Thursday, 19 April 2012

Religion

I am 55 this year.  For most of the last forty years, religion has attracted and fascinated me – the path of faith in all its manifestations. 

I have loved watching Buddhist nuns sitting immobile, utterly still, in their early meditation, as the night gave way to dawn and then the rising sun slowly illuminated the room, morning light fusing with peace inseparably.  Incense smoke.  Inviting the bell to sound.  Chanting quietly beginning.

Participating in the hospitality of the langar at Sikh gurdwaras, leaving my sandals at the door, covering my head, taking my place with the chanting women in the prayer hall, felt like such a wonder and a privilege.

Sitting in the stone chapel of a Catholic monastery, watching the matter-of-fact tread of sandalled feet and hearing the muffled ripple of moving robes as the community made its way in to prayer, fed my soul.

Attending a full immersion baptism in a Baptist chapel, hearing the testimonies; singing, for the first time ever, “To God be the Glory” filled my heart with joy.

Feeling the evening fold around me in the great spaces of York Minster; the candles, the mounting intricacies of carven wood, the water-clear beauty of the choir measuring the even paces of the psalm chant, this spoke peace to me.

Preaching at little Methodist chapels out in the English countryside, kept open in every place by a handful of ancient faithful souls who, while they could, bore witness – this humbled and moved me.

Poring over photographs and tales of the Amish, the Shakers, the early Quakers – how strongly the peculiar people of God stirred my heart and called me; “You too!”

Religion in the many faces of its reverence and numinous awe has been my preoccupation for decades.

And it no longer is.

A while ago the patient Badger asked me tentatively, “What have you done with your Holy Spirit picture?”  For I loved this picture – when I first saw it I fell head over heels in love with it, capturing as it did the rapture and wonder of prayer when the Spirit comes.  The Badger is wisely cautious.  He waited some weeks after its disappearance to ask the question.

“I gave it to Paul,” I said.

He paused.  I can’t remember if he asked the question aloud, because we can hear each other’s thoughts and do not always need to speak; but he wanted to know, “Why did you do that?”

So I explained, “Because I had seen it enough.”

It was a beautiful picture, an astonishing picture:  I had looked at it every day for months, and now I knew it by heart, and it had slipped into the DNA of my soul.  So I didn’t need it any more.

I am finding this with my books.  Old books, loved books, firm favourites – I feel as though I have read them now, and am ready to let them go.   Even, dare I say it, with dear friends.  I love them as much as I ever have, but I no longer need to see them; they are already in my heart.  I enjoy their company when we meet, but I no longer feel the need I once did to set up times to get together.  Our friendship is understood; it is a given.

And this last year I am finding it is the same with religion.  We talk about faith – that a person “has a faith”.  I don’t know if I “have a faith”.  I think I might not.  If I had a faith I would be a better person, I would be driven by conviction.

I know that I have met the risen Jesus, and that He is beside me in every hour of every day.   I know that God is the context in which all life rests and moves, arises and dies.  I know that the Holy Spirit breathes through me and the whole of creation – every rock, every flower, every shining drop of water.  I don’t need any faith at all for this.  I know it.

Of those three knowings, the most vividly and tangibly real to me is the presence of Jesus.  I could not deny that I have met Him, that He is alive, that He is real.  I know this.

In pursuing their religions, people sometimes ask me what happens when we die and what the future will hold.  I don’t know and I am not curious about it.  I am sure that whatever tomorrow holds will have roots growing from the seed we sowed today.  All that is necessary is to live with love and humility, with simplicity and kindness today, and the future will take care of itself.

I still go to church, because I want the track my feet make to say “Jesus matters,” but what we do there no longer finds a foothold in my soul.

We have the eucharist in bread and wine – but I think the eucharist is also there in someone tenderly and patiently helping a frail, blind old woman drink her cup of tea.  I think communion happens in the hand-holding-hand I observe when I watch a beloved grandad walk slowly down the road with a child who trusts him.

At the funeral I attended this afternoon, I sat with my father-in-law from my first marriage, in the front pew of the side block, just a yard away from where my first husband was playing the electric piano for the service.

And I explained to my father-in-law how, when my first husband (his son) had left me, I had decided to waste no time – I resolved straight away that if he could no longer be my husband, he could at any rate be my brother, and so it has been.  The love has continued, like convolvulus roots underground; we belong to one another, we are one family in Christ – and this is indestructible, it cannot be taken from us.  “Yes,” he said: “I know.”

I don’t mean that I wish I had my first husband back; I do not, I am most happy in my marriage to the Badger, and my first husband is content in his marriage to the Fairy Princess.  I just mean that Christ is in God reconciling all things to Himself, and because of this we (all of us) belong to each other forever, and this is a blessing.

