Shalom

Welcome, Namaste, Peace, Shalom, Benedicite. May the peace of the Lord always be with you.

Annapurna (Goddess of the Harvests) range, Nepal. Machapuchare, Fishtail Mountain, sacred to Shiva and never climbed.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

In The Way

Quite a lot of things have got in the way of my posting on my blog. Partly a case of bloggers block. I know what I want to write about but cannot seem to get started. Ember/Pen of Kindred of the Quiet Way has prompted me to get started again.  Although not on the topics I have been planning.

In her 5th November post she quotes the Tao Te Ching. I love the Tao. I think I have quoted it here previously. Ember’s blog got me thinking again about how many of the great faith traditions have very similar images, metaphors and doctrines at their heart. The Tao is one of the oldest religious writings.

In one of the UK airports there is a prayer room with a poster giving quotes from many different faiths. I don’t think there was one that was at odds with another or with the Christian faith. All about love, peace, harmony, forgiveness, do to others as you would be done by.

If God is eternal, creator of all things including time and space then I don’t believe that God has only ever allowed Christians to know anything about him. The evidence all points the other way. So if we find things that are repeated spiritual truths and motifs across all the faiths then there is a good chance that these things speak of the essence of God.

According to the introduction to my translation of the Tao  (Timothy Freke) the word ‘Tao’ means road or path in Chinese with additional meanings of walk ahead, travel ahead, travel to the end. By the 8th or 9th centuries BC it also came to mean the ‘Way of Heaven’ Another usage was as a description of a path of fate or destiny which could not be avoided, it is a path of virtue, of moral goodness. ‘Te’is translated as virtue and also power. It is the ‘moral behaviour that should flow from following the Tao’. The ‘outworking of the Tao’.

Buddhism has the Eightfold Path as the road map to the end of suffering

on flickr by   h.koppdelaney
The Bhagavad Gita, another most wonderful book, full of good advice, also has the theme of life as a spiritual journey.

“Their thoughts on Him and one with Him, they abide in Him, and He is the end of their journey.

“Hear now of that Path which the seers of the Veda call the eternal, and which is reached by those who, in peace from earthly passions, live a life of holiness and strive for perfection.”

“These are the two paths that are forever; the path of light and the path of darkness. The one leads to the land of never-returning: the other returns to sorrow.”

“I am the Way, and the Master who watches in silence; thy friend and thy shelter and thy abode of peace. I am the beginning and the middle and the end of all things; their seed of Eternity, their Treasure supreme.”

Bhagavad Gita, translated by Juan Mascaro

Early Christians were called followers of the ‘Way’. Jesus said:

John 14: 1-6

1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”

5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

Matthew 7: 13-14

13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."

The Way of the Cross by Niels on Reel Worship
Revelation 21:6

"He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.""

Revelation 22:13

"I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End."


By jeskaweska
on photobucket

I don’t have much knowledge of other religions, so if anyone reading this can offer other examples that will be very interesting. The act of pilgrimage as both a physical and spiritual journey is found in both Christianity and Islam, but that is a whole other topic.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

The cracks that let the light in

By Ian Britton on Reel Worship
‘There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.’
Leonard Cohen

I love modern technology. I am so grateful for medical science, travel, hot and cold clean water on tap, plentiful varied food supplies, central heating, cooking hobs and ovens. Decent housing. Computers and the internet. Nice soap. Sanitary towels with wings. Easily available nice clothes in modern easy care fabrics. The list is endless. I am so grateful that I was born in the mid 20th Century.

This is not a rant about the need to return to a mythical non-technological paradise. Nor about how most of the rest of the world live in poverty in part caused by our over consumption. Nor about the ecological disasters it has caused. Nor about how we should all give up our cars and make our own soap etc, etc in order to make it all better.

But recently I have been thinking about the hidden price we pay, almost unnoticed.

A few days ago a friend gave me this quote by Leonard Cohen. Thoughts about the importance of spaces where nothing happens have been with me for a long time. I think these are essential for our health. Mental, physical, spiritual. Individual and corporate.

I remember when an organisation I worked for got very efficiency conscious. It reduced staffing levels and set targets. The aim was to cut out time wasting. In the process it removed all the little spaces in office life. The making of coffee, the chats in the kitchen or the loos, passing by someone’s desk. Even chats with customers. People barely had time to say good morning to each other or go to the loo.

A hitherto reasonably happy office became very unhappy. Some targets were met or improved but those that depended on an invisible unmeasurable web of relationships built up in the spaces where time was being ‘wasted’ failed. Customers felt neglected.  There was no time to listen or to talk.

A very long time ago I read an account by someone who was part of the move to cities resulting from economic depression and the clearances in the highlands and islands of Scotland. It spoke movingly about how previously healthy people mysteriously sickened and died in the city. It wasn’t that conditions in the city were that bad. It was something to do the removal of space, time and beauty from their lives. It made a big impression on me. I have never forgotten it.

Volcanic Crater and the Atlantic Ocean
Sao Miguel Azores
I wouldn’t want to be dependant on spinning my own thread, knitting and sewing all my own clothes, producing all my own food. I would be cold, hungry and naked. But the machinery that was supposed to give us more leisure seems to have had the opposite effect. We are all so busy. We have access to more goods more cheaply than ever before but we don’t seem to be any happier.

Transporting goods by canal boat might not be speedy or efficient but the people on the boat travelled slowly through beautiful scenery and had time to think and to talk in a meandering fashion.

Oxen have two speeds, dead slow and stop. Mainly they seem to prefer stop. Travelling by ox cart gives plenty of time to admire the views and ruminate on life.

