Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

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A New Beginning…

August 22, 2011

Psalm 87: 1 He has founded his city on the holy mountain.

Psalm 87 (NIV)

1 He has founded his city on the holy mountain.
2 The LORD loves the gates of Zion
more than all the other dwellings of Jacob.
3 Glorious things are said of you, city of God:
4 “I will record Rahab and Babylon
among those who acknowledge me—
Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush—
and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.’”
5 Indeed, of Zion it will be said,
“This one and that one were born in her,
and the Most High himself will establish her.”
6 The LORD will write in the register of the peoples:
“This one was born in Zion.”
7 As they make music they will sing,
“All my fountains are in you.”

Sheffield at night (Saturday 20th August 2011)

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Fixing my life

November 28, 2010

Giving up on trying to be in control, I am learning to accept and appreciate the beauty of 'normal' life.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
I sometimes find myself shedding tears at the most unexpected moments.
I confess that it often happens late at night when I read the ‘Look inside’ sections of obscure books on amazon. It has happened tonight…and I feel blessed, literally as if someone has spoken a liberating good word over me.
Do you believe me when I say how welcome the tears are?
They are the end of my self-serving mechanical like reason. They represent a crossing-point, like those once manned by soldiers at the border points between Eastern Communist Bloc states and our Western Democratic ones. The tears are the transition through the heavily guarded check-point of self-determination into the short, but seemingly everlasting, solitary walk through ‘no-man’s land’ to the realm of mystery and spirit. I let go of ‘self-love’ and enter into the empty, open space of freedom from self.
Does this sound idealistic?
Futile or fanciful?
I don’t know. Maybe to some, even to many, it does.
Yet, for me it’s the quiet fulfilling of the aching longing that has tormented me all day, all night. The deep-seated drive to be alright, to be sorted, to be good, to be perfect, acceptable to others. At last at 11.30pm at night, I find my solace among the digital reproductions of the works of the dead authors of yesteryear.
Books, books, books…
Sometimes it feels as if these books are my only friends, my true comforters. Like gentle nurses and godly doctors of times gone by they treat my wounds gently. They unwrap the dressings, layer of cotton gauze upon layer of cotton gauze, taking note of the dried blood that has soaked the bandage.; aware of the discharged fluids – the poison that has seeped out from within. These authors and their words heal…and they heal the long way round. They whisper stories of words I know so well, but through familiarity have forgotten their true meaning. They go back to the beginning to stories and characters I feel I am a seasoned expert in and they tell me once more how what I thought I knew to be true was in fact just an ephemeral phantom. I realise again, and not for the first time that I am…but…a child! A novice…a complete beginner, who thinks himself an expert because he has finished his bottle of milk!
This death…This kindly release…to my ego…to my self…the writers bring. Yet, they do not bring their wisdom cruelly, so as to induce a shameful self-criticism, but deftly.  They are tender and welcome as a nurse or as my mother  used to bring a warm moist flannel to my head when I was feverish as a child. The water was warm, but in my burning fever it was ‘cool’. Coolness that took away pain. A human gesture which told you, you were loved and more than that it told you this infection and illness was not the end – it was transitory.That someone was in control as you drifted in and out of turmoil and consciousness. That someone would be waiting for you at the end, when you woke up. Revived, restored, alive again to a new day.
The authors and their works act as catalysts for me of divine healing. Their words for some reason tell me to let go of trying to fix my life. Only Mystery, only the holy can heal my ‘sickness’. Finally, I give up. I stop trying to be in control to dictate terms to God and the forces of nature and society on how my life should be.
I let it be.
I allow what is to be.
And give up trying to be in control.
……………………………………………..
A Prayer of thanks for emptiness
Thank you tears.
Thank you authors.
Thank you books.
Thank you death.
Thank you life.
Thank you holy, divine mystery…whoever you are!
Blessed be your name!
Yes, let it be so!
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A Night Sky Poem

August 23, 2010

There Will Be Stars

A poem by Paul Field

 

Watch the sky tonight

there will be stars

there are always stars

Sometimes hidden

by clouds

illusion

confusion

darkness

 

but there will always be stars

 

Sometimes one will fall

shoot across the timeless sky

and in an eternal split second burn brighter and shine

if we glimpse it we are blessed

 

It will scatter the diamonds of heaven around our feet and guide our

footsteps

for a few precious seconds of our journey

through clouds

illusion

confusion

darkness

 

The stars that remain can burn on brighter from it’s loss

become more radiant through having shared

it’s power

energy

joy

grace

it’s beautiful, priceless, irreplaceable verse in the eternal song

 

There will always be stars

when we glimpse one on its fragile, fleeting journey and touch its light

we have been truly blessed

Watch the sky tonight

there will be stars

 

