A new for look Soul Space

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Those of you who are Soul Space regulars will already know that the name is changing in line with a whole new online launch. We are now called Heart and Soul and this is the new blog which aims to share news, events, reflections and themes for the fortnightly sessions.  As you are aware, I will be moving on in the summer to pastures new but am committed to offering support to all Heart and Soul members old or new.The new look Heart and Soul will offer;

  • An online space where all members can connect and follow the themes.
  • News of our regular retreats which will be available to all Heart & Soul members
  • Reflections on a variety of Heart and Soul themes
  • A place to share

Watch out also for a new facebook page which you should  follow in order to get the latest news and also share with your friends those pearls of wisdom that Heart and Soul is always digging for.

 

Two Natures

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 Above is a picture of my dog Blu, as a puppy and as he is now as a 4 year old.. He is a bit strange looking which is down to him being a cross between a Rottweiler and a Husky. But the oddness does not stop at his looks. He also has two very distinct natures. The Rottie side of him is silent, protective, solid, loyal, gentle and loving within the family pack. The Husky side of him is playful in the pack, boisterous, needs lots of exercise and needs to know who is pack leader.

So there are definitely two natures to this dog and sometimes those natures really compete…such as when he want to guard the house when the postman walks up the path but at the same time his Husky tail is wagging like mad wanting to play.

So why am I telling you this? Well one of the main points I want to explore is that we as human beings are ourselves creatures with two very distinct and sometimes competing natures. What I mean by that is that as humans we are both both divine and earthy in nature…No matter who we are.

 Here are verses concerning our heavenly and earthly natures:

 Genesis 1:27

‘God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.’

 Psalm 8

‘When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honour.’

 Genesis 2:7

‘Then the lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living being.’

 Our earthly and heavenly natures within have been described as kindred and contrary natures. I quite like that description, it’s easy to relate to!

 Our earthly nature is designed to help us function in the world, it is egocentric, it is concerned with survival, with meeting our basic needs for food and water and shelter. And of course we need it because without it we would struggle to survive.  But the downside of our earthly nature can make us territorial. We want to know who we can trust and who we need to defend ourselves from. And defend ourselves we do!  We build barriers and fences. We create all sorts of divisions based on creed, culture ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation,education and so on. And very often we fight each other based on these differences and our perceived threat they bring to our sense of safety. Ultimately this side of us causes us to look after ourselves and those closest to us. Some of this nature is driven by instinct; in the same way that Blu instinctively guards his home and family.. Such survival instinct is  in built into all creatures whether dog or human or anything else.

 But  we humans are different from other creatures because hidden within us, in the deepest portion of our soul is our heavenly nature, like a precious diamond hidden in the depths of the earth’s carbon layers. Some writers describe this nature as our true self that emerges when we trust God enough to be able to let go of our earthly egotistical selves.

 From time to time its radiance shines through and beyond our basic earthly instincts such as in our acts of kindness and grace, or in our offering forgiveness and unconditional  love. It shines through in those times when we build bridges instead of defences and when we see our differences as something to be celebrated rather than deplored. This is our heavenly nature lifting us up above our worldly self to focus on something both within and beyond. A higher purpose if you like….

 Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live solely according to this divine nature. Mainly we don’t because the influence of our earthly nature is so strong like a gravitational pull – that rising above our worldly ways is really hard.

 Yet Jesus shows us precisely what it is to be fully human, but at the same time living according to the fully divine nature. Not only does Jesus do this but he also calls us to the same way of life. To live according to that divine nature. This living the divine nature is what Paul was describing when he said ‘It is not I who live but Christ who lives in me’.  

 But it’s not an easy call!

 We only have to watch the disciples struggle with their earthly natures as they betray and deny, as they falter and blame, accuse and battle to be seen to be better than the rest of them, to know that  their  battle to live out their divine nature was every bit as tough as ours.  But Jesus never doubted that it was possible for the human soul to raise above the earthly nature and everything he teaches is precisely geared towards this – to enabling that deep treasure within to surface and to shine radiantly in every part of our lives.

 One thing we should understand though is that this is not about morality, it is not about acting out a set of social and behavioural rules designed to make us fit the religious system.

 Rather it is about an inner spiritual transformation that, by grace,  changes us from the soul outwards rather than from the law inwards. But we must understand that we are not passive in this work. Undoubtedly God initiates our growth towards the emergence of the true self but we do play our part in aspiring to live according to our divine nature. It requires our active participation. It is a decision that we make!

 Living as earthly beings is not a decision,  we can do it without thinking about it. Indeed we go about our lives on automatic pilot a lot of the time, reacting to the world without even thinking about our actions and the effect they have on others. If someone upsets us we can retaliate without even thinking about it. But to offer grace to that  person instead is an active decision that we make. Forgiving someone is an active decision that we make, loving the unlovable is an active decision that we make…ignoring them is not a decision it is the default position of the ego!