Ox Cart Nepal 2010
In the past many more occupations involved lengthy and fairly slow travelling, being outdoors, and a considerable amount of solitude and silence. Also, tasks which took time and could not be hurried too much.

Foot Spinning Nepal 2010
Spinning, weaving, knitting, sewing, they keep us still and focused and we can be sociable while we are doing them if we want to. In Greece I saw small groups of men spinning in the gardens of their houses. And old women with young girls making lace. Sitting outside, enjoying the weather and companionship.

Men mending fishing nets Sao Miguel Azores
 Making something full of holes.

The Boy Who Knits
 This page is full of spaces, we couldn't read it otherwise.

The Tao Te Ching says:

“A wheel is useful,
because of the hole at the centre of the hub

A clay pot is useful,
Because it contains empty space.

Doors and windows are useful,
Because they are gaps in the walls.

The value of what is there,
lies in what is not there!

(trans by Timothy Freke)

The Bible says:

When God created the universe he rested on the seventh day. He ordained every seventh day as a day of rest for us:

"There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live,” Leviticus 23: 3

'When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien” Leviticus 23: 22

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"

41 "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, 42   but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." Luke 10: 38-42

25 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”


28 "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6: 25-34

Friday, 27 August 2010

Another film about the life of prayer in silence, solitude and simplicity.

Mablethorpe Beach Lincolnshire

Buddhist this time.  I am a Christian but I find so much to help and inspire me in Buddhism.  When I started meditating sixteen years ago I wanted to get back in touch with God and find a religion.  I vaguely thought Buddhism might be the answer.  I knew Christianity wasn't the answer,   LOL!  And the other religions seemed to difficult for a white western female feminist to access.   All the religions seemed to confine women to a restricted, subordinate role.  I wanted a religion I could practise by myself in my room  ROFLMAO!

But God had the last laugh and as I meditated I realised the religion He had chosen for me was Christianity.  At that time (1994) the CofE was just agreeing to the ordination of women.  That seemed to solve that problem at the time. 

Anyway, here is the film, and also a trailer clip. 





Sorry for the long absence from the blog.  I have been away, then had a cold.  Next up, another in the 12 step series.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Best Ever Explanation of the Trinity

Scene:

A charming country railway station. Two small people with their granny waiting for their train.

Small Person 1: "There’s 3 people on our platform. Oh, no, there’s only person."

Small Person 2:  "No, there’s 3."

Small Person 1: "We are a family so we are one person."

Sunday, 25 July 2010

A Tale of Two Films

The film  Into Great Silence was released in 2005/06. It doesn’t feel that long since I saw it!  It was a wonderful experience.  It is a silent (apart from natural sounds) film about the lives of the Carthusian monks of the Grand Chartreuse  monastery in the French Alps.

It is not so much a documentary as an attempt to capture the lived spiritual experience of the monks allowing us to enter into their experience of silence.

It was an unexpected hit, winning awards and the cinemas were packed.  The one I saw it in was full for every showing over three days.

Now another film on a similar theme has been released. 'No Greater Love' .  This is a documentary about the lives of a community of enclosed contemplative nuns at the Carmelite Monastery of The Most Holy Trinity, Notting Hill, London.  I was fortunate enough to see it yesterday.

The Carmelites gave us St John of the Cross, St Teresa of Avila, and St Therese of Lisieux.  Three of the greatest. Also, Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, St Edith Stein, St Teresa de los Andes.  So it’s well worth while meeting some 21st Century Carmelites even if only through the medium of film.

Trailer video

At first sight the film looks like a poor copycat of ‘Into Great Silence’.  The cinema was nearly empty!  But I think this is a little misleading.  The two films seem to be doing different things and have different insights to offer.

‘Into Great Silence’ was very successful at providing an experience of contemplative prayer and worship. The atmosphere in the cinema was deep and profound.  People were still and silent for nearly three hours.

‘No Greater Love’ was more an attempt to understand the motives and lives of the nuns, and had more spoken interviews with the nuns.  Not so much an attempt to draw us into the experience of contemplative prayer as an attempt to explain their lives and the reasons why they live this way.  To let us meet them as people.  The experience wasn't one of prayer and transcendence.

The nuns spoke very openly and movingly about their spiritual lives.  In particular they spoke about the phenomenon whereby on entry into, or at some point in the religious life, all experience of God in prayer, all feeling for and about God disappears, He seems absent, almost non-existent.  The religious life itself seems pointless.  It is the ‘dark night of the soul’ described by John of the Cross and by Therese of Lisieux.  For the Prioress this lasted for about 18 years.

How did she get through it? By keeping very busy she said.

Her reason for wanting to enter the religious life, especially an enclosed order, was in order to give everything to God. It seemed to her to be the ultimate challenge.  Seeing the roll call of Carmelite saints they certainly would be a hard act to follow!

Jesus said “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:12-13

We saw the nuns doing a lot of mundane ordinary daily tasks, the sorts of things we all do, cleaning, cooking, working, shopping, gardening, caring for their frail elderly sisters.

The impact of ‘Into Great Silence’ was immediate. ‘No Greater Love’ has taken more time for me.

I think that ‘No Greater Love’ has given me more ideas to apply in my daily life. We tend to think that we want what these monks and nuns have got, and then decide that of course, it is all right for them in their monasteries and convents, but we can’t live that sort of life. 

‘Into Great Silence’ rather encouraged this feeling. Their physical lives seemed hardly to have changed since their foundation in the 11th Century. They live in a remote, ancient building. It was another world. We saw the monks doing ordinary things, cooking, gardening, sewing, having haircuts, but somehow it all seemed rather exotic and remote. The Grand Chartreuse invented and manufactures the famous liqueur, but we didn’t see any of this work.