 

Words copyright of Paul Field. Taken from the album Rites of Passage  by Paul Field and Dan Wheeler, available from www.elevationmusic.com

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Being spiritual, yet remembering to be physical

July 13, 2010

It’s been weeks since I have posted on Dark Nights White Soul, mostly because I have had been given the great opportunity to start a new job  – namely, working as a leader in a small Fresh Expression of church in the East Midlands of England. I have suddenly – almost over night – been given the job of my hopes, prayers and dreams the chance to encourage others to grow in their spiritual journey with God (or without God some might argue). It’s an amazing privilege. One that has been hard-won over many years of frustration with institutional church; mostly in that I have felt institutional religion has often frustrated the Church’s mission to help ordinary people experience the love and forgiveness of God. All of a sudden, I have been given a formative role within a relatively young church, less than twenty years old. It feels like all my birthdays have come at once! It is a refreshing change to the bleakness of desert and night spirituality.

Ok, so understandably as a new church leader much of my role is to be a spiritual conduit to others, in this case, to be a channel of God’s love and wisdom to a vibrant, yet in some ways tender young Christian community. So why the need to ‘remember to be physical’? Aren’t we always physical any way? Don’t we need to forget our physicality and become more spiritual? more prayerful?

It’s perhaps a contradiction, but in the Christian and Judaic tradition spirituality or prayer and engagement with Holiness is not so much an escape from physicality, but rather a heightening of one’s appreciation of the physical worth of creation. Unlike some Eastern traditions or the western mediterranean cult of gnosticism Judaism and Christianity were intended to be deeply rooted in the earth, the soil of matter, the materiality of nature. For Judaism in particular, but also reflected in Orthodox Christianity, men and women were kings and queens of the created order – importantly there were also priests, priestesses in a sacramental tradition that described God as entrusting to humanity – men and women – the role of representing God to nature and nature to God. According to Judaism and Christianity humanity was therefore an intermediary (for Jews, the people of Israel were exquisitely so) between the material world of planet Earth and the esoteric spiritual God of the Heavens.

In spite of a rich religio-cultural tradition in Judaism especially, but also in the Gospels of people being encouraged by the writers of Scripture to deeply value Creation, there has always been a tendency at least in Western Christendom to drift away from sanctifying nature and the material world through prayer and Godly intention to trying to escape the limits and confines of the physical world to enter into some premature experience of spiritual bliss. Church history is certainly repleet with examples of where this has happened overtly or subtly and detrimentally to personal, societal and environmental health.

I think in recent days I have found myself slipping into this inconspicuous trap. I think the real danger is that religion, in my case the Christian faith, becomes a shortcut and highway to personal or corporate success (even if this success is defined in  spiritual terms). Perniciously religion then becomes a container of programmes or principles for new churches and for conventional religious establishments, rules and regulations, classes and classifications. In short, religion loses sight of the people and the planet it is meant to represent one moment at a time, one person at a time, one face at a time. That  is to say, it loses that engaged relationship with the material other, who happens to be our sister or brother – animal or human, plant or flesh and blood. With the intention of rapidly reaching spiritual highs of personal feelings or popular acclaim, we loosen the tie to humanity, to nature, to the elements – water, fire, wind, earth.

I caught myself doing that today. Forgetting that the people I meet are human – physical and yes, spiritual, but part of a physical history of place, persons and stories. Each prone to feelings of hurt, vulnerability, pain. Everyone needing regular food and drink, fresh air and clothes, physical touch and affection, gentle encouragement and kind humour. I forgot that each person I encounter every day of my life is a masterpiece, perhaps a flawed work of art, yes, but nevertheless a mystery of eternal as well as earthly proportions. I’m sorry people that I didn’t treat you right. I should have shown you more care, a little more awareness to your story and background, as well as your physical needs. I’ll try to be better next time, so help me God, I pray.

Don’t forget we are physical too. We’re only human even if we can sometimes appear to be almost angelic, we are a mixture of earth and breath. It’s unwise to separate the two.

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Late spring evening in Sherwood Forest

May 19, 2010
Field of rapeseed flowers in foreground with trees on horizon (18-5-2010)

A field of rapeseed flowers, resplendent in yellow (18-5-2010)

Rapeseed flower close-up (18-5-2010)

Sunset, seen through the forest trees (18-5-2010)

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Just a dandelion flower

May 17, 2010

A simple dandelion flower amongst the grass - May15th 2010

 

I saw this dandelion flower standing alone in the grass last saturday. It just struck me as particularly splendid in a simple kind of way. I’m often taken aback when I suddenly become aware of a visage like this, even if it’s in the microscopic world of the undergrowth. I find it amazing that we live in a world where even the weeds of the earth look so beautiful.