 Do you see what I mean?

 Now one of the features that is unique to human beings is our ability to be self conscious, to think and to decide for ourselves how we will act. Dogs can’t do that! If Blu has a piece of sirloin steak in his bowl he can’t think to himself  ‘Oh, the poor dog next door never gets much to eat I think I’ll give this steak to him’, Blu has no  capacity to make that decision….his automatic pilot would wolf it down before his bowl touched the ground!

 We do though! We can look at those in need and decide whether to act from our self center or from our divine centre. We have the capacity to make that decision and this is critical in shifting towards living according to our true self…Living as conscious decision makers instead of on automatic pilot.

 Now in many passages in the gospels we hear Jesus telling us to keep awake. What he means by this is for us to be alert to our own reactions, intentions and decisions. To choose to live according to the divine nature at every moment. This is what he calls being prepared. It demands that we are self aware, self observant and ready to choose in the moment. The alternative is to be asleep, not really consciously deciding anything but letting our base instincts choose for us.

 So let us then think about the importance of being intentional in how we live our lives. We are called to raise our conscious awareness in the direction of our divine nature and as we realise this we also notice how God offers us, in every moment of our waking lives, in all our dealings with others and even in the silence, opportunities to become imitators of Christ that this true calling may be fulfilled.

The True Light

 Reading John 1:1-14 made me think  about stories of light and the snippets of information about light which have captured my attention over the years.

 And the first one has to be the very opening verses of the Bible, the story of creation.

Of course if we start at the beginning, the very beginning, the opening stages of the drama of creation when all is in darkness, we hear that the very first words that God speaks are.

 “Let there be light”

 That’s how the whole thing kicks off – God speaks into the darkness and commands that light comes into being, and it does and the first thing that we hear about this light is that it is good. This light is a good thing;

 This light pushed back the darkness, it provided the energy on which all other life forms in the whole of creation would be supported, it provided the measurement of time in that it gave us day and night, it would contribute to our well being and it gave aesthetic qualities to this new creation, light made things pleasing and beautiful and so Light, the very first thing in Gods creation was indeed good.

 Now here is a fascinating snippet of information about light

 Did you know that in darkness the flame from a candle can be seen with the naked eye from 15 miles away. I think that that is a truly astonishing if not profound. It tells us that when all is dark around us, no matter how tiny or distant the light seems to be there is something about the way in which we are constructed as human beings that equips us to us to search out the light.

 Yet another light story that has fascinated me over the years is the story of Albert Einstein who defined the theory of relativity which changed our entire notion about the construction of space and time.

But it is the story of how Einstein came up with the theory that fascinates me.

It all began as he imagined himself to be travelling on a beam of light, literally! He wondered how it would be to sit on such a beam and travel around the universe at the speed of light. And from these adventures of imagination the whole theory of relativity unfolded.

 So not only is there physical eyesight that enables us to see a candle at 15 miles, but there is also the vision that comes with our imagination. We have the ability to wonder and create within us all sorts of thoughts and transformational ideas for our unfolding lives.  And sometimes we will do that in bright and hope filled ways and sometimes  our pictures and thoughts and feelings and imaginings for the future are difficult and even frightening, so much so that a vision of hope is hard to grasp….. and we are left to wonder where the light is.

 My fourth reflection about light concerns someone who had known a very difficult time, a time when hope was hard to imagine. His name was Phillips Brooks born in 1835 in Boston. As a graduate of Harvard University he went on to become a teacher and this was a truly disastrous career choice for him, this time in his life has been variously described as humiliating and a complete failure. Quite stung by his experience he then hesitatingly went on to train for ministry and was ordained in 1860. He became Rector of a church in Philadelphia and it was whilst there that he asked for leave of absence for a year to reflect and to sort out his life. During that year he toured Europe and the holy land.

 It was Christmas Eve of that year, when on horseback he rode from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and by nightfall he found himself at the site known to be where the angels visited the shepherds to announce the birth of Christ. At ten O Clock on that same evening he went to the church of the nativity and standing close to the spot where Jesus was born became very deeply moved, emotionally and spiritually. It was on his return home having reflected on that special moment that he wrote the hymn

 O little town of Bethlehem,

 How still we see thee lie;

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep

The silent stars go by:

 But it is the next stanza that I want to draw our attention to, the verse continues with this;

 Yet in thy dark streets shineth

 The everlasting Light;

The hopes and fears of all the years

Are met in thee to-night.

 They are beautiful words to reflect upon and there is something about the way that Pillips writes that really captures that moment in the unfolding story of the journey of  humankind.