The convent in London was founded in the late 19th Century. It is in the middle of a major world capital. They shop online at Sainsbury’s.   We saw them doing the work that earns them their living, making altar breads. Somehow, it seemed more relevant to our ordinary lives.  It seemed possible to acquire something of what they had.

Perhaps we are not all called to lay down our lives for our Lord in quite that way. But surely we can all, if we are honest, find more time for prayer, silence, solitude and simplicity in our lives, if that is what we want.

No one forces us to watch television, listen to the radio, have our ipods, iphones etc permanently switched on, surf the net…… No-one forces us (mostly!) to be permanently too busy.  Or to try to do several things at the same time.  As the Prioress pointed out, busyness is a wonderful means of distraction from the demands of prayer and the spiritual life.

But perhaps the key to this is that what they have is to be found most especially in prayerful attention to manual tasks and our relationships.  The friend I was with was especially struck by the tender care given to the elderly sisters.

The thought that has been occurring to me since is that the spiritual life  is not something apart from our daily tasks and lives. It is part of them and to be found in them. Through these are made visible the fruits of our prayer.  Heaven in Ordinary   Not original, but something perhaps I needed to be reminded of.

John Keble had it right in his hymn, New Every Morning is the Love .  One day at a time.

And perhaps Therese of Lisieux, she of the Little Way should have the last word.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Sinners Anonymous

by Don Stott on Reel Worship
My idea of applying the 12 step ideas to church is not original. A friend sent me these links;

beenthinking

telling-secrets

Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn and Matthew Linn look at a version of the 12 steps in their book ‘Belonging :Bonds of Healing and Recovery’ (ISBN 9780809133659)

Someone in the comments section of the second blog suggested a 12 step church could call itself ‘sinners anonymous’. Hence the title of this post.

The other interesting thing about the telling secrets blog post is that it focuses more on the 12 traditions than the 12 steps. The steps are a personal route to wholeness and healing. The traditions are a way of organising the affairs of the group and the wider organisation.

I have come to believe that the problems of the institutional churches are rooted deep in their organisational structures. Church people complain that "they", the 'unchurched',  just want baptisms, weddings, funerals, Christmas and Nativity Plays, Harvest Festivals etc, believing without belonging. 

Someone very involved in Alpha courses once said to me that despite all the numbers attending Alpha over the years, regular church congregations had not increased. 

I don't think it is  Jesus or God or belonging that people are rejecting, it is our church structures and the behaviours which these produce which do not model the ideals preached.  These only seem to appeal to a small section of the population.   Perhaps people are quietly adopting the 12 step advice of 'take what you like and leave the rest'. 

There's lots of stuff going on in churches about new ways of doing/being church, attracting the 'unchurched' and 'spiritual questers'.  But at the heart of all these is a firm set of boundaries and authority structures set by the established church.  I keep getting this sense that Christians are talking to each other in their churches, but no-one outside is listening or cares about what they are talking about. The language is often impenetrable and incomprehensible. I realised recently that I couldn’t be bothered trying to understand it anymore. There are better ways to spend my time. God doesn’t seem that bothered.

In the rooms of the 12 step fellowships people talk about their knowledge and love of God or their ‘Higher Power’ and how he/she/it saves, guides, strengthens and comforts them, all in the ordinary language of everyday life. They talk about how they live their daily lives under the guidance of their Higher Power. They talk intimately and movingly about their spiritual lives, their character defects and how they are overcoming these. God doesn’t seem to mind being called HP. It is gritty, authentic, powerful and humbling.

Why don’t we just do it? Cut through all these Gordian knots of church structures, finances, rules and regulations, prohibitions, and get on with meeting and praying together. Worshipping and encouraging each other. As the 12 steppers put it:

“Sharing our experience, strength and hope”.


姒儿喵喵 on flickr

Why don’t all those people who want to love God and follow Jesus just start their own groups and meet together? It is not difficult. Jesus said - Matthew 18:20 - "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

Enough for now. Next post 12 traditions for a church.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

12 Steps to Heaven

2010 is the 75th anniversary of the founding of the fellowship of AA – Alcoholics Anonymous. It started with two men, Bill Wilson and Dr Bob Smith in Akron, Ohio, USA and is now a worldwide fellowship.

Following from the success of AA, the sister organisations - Al-Anon, for people affected by the alcoholism of another person, and Alateen, for teenage relatives and friends of alcoholics - were also established and adopted the same 12 steps and 12 traditions.

Here is a photo of the AA international convention being held right now in San Antonio. 50,000 sober, recovering alcoholics who said the Lord’s Prayer and sang ‘Amazing Grace’ Note that in accordance with the AA tradition of anonymity no one in the photo can be identified.

San Antonio 2010 by Mary Christine on Being Sober

If you look on the sidebar of my blog you will see that a number of AA related links have appeared.

Why? And why am I writing about this?

Because until recently I knew nothing about AA or Al-Anon and then, I believe through the work of the Holy Spirit in my life, I discovered them. I was amazed. I had no idea it was all about the spiritual life. The story of its founding and development is a wonderful account of the work of God.

It is a perfect fit with my interest in rules of life and prayer. While remaining a Christian I had become somewhat distanced from any church affiliation, being disenchanted with the organisational and authority structures of the mainstream denominational churches, and their lack of inclusiveness in matters of gender and sexuality.

