Monday, 26 September 2016

The mark of the beast

I was going to tell you about our family’s mini camping expedition, but that’s set on one side for a moment – other things are occupying my mind.

THREE STRANDS OF CONCERN fill my consciousness as I watch the world and its ways.

THE FIRST is how we treat the Earth – our mother, our home, on which we utterly depend for every breath and morsel of food, for all our wellbeing. The Earth is the beloved gift of our Father God and belongs to him. God loves the Earth and all he has made, he calls it good. The Earth is alive. Everything of Earth – even the still, silent parts like the rock and the dust – is alive. It is ensouled. God has a covenant with all creation upon Earth – and that means the whole being of the Earth in all its forms is spiritual, first of all because God raised it all into being and God is spirit, second because God could not enter into a covenant with anything less than spiritual (it would be meaningless, like a human marrying a cardboard box).

We are accountable to God for how we cherish, love, respect the living Earth. Even if we weren’t, to desecrate and despoil it would be madness – where else is there for us to go?

Consumerism and growth economics are the problem here.

The fracking, the oil pipelines, the dirty energy, the cutting down of the forests for profit, the dangerous nuclear power stations, the proliferation of plastics – these are evils. I am implicated, I participate in them, but I recognise that they are evils, and it is my responsibility to try to disentangle myself from them. I cannot see a way to do so immediately and simply, but I can at least make a beginning. It can be a process and a direction even it is not a finished accomplishment.


THE SECOND strand of concern is political corruption. Those of you reading outside the UK may be unaware of the recent political turbulence in our Labour Party – but it has been, and continues to be, shameful. The machinations and underhand strategems, the disloyalty and destructive self-ambition have been overt. People have been disenfranchised in tens of thousands, while those who held power have used it for no good democratic purpose.
The self-serving activities of our politicians is no news, of course. My own MP, committed to climbing the greasy pole of power, has used the government departments with which she has been entrusted, not to serve the common good but as material to advance her own career.

David Cameron and George Osborne during their time in office likewise ran the country as a business – the land as a commodity, the people as a labour force, the owners and shareholders themselves and their cronies. To them, these islands were a mine from which they extracted what they could in the time they had.

Our present administration sees the whole purpose of life as being to get as much as you can for yourself regardless of the cost to others and to the living Earth. They see the Earth as there only for extraction, for milking, for sucking out every ‘resource’, every consumable and saleable commodity. They see other people as allies or competitors – and as scarcity deepens, only as competitors in the end. Those they see as allies are not friends – there is no loyalty in the matter; an ‘ally’ is, for them, someone who serves their interests at the present time. A rung to step on.

This outlook is ungodly and evil; which is to say, it is inherently incapable of resulting in social wellbeing or human blessing. It is rotten.

THE THIRD strand of concern is violence. The systematized murder of black people in America. The UK collusion with Saudi bombing in the Yemen. George Osborne chortling as the bombers went off to blast poor, beleaguered Aleppo: ‘Britain’s got its mojo back.’ The plans to build a wall enclosing the refugees at Calais. The savage income cuts to poor and disabled people. The cruel indifference to refugees. The mountain of money made every year from the sale of weapons. The culling of badgers and clubbing of fox cubs, the shooting of birds for sport. The intensive farms and terrible abbatoirs, factories of terror. The subjugation of women by men, rape as a tool of war, as a punishment, as an accepted way of life. The assassinations and interventions to destabilize human communities with the intent to capitalize from that instability. Beheadings and shootings and the right to bear arms – the whole vile racket of war.

Violence is the scourge and shame of the human race. Violence in all its forms debases and diminishes us. This depravity does not rest with individual perpetrators, it is like a terrible infection, spreading through the whole community – to every single one of us colluding knowingly or unwittingly, and our children and our children’s children. We are all dragged in to this loathsome, disgusting trade. War is never glorious, war has no honor, no triumph. It is a show of pitiable weakness, it has no strength in it at all. Peace is strength, kindness is strength, compassion is strength – to lift the fallen, to bear the cost, to exercise restraint, to comfort and heal and uphold, to protect and shelter the vulnerable; these are the signs of human strength.