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Celtic Spirituality in Robin Hood Country

May 14, 2010

Mountain biking in the woods - a spiritual discipline?

I took these pictures last sunday 9th May 2010 while cycling in woods in North Nottinghamshire, which in medieval times used to be part of Sherwood Forest of Robin Hood fame. The pictures reflect different aspects of these woods – the sun dappling the ground through the leafy canope of trees; the sandy, mulchy, humus rich soil of this part of the world; the fresh, verdancy of new leaves and the winsome, tender splendour of wild flowers. They also reflect part of my life story. Riding in the woods on Sunday reminded me of a writer and how his eloquent words helped my healing and recovery from a period of illness over five years ago. 

In the spring of 2005, I began to take my first breaths of newness and to taste life afresh while emerging from a season of quite bleak alienation and personal pain. Later that year in the summer, I happened to visit a local bookshop and glimpsed the spine of a book with an intriguing title – Eternal Echoes – Exploring Our Hunger to Belong. I picked it up and began carefully leafing through it. I read with interest the gentle, peaceful words which described the enchanting landscape of Ireland and a perspective on Christianity that I had never really met before – Irish Celtic Christianity. Yet, John O’Donohue was clearly not writing a history book, but a sensitive, welcoming invitation to modern people to participate in an ancient spirituality of harmony with nature and land. I felt calmed and refreshed just flicking through it…I bought it and took it home.   

Several months later I was on holiday in Greece, staying in a splendid, small self-catering resort and enveloped in the sunny warmth, sandy beaches, warm, clean swimming pools and salty sea of the Peloponnese. At that time, I had been working for nearly five years in a brute, physical job at a warehouse and I was growing increasingly weary in body and soul of the grueling labour and repetition. My holiday in Greece was a blissful interlude, refreshing, spellbindingly beautiful, richly sensuous and a perfect opportunity to rest from activity and delve into this mysterious book.  

In Eternal Echoes, John O’Donohue made alive the temperate climes of the Irish countryside and coast – grassy mountains, blue lakes and moss-covered, weathered stones half-buried, half-exposed in the green hills. He described the echoes of the wind in the hills. He suggested that we busy, stressed, media and consumption driven modern people needed to rediscover, listen and hear for ourselves an echo from Beyond. A voice of transcendence that whispered to human souls through the ancient, natural landscapes. I was enthralled. Reading O’Donohue my own alienation and isolation from the natural world became apparent to me. I sensed the Spirit of God desiring to speak to me through nature. A feeling of release gradually welled up inside me. In those ‘sacred’ moments, the writer and his book Eternal Echoes, gently prized me free from the shackles of my suffocating, industrialised, technological and consumerist lifestyle.  

One short chapter spoke to me at the time that reminded me of the woods that I frequent so often now. That have become for me a natural sanctuary. John O’Donohue writes of ‘Our Longing for Nature’:  

‘Celtic spirituality reminds us that we do not live simply in our thoughts, feelings or relationships. We belong to the earth. The rhythm of the clay and its seasons sings within our hearts. The sun warms the clay and fosters life. The moon blesses the night. In the uncluttered world of Celtic spirituality there is a clear view of the sacrament of nature as it brings forth visible presence.’  

'We belong to the earth' John O' Donohue

 ‘The Celts worshipped in groves in nature and attended to the silent divinity of wild places. Certain wells, trees, animals and birds were sacred to them. Where and what a people worship always offers a clue to where they understand the source of life to be. Most of our experience of religion happens within the walled frame of a church or temple. Our God is approached through thought, word and ritual. The Celts had no walls around their worship. Being in nature was already to be in the Divine Presence. Nature was the theatre of the diverse dramaturgies of the Divine Imagination.’  

Eternal Echoes, John O’Donohue, Pages 19-20  

I love those words:  

‘We belong to the earth.’  

‘The Celts had no walls around their worship.’ 

‘ Being in nature was already to be in the Divine Presence.’

 

Sweet chestnut leaves burst into life - 9th May 2010, North Notts, England

Riding my bike at the weekend, I remembered John O’Donohue’s words and how they inspired me to get out my bike again and venture out into the woods. For many years I lived a divided life. Now I feel that I can live a much more holistic life. I enjoy and revere the sense of Beyond  and receive the life-giving generosity of the Universe wherever I may be. Quietly drinking in the spiritual balance of nature in the woods. Celebrating the vibrancy and plurality of human cultural expressions in the city. It’s good to be whole again.  

'See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.' ( Pictured - Bluebells, North Notts, 9th May 2010)