I was fascinated by the fact that although AA had its origins in Christianity, the founders soon discovered that in order to reach out to the maximum number of alcoholics they had to find a way of retaining the spiritual without being aligned with any particular religious code. Hence steps 2 & 3:

2 Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3 Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him

Then, they found out that to best achieve their purpose and preserve their unity they needed certain codes of conduct. Hence the 12 Traditions.

Since 1935 many other groups have adopted and adapted the 12 steps of AA. This is in keeping with the wishes of the founders. In the foreword to the book 12 Steps and 12 Traditions it says that the author hopes they might ‘arouse interest and application outside AA itself’. That the steps can help with other difficulties of life and provide a way for happy and effective living, ‘alcoholic or not’. I believe this to be true. I have found it to be so in my own life.

I believe it is a perfect fit with the current interest in spirituality, monastic lifestyles and rules of life generally.

There is already a Christian version: Celebrate Recovery  This though is still focused on overcoming specific disorders, while my focus is on a way of life and a way of organising church for all.

The 12 traditions of AA are the principles by which AA organises its affairs. Here again I believe they can offer a model for church organisation and mission. Looking at the problems faced by the mainstream denominations they seem rooted in issues of authority, control, power, prestige, money and inappropriate professionalism, aka 'clericalism'. The 12 traditions are designed explicitly with the purpose of avoiding these traps.

Few of us are free from the effects of the diseases of pride, greed, arrogance, lust, selfishness, anger, sloth, envy, despair, to name but a few. Many of us are addicted to self destructive, repetitive thought and behaviour patterns if not to substances. The 12 steps and 12 traditions offer us individually and collectively a path to healing and liberation.

It is a way of living. The early Christians were called followers of The Way. Christianity was a distinctive way of life, not just a set of religious beliefs and practices.

The Promises, that are read in many A.A. Meetings can be found on page 83-84, of the Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous.

THE A.A. PROMISES

If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and selfpity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us—sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.

*****************

I believe these promises have universal application and are the promises of God to all of us.

I commend the principles and literature of AA, Al-Anon and Alateen to you if you are looking to improve your life, spiritually and emotionally.

I commend AA, Al-Anon and Alateen to you if your life is or has been affected by the disease of alcoholism. Do not be frightened or ashamed. You will meet people just like you who will understand you, befriend you and share with you the tools of recovery.

Many AA and Al-Anon meetings are open to anyone interested. So if you want to find out what happens at a meeting, how they are conducted, just visit. I can guarantee that it will be an immensely moving, enriching and humbling experience.

I am going to continue exploring the application of the steps and traditions to the Christian life on this blog.

The opinions expressed in this blog are my own and are not affiliated to, approved by or endorsed by AA, Al-Anon, or Alateen.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Religious Soup



Freefoto Vegetable Soup

The Nepalis are very proud of their tradition of religious tolerance.   This was not always the case but has been a particular feature of Nepali culture since at least 1990. Everyone we met was keen to explain this. Yes, there have been some exceptions in its history, including recently, but overall they practice what they preach, or at least aspire to, and perhaps for all of us the struggle to achieve our aspirations is as much as we can manage sometimes. A matter of progress not perfection.  Their society comprises Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jains, Christians, Kirantis, Sikh, Bahais and 'others'.

Originally Nepal was a Hindu kingdom but since May 2006 has been a secular state.  Religious tolerance is enshrined in the constitution.

“No discrimination shall be made against any citizen in the application of general laws on the grounds of religion, race, sex, caste, tribe or ideology or any of them.”

But change of religion was not permitted until after 1990.

“Any person shall have the freedom to profess and practice his own religion as coming down to him from time immemorial with regard to the traditional customs, but no person shall be entitled to convert the religion of any other person.”

According to the authors of the book ‘Religions in Nepal’, (T C Majupuria and Rohit Kumar ISBN 99933-30-56-6)

If a person wanted to convert to Christianity they could cross the border into India, be baptised there, and return as a Christian. Likewise with conversion to other religions.

Since 1990 these restrictions have been lifted. “Enticement or coercion to change someone’s religion is banned.” But; “To change one’s religion at one’s own free will is now legal.”

There was a Gideon’s Bible in our hotel room in Kathmandu.  Supplied by the Kathmandu branch of the Gideon organisation.

In the Hindu scripture ‘Bhagavad Gita,’ the Lord Krishna says ‘whosoever follows any faith and worships me under whatsoever denomination in whatsoever form with steadfastness, his faith shall I indeed reinforce’.

Hinduism has been described as” not a religion but a complex medley of faiths” (Slusser 1982). Majupuria and Kumar say “Some call this religion a fellowship of religions because it literally absorbs the faith of others."


flickr nc_hiker

Although Hinduism is perhaps the most inclusive and syncretistic of all religions non Hindus are not allowed in certain temples and areas.

During the visit to the Hindu Pashupatinath Temple our Buddhist guide talked about Hindu and Buddhist festivals and holy days of which there are a great number. It seems that both Hindus and Buddhists are happy to celebrate each other’s festivals and holidays. The book ‘Religions in Nepal’ suggest that in some areas there is in practice very little distinction between the two religions which have almost become blended.

Comments from our group were approving of this and the consensus seemed to be that it was something to emulate. I felt they would agree with  Sri Ramakrishna  "God can be realized through all paths. All religions are true. The important thing is to reach the roof. You can reach it by stone stairs or by wooden stairs or by bamboo steps or by a rope. You can also climb up by a bamboo pole."

The general consensus seemed to be that the provision of opportunities for celebrations, parties and holidays was the main function of religion and the more the merrier. I thought of my daughter's Indian friends at school who celebrated Christmas, although not for its religious reasons.

