Thursday 29 November 2018

What to do with darkness

What do we do about the darkness?
What do we have to change this world?
What answers?
What solutions?
What possibilities?

We use what we have to destroy.
We make weapons.
We kill. We terrorise.
We trust that violence brings peace.
But the darkness grows ever deeper.

We fear the dark and we build barriers,
to keep the darkness out.
We hate, exclude, oppress,
giving darkness a name and a face.
And the darkness grows heavier.

We reach out in compassion,
building bridges and understanding.
At times eyes meet, but often we are alone.
Standing on our half built bridge
and the dark void grows wider.

We prepare tables of hospitality
hoping places will be filled by the other.
But those who come enjoy our food,
laugh at our jokes, speak our language.
And the darkness is just outside.

What to do with the darkness?
Solutions are tiring, fleeting and fruitless.
I will build a shelter
and enter my inner room.
Let me help you build yours too.
And in our going deep,
we will find ourselves,
find meaning,
find each other.
Light and love will flow.

Friday 16 November 2018

A Tribute to Father Thomas Keating

Today, in Denver, Colorado, a large crowd will gather as many tune in from around the world to celebrate the life and legacy Father Thomas Keating. Father Keating, a Trappist monk, died at the age of 95 on October 25th after a prolonged period of ill health. He is not known particularly widely in the secular world, but to those of us who try to live in a more contemplative way, he was a guru.

Thomas Keating is renowned as a pioneer in contemplative living and a world figure in interfaith dialogue. He wrote many books and spoke to many audiences throughout his life, gaining respect as a world wide teacher. He was one of the key people involved in developing the concept of centring prayer, silent prayer centred entirely on the presence of God. In a video I have watched, Keating describes centring prayer as all about heartfulness, which is a little different to mindfulness. Some may feel this type of prayer is sitting in a void, but Keating describes it as sitting in the presence of God who is already there.

It is not surprising to me that Thomas Keating was also a lead figure in interfaith dialogue. In my experience, when we strip back the words that we have padded around our relationship with the divine to discover the centre, the essence, the core, we often find ourselves in a place of mystery and silence that opens doors and windows to speaking a different language with those who are different and other. My favourite quote of Thomas Keating's is, "Silence is God's first language. Everything else is poor translation." Silence may be peaceful, but it is also extremely powerful. Thank you Thomas Keating!

Saturday 3 November 2018

The Veil is Thin

Nathaneal's Rest - One of my thin places.
The veil is very thin. I first heard this phrase about fifteen years ago and my first recollection of relating it to my own life was a very meaningful and formational experience. It refers to the divide between the physical, earthly life and the spiritual realm. Mostly we go about our daily business in a very earthed way, unaware of what lies beyond. There are moments, however, when the mysterious otherness comes very close and we are often left in awe and wonder.

Some feel the veil is very thin at particular times of the year. The Gaelic festival of Samhain (one of the roots of Halloween) and All Souls’ Day are considered to be such times. In the Northern Hemisphere, the end of October and beginning of November mark the start of Winter and it is believed that the spirits of those who have passed away are particularly present.

Some feel there are particular places where the veil is very thin, sacred spaces where we are able to be more open and aware to what lies beyond. Thin places, they are called, places that have been known throughout the centuries to be particularly sacred or spiritual. Stone Henge, Santiago de Campostela, Uluru and Chalice Well immediately come to mind.

I believe both of these to be true, but I don’t want to limit the experience of the veil being thin to specific times and places. I had a day this week when the veil was very thin for me. Yes, it was the beginning of November, and yes, I was in a space that has been a thin place for me before. However, I’m not sure these contexts were essential to my experience.

This is not the place to share the details of what happened, in fact I am still trying to work that out myself. I will, however, try to explain the effect it had. Although I was in a group situation for most of the day and engaged fully with what was going on, somehow I found myself beyond time and place. There was a feeling, or a knowing, that stretched across distances and allowed me to feel like I was present with other people, even though I clearly couldn’t be in a physical way. There were unexplained ‘nudges’ throughout the day that seemed to let me know how things were and how to respond. I had strange emotions well up in me at times that made no sense in my physical context. Now, I am quite a logical person, but the only way I can explain this is that the veil was very thin.

Some may brush this off as coincidence or being over sensitive. There was more to this experience though. I think in today’s Western world we can be very quick to dismiss these experiences. We have been taught to consider them crazy or sinister. My hope is that others will be brave enough to share their spiritual experiences, the times when God has been very close, or when the veil is very thin. It is a vulnerable space as we risk being labelled, but in doing so we give others permission to share in the same way. My other hope is that if we are privileged to hear someone’s story about the thin times and places, that we will listen with awe and wonder rather than try to explain them away. There is much mystery in life. Let’s become more comfortable sitting with it.