AND THESE THREE STRANDS – they are not separate, they are tightly braided together. And so systemic, ubiquitous, rooted are they, that I am fixed, trapped, fast-bound by this tight mesh of merciless human savagery. That in which I take refuge also takes refuge in me. It’s like the plastics that disperse into the earth, the sea, then the fish, the plants, then are taken up again to reside in our own flesh. I have taken refuge in the consumerist selfishness of the murderous West; so now it has taken refuge in me. I am implicated.


I know the power of prayer. I know the seeds of violence and of peace start small in the impulses of the human spirit. I know the remarkable power of one small weed breaking through the tarmac, the power of one – one purse, one voice, one life. I know the power of starlight, of a candle lit at midnight. So I have to try. I have to do my best.

Meditating on these things, I felt that the way in is to gradually diminish violence in my own life. In my faith tradition (Christianity), fasting has always been known as a powerful form of prayer. I know that food products of animal source are inherently violent – whether the slaughter of animals to eat, the pulling of fish from the sea, the mass gassing of day-old male chicks in service of the egg industry, the taking of a calf from its mother so we can have all the milk. There is violence shot through it all. I personally have tried and failed to follow a vegan way – my body does not flourish on a vegan diet. But I thought, I can fast. I can abstain from much of it. I can eat just a small amount of meat or eggs or fish from sources I trust. I can live a fasting life, eating mostly plant-based food. And steer clear of the mischievous crops – the palm oil, the soya.

Beyond that, I can dress myself in second-hand clothes to diminish the pressure of consumerism and waste. Anything I am finished with, I can pass on responsibly, sending the least possible to landfill. I can earth-closet, I can solar-power, I can compost. I can shop where the vegetables are not encased in plastic and where the human rights of employees are respected. I can live frugally and send what money I can spare to help the refugees and the people trapped in war zones. I can do my best to raise consciousness, to speak of these things, to increase awareness. I can speak up for the Muslim, the minority person, the cause of peace, even where it is seen as trouble-making and finds disfavour. I can live small and simply, live mindfully and intentionally, practice kindness and gentleness, and share. I can take responsibility for myself. I can vote. And that way of living will be my prayer – for the Earth and the people of Earth.

I’m not really sure what else I can do.

It seems to me that the days of the beast are with us. The great pains of childbirth, the prolonged and painful labour for the birth of the new creation. May God give us the wisdom we need, the patience, and the faithfulness.



Sunday, 18 September 2016

Works in progress

Two of the people in our household – Hebe and Alice – work as freelance artists.

They do all sorts of things. There’s a wonderful bed-and-breakfast establishment in our town called St Benedict, belonging to two Orthodox friends. The inside of the house is very richly decorated, and various parts of it have been painted by Alice and Hebe. Like the panels of these folding doors,




and this mirror - painted from the back (so fiendishly hard to do; they had to layer the flowers from foreground to background, counter-intuitive. Then gild over the whole back with white gold):





That house has a tiny jewel of a chapel nestled into a corner of the garden. To made it into a thoroughgoing Orthodox chapel, it recently had a dome added to it that came to Alice and Hebe to be painted. But before that, a canopy where a lantern will hang. This is how it arrived, with just Alice's (or Hebe's) first pencil sketch on it.  



Then half finished.



Here it is looking suitably atmospheric by candle light once finished.





Just now, Alice and Hebe have Pope John Paul II and St Vincent Palotti in their studio. This work is for St Mary Star of the Sea in Hastings Old Town. I think they must have a special devotion to St Vincent there, because a commission from a while back was also of him. The statues arrive at our house looking ghostly – here’s St Vincent Palotti when he got here:




Here he is now, with Pope John Paul in the background, waiting patiently for his turn.