I also felt slightly uncomfortable because as a Christian I felt that I ought to think this was somehow wrong, that surely the Christian belief is in salvation through Christ alone.  That it was somehow almost a form of betrayal to even appear to agree with the idea that all religions are equally valid.  I was suprised because I have always been very interested in other religions and have found my own faith much enriched by them and by some of their scriptures.

I thought of the command of the Lord Jesus Christ that we should all be one. And how us Christians have managed not to be one.

I also remembered that Christianity itself has also been very good at blending with and absorbing other faiths as it got established. Taking over and Christianising existing sacred sites and symbols. In fact, I am sure I have read somewhere that this was a policy and process recommended by early church leaders to missionaries.

In her book ‘The Making of the Creeds’ Frances Young suggests that the emerging Christian religion was in danger of being absorbed into the religious soup of the time, especially, Gnosticism. The tremendous battles that took place determining exactly what correct Christian belief was and who could claim to be a Christian were in part the product of resistance to this process of enculturation.  Also in reinforcing the monotheistic yet trinitarian beliefs distinctive to Christianity, so that it did not get absorbed into polytheism.


freefoto tomato soup
I sometimes wonder if clinging to the forms of religion, especially the more authoritarian structures, has now outlasted its usefulness and has become more of a straitjacket for Christians and a barrier to those seeking faith. Perhaps we should take it a bit easier, let go and let God.


My personal experience and observation is that God does not seem nearly as picky about the religious company we keep or the finer points of liturgy, doctrine and dogma and organisational strucures and authority as we are.

Recently I have been listening to testimonies by people who have or had little or no formal religious belief or theology but asked for help from a God they were not necessarily even sure they believed in, and how God responded.

I am a big fan of Rabbi Lionel Blue who wrote a book called 'My affair with Christianity' and reconciled this attraction to Christianity with his Jewish faith and identity.

The Dalai Lama takes a very flexible approach, and he sees this flexibility and openness to change and adaptation as one of the benefits of exile and key to the dissemination of Buddhist ideas in the West. In ‘A Policy of Kindness’ in a talk to Western Buddhists, he makes a distinction between cultural heritage and religion itself, between the essence of a religion and the superficial ceremonial or ritual level. Buddhism has in the past incorporated the culture of the societies, Indian and Tibetan, in which it found itself.

“From this viewpoint, the incorporation of Western culture into Buddhism may also be possible. The essence of Buddhist teachings does not change; wherever it goes it is suitable; however, the superficial aspects – certain rituals and ceremonies – are not necessarily suitable for a new environment; those things will change. How they will change in a particular place we cannot say”.

“When under new circumstances the social system and way of social thinking change, certain aspects of a culture may no longer be useful. If…there are some aspects of the old culture which are not useful in modern daily life, they should be modified, and other aspects which are still meaningful and useful should be retained. You should try to combine that culture and Buddhism.”

“As Buddhist, while we practice our own teaching, we must respect other faiths, ….We must recognise and appreciate their contribution to human society…The adopting of a right attitude toward other faiths is particularly important for new Buddhists to keep in mind.”

Meister Eckhart : Christian mystic, condemned as a heretic in his day, but remained influential,  and has since enjoyed some measure of rehabilitation, although not formally recognised.

"Those who seek God through settled forms risk finding the forms and losing God".

“We find people who like the taste of God in one way and not in another, and they want to have God only in one way of contemplation, not in another.I raise no objection, but they are quite wrong.”[German sermon 13a, trans M.O’C. Walshe]

More from Sri Ramakrishna  Hindu mystic, saint and philosopher:

“It is not good to feel that my religion alone is true and other religions are false. The correct attitude is this: My religion is right, but I do not know whether other religions are right or wrong, true or false. I say this because one cannot know the true nature of God unless one realises Him.”

“If there are errors in other religions, that is none of our business. God, to whom the world belongs, takes care of that.”

flickr ruthieki

The Dalai Lama: “The most important thing is practice in daily life; then you can know gradually the true value of religion. Doctrine is not meant for mere knowledge but for the improvement of our minds. In order to do that it must be part of our life. If you put religious doctrine in a building and when you leave the building depart from the practices, you cannot gain its value.”

Our Lord Jesus Christ  must have the last word Matthew 5 

The Gospel of Matthew Chapter 5 through to 7 gives comprehensive instructions on how to live the religious life. Including:

1"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

3"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.

7"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

****************

17Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

21"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' 23Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'

Matthew 15

1Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2"Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don't wash their hands before they eat!"

3Jesus replied, "And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 4For God said, 'Honor your father and mother' and 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.'5But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,' 6he is not to 'honor his father' with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

8" 'These people honor me with their lips,

but their hearts are far from me.

9They worship me in vain;

their teachings are but rules taught by men.'"

10Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen and understand. 11What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.' "

Food for thought

************


bricolage on flicker

Friday, 11 June 2010

A New Hero

A New Hero for my Collection

One of God’s many blessings and gifts to me is that over the years since I committed my life to Him I have acquired a number of unlikely friends, role models, exemplars and mentors. Many of them have been dead in the flesh in this world for a very long time, but their examples and words live on to inspire me. Some of these are the Saints of the Christian Church.

In recent years I have taken up a new hobby. I collect heroes and heroines. Not just anyone. I am very discriminating. Quality not quantity is the hallmark of my collection.

My Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and my husband are of course my top Premier League heroes. Anyone who wants to dispute my husband’s seat at the Lord’s right hand should try being married to me for over 30 years.

Next are Nelson Mandela, Bishop Desmond Tutu. St Therese of Lisieux, Margaret Smith, Evelyn Gray (no, you are unlikely to have heard of Margaret and Evelyn!). In no particular order or hierarchy.