The outer forms of religion – the beautiful temples, the old stone churches, the chanting and incense smoke and prayers and rosaries and robes – I love them, and they are in my heart, but they feel like a beautiful picture I have seen enough and would like to pass on now.

“He has shewed thee, O man, what is good: and what does the Lord require of thee, but to do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God?”

I would like to learn to do that now.  I have lost interest in the other things – the things they have the wars about.

--------------------------------------------------- 

365 366 Day 111 – Friday April 20th   



This is the one-hundred-and-eleventh day this year.  Do you know when to hyphenate?  I ask because many people do not.  But the principle is simple. “This is the one hundred,” is a stand-alone sentence.  “ ‘This is the one hundred,' is a stand,” is also a stand-alone sentence; though obviously they would both be very puzzling.

“This is the eleventh day this year” is also a stand-alone sentence. 

If I write “This is the one hundred and eleventh day this year, technically nothing but your common sense (which I cannot necessarily rely upon) and intuition leads you to realise that I mean “This is the one-hundred-and-eleventh day this year.”  Linking them into a train like that helps you see it’s meant as a one-thing package.

Maybe the necessity is not obvious from this example.

But what if I said: “She was a maiden and a half sister to the viceroy” (Lord only knows where that sentence came from!)

Is the meaning obvious?  Maybe.

“She was a maiden-and-a-half, sister to the viceroy.”

“She was a maiden and a half-sister to the viceroy.”

See?  The hyphenation makes clarifying links assisting access to the intended meaning.

“John kept up his see Venice and die running commentary going all afternoon.”

“John kept up his see-Venice-and-die running commentary going all afternoon.”

Don’t worry about this if it bores you.

Today’s Lost Object was a fine book of beautiful drawings and very good poetry.  I enjoyed it, but realised that brief admiration felt a better fit than permanent attachment.



36 comments:

Devorah said...

I do not care much for church ~ & I cannot abide religion ~ but learning how to walk humbly with my God obsesses my soul.

Sorry, Pen; it's just me signed into the wrong account again. G

Ember said...

Hi Ganeida! Waving! xx

Buzzfloyd said...

Americans don't hyphenate as often as Brits. As a result, I sometimes find their text puzzling.

I think your knowings are what other people mean by faith, and therefore that you have an immensely strong faith. Your steadfast witness to the personal presence of Jesus in your life has been of great help to me over the years. And it is because of your focus on finding the things that matter most and attending to them in living out your gospel calling that this presence of Jesus has had a sense of meaning to me.

We find God only in the temple when we cannot envision Him elsewhere. That doesn't mean He wasn't elsewhere all along! It seems to me that a fully realised faith must diffuse itself throughout one's whole life, and then the main purpose of church becomes encouragement of others (and occasionally the self).

But, though I agree with you, my verification word says, "porkyou".

Judy said...

This speaks to my condition too, Pen. I am also 55. When , several months ago I moved on to a new stage in my life I took nothing. Not because old photos, pieces of furniture, pictures and other things meant nothing to me, but because they were so deeply in my heart that I had no need for external reminders of them.
For this reason, I no longer take as many photos as I once did. I enjoy and take in the moment, and then move on to the next; content with the knowledge that I have properly absorbed it....and carry it with me.
I too no longer seek friends, religion and other such things outside of me....although I continue to engage in and enjoy these worldy things.
I feel I have ended my external journey: At 55 my journey is now inwards, to that still and sacred place which I am now sure is not "out there" but deep inside of me; my oldest memory, and my greatest truth.
Thank you for your blog, it was a joy to read....Judy. xxx

Ember said...

"Porkyou"! Buzz that's fab!!

Judy - EXACTLY!

Ember said...

Judy - do you have a blog - or are you on Facebook? I am Pen Wilcock there.

Daisyanon said...

I find it really weird the way you so often write exactly what I have thinking but do not have the ability to express.

Love the hyphen explanation.

Ember said...

:0)

n0rma1 said...

Paul was very happy to be given the Holy Spirit picture...

Writing up our talk today and early next week, Pen. It's great to relive it! I'll send it to you for checking next week also.

God bless you.

James

Ember said...

Oh good, I'm glad he was. I just thought he'd love it, and then after he went home I was a bit worried in case he secretly hated it but felt he had to be polite! I loved the Seven Silver Rings book, by the way :0) x

Anonymous said...

Do you have to be over 50 to reach this point? I don't care for religion, since this is man made. I don't care for rituals, because you loose the meaning of Our Lord in it.