Hebe says when she is painting saints they draw near to help her. She says Our Lady is the best – she joins in to make the statue really pretty, every time. Here's a Mary they did:




But Hebe says the worst one is Jesus. He looks at what she’s doing and says with cheerful approval, “That’s fine!” And she asks him – “Should I make the colour a bit warmer – more detail round the eyes?” And he just says, “No, it’s fine!”


It’s a wholesome occupation. Reverent and focused, requiring a quiet eye and a steady hand, imagination switched on and powers of observation firing on all cylinders.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Looking

Here’s an odd thing. I’m a lucid dreamer, so my dreams and my astral body activities and my observing presence do tangle up with each other fairly comprehensively.

The other night, in my dreams, someone looked at me, very closely, very intently – looked deeply into my eyes for a little while. I forgot about it, as one does, then the memory of it came back to me very strongly the next day when I was awake. That person was so close I could see their eyes and not the rest of their face.

This.




Over the next day or two the memory kept returning. Eventually I realised – wait a minute – those are my eyes! Except the ones in my dream were very clear, less muddy, more sparkly and less toxic.


How very curious.

Monday, 12 September 2016

My 2017 quiet days at Penhurst



I thought it might be good to let you know in advance the quiet days I’m leading at Penhurst in 2017, to give you time to make arrangements if you’d like to be there.

I wholeheartedly recommend you stay the night before or after (or both) because it’s as hospitable as it is beautiful. As soon as you arrive it feels like coming home.

It’s been just such a delight to meet people who have become friends through the blog here – the connection and sense of kindred is real and profound.

So, next year this is what I’m doing:

All mine are quiet days, running from 10.00am – 4.00pm ~ click on the headings for links to the relevant web page  I couldn't make the links come up in red as I usually do; Google Blogger sulking.



Wednesday 3rd May 2017
Jesus said, "You cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own." A quiet day exploring minimalism, voluntary poverty and the discipline of simplicity.
We will look at the challenge to a life of radical simplicity offered by Jesus; 
the spiritual power of living with minimal possessions; 
the social and ecological impact of living simply; 
and the exciting possibilities of grace (or gift) economy, reviewing our relationship with money. 

This day is for people already convinced of the need to commit to a path of simplicity and at least seriously considering voluntary poverty. 

We will be sharing our experiences of what it means to take this path, and exploring how to deepen our faithfulness in this area of discipleship.



Wednesday 19th July 2017
For people living with with hyper-sensitivity, low energy, or issues of a-typical neurology.

Thinking about sources of energy and finding a balance that works for us. Exploring the value of silence, solitude and simplicity as sources of calm, and sharing what we have found useful in helping us live fully and effectively.

This isn’t any kind of clinical information event – it’s a chance for those of us who struggle daily with such issues to put our heads together and share what helps and strengthens us, as well as considering how these matters have contributed towards shaping our spirituality.




Wednesday 18th October 2017
Exploring the spirituality of relinquishment.

Loss and bereavement, loneliness, depression and grief, can be experienced as being plunged into darkness. We will work with the text in Isaiah 45.3 "I will give you treasures of darkness and riches hidden in mystery", to consider the experience of darkness as a place of nurture and growth of new life; the child in the womb, the seed in the earth, the restfulness of the house at night lit only by the moon. 

We'll consider what it might mean to "turn out the lights" as renunciation or withdrawal - from the glare of footlights, city lights, searchlights, into the quietness of twilight and starlight. 

"Turning out the lights" as we age, accepting increasing limitations and retirement. 

"Turning out the lights" as we live with the dismay of broken promises or broken relationships, learning to find our night vision as we make the journey of faith without even a torch in our hands. 





There are lots of other retreats and quiet days too – if you don’t fancy one of mine, there’s a big selection to choose from, and a long run of dates right through from now to the end of 2017. The programme is here.


 Photo at the top by Philippa Linton, taken at our "Coming Home" quiet day this last week.