In Nepal I met (metaphorically speaking) an another. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, God King of Tibet in exile. And I would like to introduce him to you.
                                                        abhikrama's photostream on flickr


                          
                                                          Nrbelex's photostream on flickr


I had heard and read a bit about Buddhism generally and Tibetan Buddhism in the West but knew very little about the country.

I had heard of the Dalai Lama. I vaguely knew that he is supposed to be the reincarnation of previous Dalai Lamas and was found at a very young age. This being the way Tibetans choose their leader. I knew that the Chinese had taken over Tibet and pretty much destroyed their spiritual culture and heritage. But that was about all.

Then last year I read Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer. A Nazi officer, he escaped from a British POW camp in India in 1944 and ended up in Tibet where he became a tutor of the then young Dalai Lama. A rattling good yarn (couldn’t resist that, sorry), and a fascinating insight into Tibet before the Chinese invasion.

I still didn’t make much connection with the Dalai Lama as he became after the invasion.

Hinduism and Buddhism are the majority religions in Nepal. The Lord Buddha was born in Nepal. One of the largest Buddhist Stupas in the world, referred to as the Buddhist Vatican, is Boudhanath in Kathmandu. A World Heritage Site. The Nepal government welcomed the Tibetan refugees when they fled Tibet and built a camp for them which is still occupied by the Tibetan refugees today. We visited it. Here you can see some of the houses and the monastery.  It is all very well kept, neat and tidy.  There is a gift shop, plus a lot of stalls selling touristy stuff.  Also a large carpet shop which also sells traditional handbags.





India also took in Tibetan refugees and became the permanent home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile.

But the world generally and also India and Nepal found it politically inconvenient to give too much encouragement to theTibetans, or show too much partisanship, preferring not to put relationships with China at risk.

Our guide and minder was a Nepali Buddhist and we heard a lot about the history and political situation. The tourist shops are full of books about Buddhism, Tibet and about and by the Dalai Lama. I have been reading: “The Art of Happiness” A record of conversations between the Dalai Lama and Dr Howard C Cutler. Also ‘A Policy of Kindness’ an anthology of writings by and about the Dalai Lama. I also have, but have not yet read, ‘Advice on Dying and Living a Better Life’ by the Dalai Lama.

The gift shop in the Tibetan Refugee Centre gives out free copies of the Dalai Lama’s Address to the Plenary Session of the European Parliament, Dec 2008 and the Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy for the Tibetan People. I was very moved by the shop person’s insistence on giving me several copies of these to give to my group members. Sadly only one person took them.

The reason he has joined my company of heroes is that, in the vernacular, he has walked his talk. His religion preaches non-violence and kindness and compassion to all sentient creatures. And this is how he has led his people in responding to the appalling actions by China.

He believes that we can and should be happy and that the practice of Buddhist spiritual principles in our lives, especially kindness, compassion and service to others will result in an increase in our happiness. I think that is a reasonable summary. His photographs often show his face smiling and alight with joy. Religion is not a grim thing for the Dalai Lama. I think he could teach us Christians a few lessons here.

He lives a life that exemplifies his monastic vows. He eats frugally. He lives modestly and frugally. He has few, if any, personal possessions. He does not travel first class.

In 1989 he was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in recognition of his leadership of his people and his contribution to world peace.

How easy it would have been to give way to actions of violent resistance and revenge as in so many other places of conflict. All the while protesting a desire for peace and an end to conflict. He has certainly come under pressure to sanction such things from younger Tibetans as time has gone on and the Chinese occupation and depradations continue.

Not the way of the Dalai Lama. It is thought that he may be the incarnation of the bodhisattva of infinite compassion, Avaloketeshvara (Tibetan: Chenrezi) although I do not think he claims this for himself. His daily prayer, with which he ended his Nobel Peace Prize Lecture, is:
OlivIreland's photostream on flickr
For as long as space endures,

And for as long as living beings remain,

Until then may I, too, abide

To dispel the misery of the world.

Amen to that.

abhikrama's photostream on flickr
 
 
 
 
 
 

Sunday, 6 June 2010

The Silence of Eternity Interpreted by Love

The Silence of Eternity

There was a particular quality to the silence in the country in Nepal. Kathmandu was bedlam. The noise was so unremitting that I couldn’t think. But away from city and the main roads the silence had an extraordinary depth.

It was more than just the absence of noise as you might get in any area away from traffic etc. I have been trying to work out why it was so distinctive.

I think it was because the countryside is about as close to pre-industrial as it’s possible to get.

There is very little motorised transport. Feet, bicycle, rickshaw or bicycle powered carts, ox carts, rowing boats are the means of transport. Little electricity. No motorised agricultural machinery – or not where we were. The fields were ploughed by hand or by ploughs pulled by oxen. Not many planes passing overhead.

No TV or radio noise coming from houses. Some people had TV but most didn’t. Few telephones or mobile phones, no ring tones.  No dishwashers, washing machines, or all manner of pinging or buzzing devices.

No TV or radio in the camps where we stayed. No electric sockets in the rooms so no means of plugging in any devices.

On the river we were asked not to talk because it would frighten the wildlife. I thought people would be unable to stop talking, because that is often the case. Silence for many is interpreted as ‘not applying to the very important things I have to say as long as I just hiss and whisper’. And it makes some people so uncomfortable they just have to say something to relieve the discomfort. But we all seemed to come under the spell of the silence. We had been told that Narayani River is holy because it leads into the Ganges, and it felt like sacred space. The emotion was one of awe.