But the inward journey, the memories imprinted in my soul, that is there. This I believe. Like you, I have given many things away that I thought I would keep for awhile, and then realize that others might see the beauty and passed them on.

My walk with Christ is so much more than anything I can every describe. It is such a gift, isn't it Pen?

Be at peace today my friend,

m.

Ember said...

Over 50? By no means. My Badger has struggled with this his whole life - he is capable of deep reverence, is a person of deep principle and drawn irresistibly to the magnetic centre of God in Christ, but he has been almost allergic to institutional religion since childhood!

Anonymous said...

Inspiring and Heart touching'


regards from Wimmera(australia)

Roberta said...

Ember, I thought you might like to read this, since I think it speaks to what you have shared with us.

Already on Holy Ground: Experiencing the Presence in Ordinary Life by J. K. Bailey. (p.170-172).

The great fifteenth-century Indian and Sufi poet Kabir made it clear that we're always in the presence in these vivid lines translated by Robert Bly:
Are you looking for me? I am in the next seat.
My shoulder is against yours.
You will not find me in stupas, not in Indian shrine rooms, not in synagogues, nor in cathedrals:
not in masses, nor kirtans, not in legs winding around your own neck, nor in eating nothing but vegetables.
When you really look for me,
you will see me instantly
you will find me in the tiniest house of time.
Kabir says: Student, tell me, what is God?
He is the breath inside the breath.
..............
When ordinary life becomes our guide, then every situation, every tiny thing that happens to us acts as our teacher. Even the most trivial interaction brims with potential for spiritual growth. Each moment gives us a chance to expand or to contract our awareness, to shower love on others or to turn inward. Every experience offers us a choice -- we can remain egotistical or grow toward the Eternal. Everything helps us awaken. Everything confirms that we're already on holy ground.

Ember said...

I like that reflection by J.K. Bailey, Roberta. It calls ro mind this poem by Rumi:


"The Road Home

An ant hurries along a
threshing floor
with its wheat grain,
moving between huge stacks
of wheat,
not knowing the abundance
all around.
It thinks its one grain
is all there is to love.

So we choose a tiny seed to be devoted to;
this body, one path or one teacher.
Look wider and farther.

The essence
of every human being can see,
and what that essence-eye takes in,
the being becomes.
Saturn. Solomon!

The ocean pours through a jar,
and you might say it swims
inside
the fish!
This mystery
gives peace to your longing
and makes the road home,
home.
Rumi"

Buzzfloyd said...

Then again, there is Anna's observation from 'Mister God, This Is Anna', that God is too big and too close up for us to see Him all at once.

I don't know if it is a case of immaturity, but I don't feel like I'll ever be able to say that I don't need photos and things and so on, and be able to just have things in my heart. I find that the people I love (also things, but mostly the people) are actually more than I remember. Without looking at things to remind me, I just retain my idea of what they are, which is always smaller than the truth. It is of great benefit to me, for instance, to be able to look at photographs from my childhood and to see more of how things were alongside my small memory, and thus gain a bigger picture. Likewise, I understand my son better and have a more complete sense of him thanks to the many photographs I have taken, rather than relying on the inevitably diminished version of him in my own internal narrative.

My memory and awareness seem inadequate a lot of the time.

Anonymous said...

A magnificent post, followed by magnificent comments and poetry. I feel well blessed today. (Well-blessed to-day.)

Does anal retentive have a hyphen? ;D

Thy Friend Paula
(now posting as "anonymous" because Google doesn't like me)

Sherry said...

Thanks for the post, Pen. I guess I am officially non-religious, too. I had to go to a baby shower for one of my daughters some months back. A lady that I have known for 25 years wanted to know where we were going to church looked as if she was going to faint when I told her I wasn't.

I cannot imagine being pulled back into the clutches of religion ever again.

When I see beautiful old churches I always invision myself inside alone in God's presence. There is no one around except God's spirit and myself.

"the breath inside the breath", I really like that.

Sherry said...

I really appreciate the post, Pen. I guess that I have officially unjoined the ranks of "religion" also. I have no wish to be part of it. I would like to find like-minded Christians to befriend, tho.
"He is the breath inside the breath" I really love that.

Sherry

Michelle said...