It is the moment of Christ’s birth, the moment when a very special light came into the world, a light with some pretty amazing qualities which the first chapter of John’s gospel is quire specific about.

  • It is a light that darkness not able to put out.

  • It is a light that gives light to everyone, regardless of race, colour or creed or circumstances.

  • It is a life giving light that offers real hope when all around seems dark

 Such a light is wrapped in mystery, it is deeply metaphysical and hard for us to understand……How can such an inextinguishable light be? And since it is not a light that we see with the naked eye how can it give light to everyone?

 This light of Christ, there though all eternity, in each and everyone of us calls us all to a way of life that defies all that our lower, egotistical selves could even imagine and has the potential to transform even those who, to our human minds have little prospect of finding hope or forgiveness.

Yet  it is in this light that heaven on earth becomes a real possibility for all of us. Yes even in these dark times in which  we seem to be living, that light cannot be extinguished.

But here is the rub. If you really want to live according to the light of Christ, and if you really want to see this world change then it has to begin with you. There is no use in pointing out another’s darkness and bemoaning how bad they are. Every time you do that you are not focused on allowing the light within YOU to shine, you are simply focused on someone else’s darkness…..

 You, see living in the Light of Christ is a decision, a minute by minute choice, being forgiving is a decision, loving others is a decision, refusing to make value judgements is a decision, being a peacemaker is a decision, dealing graciously with others is a decision. This is what it is to be awake, to be conscious, to live in light and to be ready to decide in each moment how we will respond to the world until living in the light becomes our default position..

 Many people don’t realise they have this choice, instead they respond to the world as if on automatic pilot – living in fear, filled with negative thoughts,  believing the media junk that so often seems to have our our remaining in darkness as the number one agenda; and that kind of darkness can be scary and disempowering…… but it can never overcome the light in you or in the world at large.

 So if you want to see the world change it starts with you!!! What choices will you make then? How will you keep watch over your thoughts and decisions to ensure that you are attuning yourself to that light within instead of succumbing to the fear and discouragement that abounds in the world?

 Let us just imagine for a moment that on that night in a stable in Bethlehem this light really did enter this world in the form of a tiny baby. Imagine it to be a light so profound that the darkness in our lives, or even all the darkness in the world simply cannot extinguish it.

What if we were to believe in the hope that such a light would bring!

 We would of course have to remember that this is not the human version of hope that so easily can be shattered – rather it is an eternal hope – beyond our comprehension. Even Einstein with all his logical prowess and soaring imagination could not begin to fathom a nanosliver of the hope of this light…

 (Nanosliver; a measurement I have just made up to denote something infinitesimally small)

 Yet it is there, it is there in scripture, it is there in human kind, it has changed lives, it has brought light into the darkest of places…..But above all it is in you and so, if you want to see this world transformed begin with the light that is in you and the decisions you will take from now to bear the Christ light for the hope of the world.

Ode of Solomon

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My heart was split and did a flower appear;

and grace sprang up; and it bore fruit for my God.

You split me, tore my heart open,

filled me with love.

You poured your spirit into me.

I knew you as I knew myself.

My eyes are radiant with your spirit;

my nostrils filled with your fragrance.

My ears delight in your music,

and my face is covered with your dew.

Blessed are the men and women

who are planted on you earth in your garden,

who grow as your trees and flowers grow,

who transform their darkness to light.

Their roots plunge into darkness;

their faces run towards the light.

There is infinite space in your garden;

all men, all women are welcome here;

all they need to do is enter.

Translation (unknown) of Ode 11

Spiritual Hospitality

Hospitality is listed as one of the gifts of the Spirit and  is concerned with representing God’s kindness to guests, strangers or visitors and making them feel welcome. Most often we think of this in terms of offering food or lodging or fellowship, in other words offering physical sustenance and friednship to those in need.

 One of my favourite reflections on hospitality is given by Henri Nouwen in his book entitled The Wounded Healer, in which he focuses on hospitality as being an expression of Grace. He says that we are all weary travelers on a journey and from time to time we are all in need of hospitality, except that we can only really offer hospitality when we are comfortable in our own home. In other words, relaxed enough to allow the guest to simply be.

In this sense hospitality is a metaphore for our being spiritually at peace with ourselves enough to the extent that we feel no judgement of the other, regardless of ethnicity, creed, gender or sexual orientation or any other such characteristic that can make us feel very uncomfortable within ourselves. Viewed this way prejudice then is the antithesis of hospitality. Prejudice and intolerance are derived from a sense of separation from the other, we see the other person as different from us and judge this to be a bad thing. Deep down difference feels threatening, we don’t understand and that makes us feel uncomfortable. The ego steps in to protect our interests and rather than showing kindness and hospitality (spiritual or practical) we close the door and hope that the other will move on quickly.