There were no villages or tourist attractions on the banks. No power boats or water sports. No petrol engines at all. I don't think they are not allowed on the holy river.  No industrial developments.

A funeral site, the remains of the wooden pyre at the edge of the bank.

There were occasional groups of fishermen and their families camped on spits of land. But no noise from machinery. They did not have any machinery. It would probably frighten the fish anyway.



A very thin place.

I think the quality of the silence was so immense because of the complete lack of background noise we take for granted and are often unaware of because we are so accustomed to it and it is so rare to be in place so remote as not to be able to hear it at all.

Perhaps people’s lives are much more in tune with natural diurnal rhythms than ours. Without electricity it is normal to sleep when it is dark and be up and about in the daylight. The day and the night are less interchangeable.

With no street lighting, the ever present risk from the wild animals, and no transport, there is nothing to do and nowhere to go when darkness falls.

So the silence deepens as the sun sets and the night arrives.

As always it is important not to romanticise the apparent attraction of life without modern conveniences. But maybe it is important to consider that the price of our comforts may be more than we realise.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Making a Difference

Nepal is the sixth poorest country in the world.

Something that struck me very forcibly was how big a difference small things, and small amounts of money can make to the quality of life for an individual in a very poor country.

Although I see the pictures and articles in the news and in the charity literature seeing how people live for myself really brought home to me how comparatively rich we are, how much we take for granted and how far money can stretch there.

We visited a small coffee and honey farmer in the hills above Pokhara. 


I mean the farm is small not the farmer! He grows organic coffee and produces organic honey. I don’t know if he had a fair trade connection to sell his coffee and honey but I could see what a difference this could make.

We visited two schools created by and dependent on charitable giving. The Nepal government is trying to increase literacy levels. we were told this is improving but that for many children access to education is still very difficult. The importance of education is still not always appreciated by parents.

The furniture and equipment is so antiquated and basic.

We were asked to take gifts of things like pencils, crayons and paper. £50 GBP will fund a child for a year.

Himaljyoti Community School

Tharu Tiger Mountain school

The Tharu school has a special focus to give schooling to orphans in particular. A child can be orphaned by the death of one parent. If the father dies and the mother remarries the new husband might not accept the children of the previous husband. If the mother dies a stepmother might not treat the stepchildren equally with her own children. These orphans are then dependant on other family, grandparents, aunts, uncles.
At this school, just as important as education, is providing two meals a day and a school uniform including shoes. The clothes are kept at the school and the children change into them when they arrive in the morning. The orphan children might not otherwise have sufficient food to eat or clothes to wear.  They are also bathed once a week and have regular medical care.

The trust that funds this school had also recently become involved in a scheme to help very poor families become more self sufficient. The family is given a goat. The first kid is given back to the charity and given in turn to another family. The family also has to do voluntary work, labour, for the school.

I also saw another school, not a formal visit, I just happened to be waiting there during the break time while the rest of the group were walking over a suspension bridge.  The path onto the bridge was past the school and playground.


Typical suspension bridge in Nepal harunire on flickr

This is not the bridge, but gives the general idea.  I decided to give it a miss. I think this was a state school and seemed to be even poorer and less equipped than the charity ones. Many of the children were wearing dirty, ragged tattered clothes.

The children came from what would we would call ‘ribbon development’ along the roadside. The homes were just old planks of wood roughly nailed together. Shelters without doors.  The only word I could think of was hovel. Either privacy is not valued in Nepal culture or it is an uaffordable luxury.  The traditional homes in the country villages seemed like palaces in comparison. In the towns I saw a lot of structures which seemed to be just a basic shop or storage shed which turned out also to be a place for living.

We saw horribly disabled and disfigured lepers laid out to beg in the entrance to the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu. I am ashamed to say that I could feel the fear and revulsion that leads a society with no other means of disease control to isolate and exclude victims.

When you read in  Nepal Leprosy Trust  New SADLE Nepal  or Oxfam, about how the creation of small craft workshops, provision of a sewing machine, a fishing net, a goat or rickshaw, will enable a family to become economically independent, that is true. We saw the tiny workshops with one or two sewing machines, and tiny businesses.

Most houses do not have a personal supply of fresh water. There are public water pumps. People not only collect water from them, we saw adults and children bathing at them and doing laundry.

in Kathmandu  we saw people bathing themselves in the street from bowls.  In one case we didn't just see the person, we stepped around her.

In one village some of the houses had huge concrete water containers in the gardens. These are provided by a government initiative with UN support to improve water storage and availability. They catch the rain during the monsoons. We were told that this makes a big difference.

It has made me a great deal more conscious of my spending habits and the use of my money.  I cannot solve all the problems of Nepal or the world, but I can make a difference.  I have a better understanding of how comparitively rich I am and how much of the world's resources I consume in order to have a lifestyle I take for granted.

So I am very much more motivated now to try to buy fairly traded responsibly sourced products. To consider how my lifestyle choices affect others and to be more organised and intentional about my charitable giving.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Food for Body and Soul

Food - Mind, Body and Spirit


In our group of fifteen English people the majority of us were significantly overweight, including myself. Not my husband who is as thin as a rake and has trouble staying at a healthy weight. We had plenty to eat in Nepal. Towards the end even I was struggling to finish all the food we were given. But when I got back I had not put on any weight. This surprised me as I thought I was eating far more than normal.

There was little obesity in Nepal. The people who were carrying a bit of surplus weight were not obese and seemed to be the more affluent city dwellers in sedentary occupations and maybe eating a more westernised diet. We did not see any malnutrition. People didn’t seem to be going short of food.

And yet a lot of the street food was deep fried in batter or pastry.

