Posts Tagged ‘relationships’

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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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Listening to the quiet, burning desire to be authentic

April 24, 2010

I found this poem at the beginning of a book on aesthetics (the study of beauty). It struck me as a very modern poem and yet I have discovered it was written in the mid-eighteen hundreds. Still, it speaks to me deeply of the importance and discipline of listening to and paying careful attention to one’s inner feelings and thoughts. Both of which can easily be suffocated and suppressed by a relentless, unseen pressure to conform to what we perceive to be the standards of our culture and society.

Light flows our war of mocking words, and yet,
Behold, with tears mine eyes are wet!
I feel a nameless sadness o’er me roll.
Yes, yes, we know that we can jest,
We know, we know that we can smile!
But there’s a something in this breast,
To which thy light words bring no rest,
And thy gay smiles no anodyne.
Give me thy hand, and hush awhile,
And turn those limpid eyes on mine,                        10
And let me read there, love! thy inmost soul.

Alas! is even love too weak
To unlock the heart, and let it speak?
Are even lovers powerless to reveal
To one another what indeed they feel?
I knew the mass of men conceal’d
Their thoughts, for fear that if reveal’d
They would by other men be met
With blank indifference, or with blame reproved;
I knew they lived and moved                                     20
Trick’d in disguises, alien to the rest
Of men, and alien to themselves–and yet
The same heart beats in every human breast!

But we, my love!–doth a like spell benumb
Our hearts, our voices?–must we too be dumb?

Ah! well for us, if even we,
Even for a moment, can get free
Our heart, and have our lips unchain’d;
For that which seals them hath been deep-ordain’d!

Fate, which foresaw                                                    30
How frivolous a baby man would be–
By what distractions he would be possess’d,
How he would pour himself in every strife,
And well-nigh change his own identity–
That it might keep from his capricious play
His genuine self, and force him to obey
Even in his own despite his being’s law,
Bade through the deep recesses of our breast
The unregarded river of our life
Pursue with indiscernible flow its way;                        40
And that we should not see
The buried stream, and seem to be
Eddying at large in blind uncertainty,
Though driving on with it eternally.

But often, in the world’s most crowded streets,
But often, in the din of strife,
There rises an unspeakable desire
After the knowledge of our buried life;
A thirst to spend our fire and restless force
In tracking out our true, original course;                        50
A longing to inquire
Into the mystery of this heart which beats
So wild, so deep in us–to know
Whence our lives come and where they go.
And many a man in his own breast then delves,
But deep enough, alas! none ever mines.
And we have been on many thousand lines,
And we have shown, on each, spirit and power;
But hardly have we, for one little hour,
Been on our own line, have we been ourselves–            60
Hardly had skill to utter one of all
The nameless feelings that course through our breast,
But they course on for ever unexpress’d.
And long we try in vain to speak and act
Our hidden self, and what we say and do
Is eloquent, is well–but ’tis not true!
And then we will no more be rack’d
With inward striving, and demand
Of all the thousand nothings of the hour
Their stupefying power;                                                70
Ah yes, and they benumb us at our call!
Yet still, from time to time, vague and forlorn,
From the soul’s subterranean depth upborne
As from an infinitely distant land,
Come airs, and floating echoes, and convey
A melancholy into all our day.

Only–but this is rare–
When a beloved hand is laid in ours,
When, jaded with the rush and glare
Of the interminable hours,                                               80
Our eyes can in another’s eyes read clear,
When our world-deafen’d ear
Is by the tones of a loved voice caress’d–
A bolt is shot back somewhere in our breast,
And a lost pulse of feeling stirs again.
The eye sinks inward, and the heart lies plain,
And what we mean, we say, and what we would, we know.
A man becomes aware of his life’s flow,
And hears its winding murmur; and he sees
The meadows where it glides, the sun, the breeze.            90

And there arrives a lull in the hot race
Wherein he doth for ever chase
That flying and elusive shadow, rest.
An air of coolness plays upon his face,
And an unwonted calm pervades his breast.
And then he thinks he knows
The hills where his life rose,
And the sea where it goes.

Matthew Arnold, The buried life, (1852)