The great commandments to ‘Love God with all you hear and mind and soul and strength and to love you neighbour as your self’,  are a formula which lead us not only  to feeling comfortable in our own home but also to a genuine desire to offer hospitality to our neighbour, whoever they might be.

Firstly Loving God with everything we have derives from that desire for intimacy and personal inner relationship, to such an extent extent that it pervades all aspects of our very being.  When we are on this path of seeking an ever closer communion with God we begin to discover that the edges between where we end and God begins are fuzzy – we begin to partake in the divinity and lose our sense of separation. Now when this happens we also begin to lose our sense of separation from others too. It is as if there is a growing sense of oneness within us. It is a transforming process that causes us to feel deep peace within our soul – or in other words, comfortable in our own home. From this place loving our neighbour as our self comes easily because we don’t feel those hard boundaries that mark us as different and we are no longer threatened. Our security comes from our relationship with God within us.

And so we come to a state where we can extend hospitality without any desire to judge. Or, as Henri Nowen puts it we become the host who gives their guests ‘a friendly space where they can be free to come and go, to be close and distant, to rest and to play, to talk and to be silent, to eat and to fast. The paradox indeed is that hospitality asks for the creation of and empty pace where the guest can find his own soul.’

Zaccheaus

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In Luke  19:1-10  we hear the story of Zacchaeus

Zacchaeus as a chief Tax collectors would not have been a popular. Tax collectors were thought of as dishonest, fraudulent and  thieving with regard to the amount they would charge on top of the taxes they were collecting. Generally they they got away with this because as long as the taxes were paid then the Roman governor’s really didn’t care how much the collector were making. They were despised by those who worked and had to pay so much in taxes.  Quite right too we might think but of course this is not a literal event but an allegory pointing to a deeper mystery where we find Zacchaeus surprisingly closer to the truth than we might first think.

 One of the first observations we make about Zacchaeus is that he is short in stature. Actually the point here is not that he is short but that he could not ‘catch a glimpse of Jesus’.

 Difficulty in seeing in stories like this are usually metaphors that almost always point  us in the direction of lack of spiritual sight. It’s as if there is recognition that in Jesus that there is something profound and important but they haven’t yet ‘seen’ it for themselves. I remember being in this place in my own faith journey. I remember in Sunday school hearing stories of Jesus but try as hard as I might I couldn’t get it. I couldn’t catch a glimpse of it.  But somewhere in me a burning desire to see had been kindled.

 I remember too, in my late teens, watching a television programme about a prison chaplain who had been working with some of the most hardened criminals. The programme was about how one of the inmates lives had been turned around by by the chaplains approach. The chaplain began a weekly programme of meditating on stories from the gospels. To begin with these men saw this as a great opportunity to get out of their cells for an extra hour a week.  But this soon changed for one man who began to realise there was a transforming power in these stories. He didn’t yet get it but a desire to see was kindled and this desire became a yearning for more (rather than merely the opportunity to get out of the cell).

 He then described the moment when his spiritual eyes were suddenly opened and he saw who Jesus was, it was like an awakening for him.  This was a transformational moment when his spiritual sight because and his desire was realised.

 Desire for God is a powerful driving force in a person’s spiritual life – whether we are just beginning the journey or have become spiritually adept – this sense of yearning is a metaphysical process that enables the bond between God and the individual to be established. Indeed over time the yearning gets stronger it is experienced as a prayer and is designed to draw us into an ever deeper union.

 But let us consider Zacchaeus for a moment… Here was a man who was rich and had all the trappings of material wealth. One could imagine he could easily have been proud and arrogant.  And yet…

 Such was his longing to see Jesus that he was prepared to humiliate himself in front of the entire crowd by climbing a tree. How undignified was that! What kind of a fool would this wealthy man have made of himself amongst those who who already despised him.  Yet how great must have his desire been in order to drive him to humble himself before God.

 But in this undignified act of climbing the tree we discover  great keys to spiritual awakening…a yearning for God which humbles us as realisation begins to dawn. And even as we begin to  wake from our worldly slumber Christ is unveiled,  Zaccheus who has now seen and won’t ever unsee.

 ‘Zaccheus come down for I must come to your house today….’

 This is symbolic of the Christ energy awakening within Zacchaeus – not Jesus going to his literal house.

 That the crowds were scandalised show us that they were to busy worrying about other people’s lives (what Zacchaeus was doing and how Jesus was responding) to be personally awake enough, humble enough or desirous enough to want to experience the awakening within themselves.

 Judgement, pride,  lack of desire for truth and the soporific effect of literalism are the barriers that the human ego deploys in order to keep us as one of the crowd. Spiritual awakening begins with our burning desire to See God and our humility in approaching that sacred ground