What we didn’t see was shops selling the sort of convenience food and snacks that we take for granted. No supermarkets with shelves stacked with cakes, biscuits, puddings, ready meals etc. No newsagents with shelves of chocolate and other sweets. These may exist, and maybe we didn’t go to those parts of towns, but I don’t think these sorts of shops and products are the norm for most ordinary Nepali people. There were shops selling packaged snacks and sweets, but not on anything like the scale you see here.

The normal diet for the average Nepali seems to consist largely of fresh food that is locally grown and cooked daily. The staple meal for breakfast, lunch and supper is rice and dhal. We were served a salad with every meal.

And of course the average Nepali leads a far more physically active life than we do. Just growing, harvesting, preparing and cooking the food, never mind anything else.
 
Cooking is mostly done outside, or in an open roofed area outside. Even in the towns a lot of cooking is done outside the house or on the street. It is done on an open fire or brick/clay oven construction, with holes in the top to stand pots on. Maybe bottled gas, although this is more common in the towns. Here is a photo of a very poor woman with her cooking fire on the street in Bhaktapur, a mediaeval town not far from Khatmandu.

Most Nepalese don’t have the sort of easy access to instant food that we do, so they eat when the food is ready and that’s it. In the country there is no popping something into the microwave, dialling up a pizza delivery on the spur of the moment, or popping out to the local shop at any time of day or night.

It was like that when I was a child. My mother cooked 3 meals a day from scratch, no fridge, freezer or microwave. The only takeaway was the fish and chip shop, and it only sold fish and chips and meat pies. We knew when mealtimes were and we made sure we were there. Restaurant eating was for the well off and posh, or very special occasions. Ice creams were holiday treats and strictly rationed.

This is a very balanced healthy approach. Very Benedictine in its principles. Our use and abuse of food is a spiritual issue. This idea is found in most religions. (I would say all, but then someone will come along and tell me there is a religion somewhere where eating to excess of luxury foods is the gateway to heaven).

I can remember how all this changed as we grew up, and our parents and the country became more prosperous in the decades after the war, and we all loosened our belts in every sense of the expression.

It’s important not to be overly sentimental about the joys of a lack of modern appliances, and also to appreciate the wonderful abundance of readily available cheap food - we never have to worry about a lack of food - but maybe we have become desensitised to their drawbacks and how we can misuse them.  How they encourage our tendency to greed.

The whole experience made me give a lot of thought to my eating habits at home, and just how healthy or unhealthy they are. We eat very little convenience food or sugar, I cook nearly everything from scratch and we even grow some of our own vegetables, I thought we ate a healthy diet. Maybe I am more culturally conditioned than I realised.

It made me realise just how culturally conditioned a lot of our ideas about food are. What we eat, when we eat it, (why not rice and dhal for breakfast?), portion sizes and proportions. For instance, at breakfast what they called ‘meusli’ was just a sprinkle of nuts, seeds and grains, no sugar, on a small bowl of porridge or yoghourt. Nothing was restricted, but they served us what they considered normal portions and proportions.   We had apple crumble one day for dessert, it was half the size or less of the apple crumble we had at a well known pub chain recently.  But we didn't feel hungry or deprived by the smaller portion.

Since we got back I have tried to adopt a more Nepali style to our food. I love the flavours.  I am very taken with the rice and dhal idea. Making a big pot of rice and another of dhal and just eating it every day with different salads and veg. I have tried to become more organised with the cooking and mealtimes.

The human stomach is about the size of a fist. We can train our stomachs to expand to only feel full on large quantities of food, but we don’t actually need anything like the amount we think we do to feel full. Especially if we lead a sedentary lifestyle.

This is what my husband tells me. He can eat the occasional large meal, but he will be so full afterwards he probably won’t eat again for maybe 12 or 18 hours. Hence he can eat whatever he likes and remains thin. He listens to his body.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

The Power of a Symbol

The Power of a Symbol



Did this shock you?  Was it not what you were expecting?  Driving from Kathmandu airport to our hotel I was shocked to see  doors decorated with swastikas.  I knew that it had originally been an auspicious symbol of well being but did not know it was still in use.  I also didn't know that it is a Buddhist symbol as well as a Hindhu symbol.  I think that this must be quietly ignored by western buddhists.  Or that it was popular in the west as a good luck symbol right up until it was taken over by the Nazis.  About the swastika

We saw lots of swastika symbols both old and modern.  Although I noticed that it didn't feature in the tourist souvenir trade, or not very obviously.  It was not everywhere or even particularly obvious.  More common on older buildings, but still in use on new ones.  The new ones were often brightly coloured and decorated. Very pretty.

I never quite got over the initial visceral reaction of horror.  Interesting that the astonishing evil of the Nazi regime has all but eradicated the original meaning of one of the most ancient symbols of the world.

I was also struck by other traditional symbols. 



Some of these reminded me of what we call Celtic design.  I suspect a lot of what we  consider our Christian religious symbolic heritage has a much older origin.  And so predictably my thoughts were led to



Not as old as the swastika but equally well known.  And despite all our efforts to associate it with acts of violence and oppression it still remains a universally recognised symbol of God's love for us, a symbol of selfless self giving, peace, forgiveness, reconcilation, sanctuary. 

Harder to find in Nepal than a swastika, but there were a few.  Nepal prides itself on its culture of religious tolerance and the Christian religion is generally respected.  Obviously I am talking here about the present day, and no doubt there are exceptions to the rule.  But this is the image of the country that all the Nepali people we met were keen to convey.  In fact I have a book on it.  So more on this later.

PS I am getting a bit bogged down with the formatting.