As is so often the case, we seem to be walking a parallel path Pen--For more than two years, I've been engaged in the process of letting go, or more precisely, of feeling things let go of me--religion, certainly, and all the various forms and structures that seemed to become a kind of corrosion to my interior world. In the initial stages of this transformation, I was deeply uncomfortable, concerned and made anxious by the realization that those things that had held me and served as my infrastructure were simply falling away and I couldn't retrieve them, indeed, I had no will to retrieve them or do much other than watch them depart and wish them well.
I too, still attend Church, still occupy my space in our lovely old Anglican choir but my heart is far more aligned with being Quaker, with the stillness and quiet and attendance upon the "Light Within" than on the liturgy although I am still deeply moved by its beauty and enjoy it as much as I ever did but, it is no longer necessary and if I stopped attending services, I would not miss it.
And yes, same too with friends and even extended family--I don't feel the need to make plans and arrangements although we still have a Wednesday Night Open House dinner for any who want to come and I enjoy it very much. Truth told, I don't even like having to go out to shop for food nor to browse a bookstore (a life long enjoyment) preferring to remain home, doing my work here, reading and writing and taking care of my daughter, Mary, who is ten and has spina bifida, being "unschooled/homeschooled" as her three older siblings were.
I have always been an introverted homebody but now "home" is a place ever more inward and apart from the physical space around me.
I think that when women, in particular, become post-menopausal there's a 'turn towards true North'--a sense of beginning the process of letting go and letting be while at the same time cultivating a stronger, sturdier sense of the necessity to serve the world, to ensure that something is left better than we found it. I'm more invested and involved, in my way, with social justice issues and in my local community but, again, everything seems to need to come directly from the Center and doing what is needed to ensure that the Center holds has become very important indeed.

Ember said...

Hi friends :0)

That's very interesting, Buzz - I feel it may be something akin to my inability to know quite who I am or how much space I occupy unless all my possessions are herded up together in one place and I can see them. I'd like to explore these things with you some day. When the sun is shining - the sandpit is replenished and cleaned up :0)

Thanks for your encouragement Wimmera (that is your name, yes? Not a place?)

Paula - if you said you had an anal retentive aunt, that could mean your aunt was both anal and retentive - if you want us to know she's anal-retentive then yes, it takes a hyphen!

Sherry, I posted both your comments in spite of the overlap, because they both added something I thought. Thank you x

Michelle - that is so well put and so helpful. Is this the third stage the Indians (subcontinent)speak about - Stage 1 The Forest, Stage 2 The Householder, Stage 3 leaving it all behind to go on Pilgrimage. ? xxx

Tony Collins said...

What a splendid post!

My experience of religion is that it is an attempt to set a boundary around the infinite. Occasionally it can be a channel. But too often it is just words.

The true and real faith that I experience is in the pattern of daily prayer, when I pause and ask for God's blessing as I start up the computer in the morning. This is a precious time.

The challenge that I am exploring is to stop and listen. During our recent visit to Spring Harvest I found myself praying constantly for guidance and perspective, and it worked: a truly special time.

Ember said...

:0) Hi, that Badger! x

Julie B. said...

So much to ponder from what you said, and from the great comments. But the thing that "resonated with me" (to use that current buzz term) were Grace's words. Yes. Yes. I would never have been able to say all of that as well as she did. Thank you Grace...this is exactly why I want photos and paintings around. xxoo

Ember said...

:0) Hey Julie B. You are never far from my thoughts. x

Anonymous said...

Pen, the "anal-retentive" comment was really a joke. I was an editor by profession for many years, and it was slowly killing me. I realized what was happening to me when I saw a T-shirt for sale in a catalog with the query about the hyphen. I realized then and there that I had to get out of the business. Two years later, I was free. ~Paula

("Anal retentive" takes a hyphen when it serves as a compound adjective. It doesn't need it otherwise, unless you want to be anal retentive about it. You see, haha!)

AbiSomeone said...

Love this, Pen -- I am also 55 (for a few more months) and feel like I am come to this same kind of peaceful place. I do find, though, that I do have bits of disorientation about how to live this faith while raising the young sons without the structure.

I am trusting the Trinity to leader and guide me and my family ... and Micah 6:8 is my cHesed verse. It is a matter of deep pondering to understand justice so as to do it. Loving cHesed is like breathing to me ... as is walking humbly with my God -- the way of the Purple Martyrdom, indeed.

Ember said...

Paula - I don't think I knew that was your work how interesting!

AbiS - yes, I am finding the stages are slow and a lot of work. I've just spent ages paring everything back - possessions, schedule, commitments, income - everything; and now I feel a bit lost and uncertain, waiting in a limbo place to see what the new positives and specifics might be. I am quite clear about what I'd *like* them to be, but my circumstances don't permit that, unless I'm not fitting the pieces of the puzzle together right.

Trish said...

I believe we are made for liturgical expression of faith and worship of God.
And if we don't find it in "church" we tend to invent our own substitute anyway.
At least, that's what I've observed in my own life and by watching others who turned away from "religion".
I think of it like this.
God gave Moses the command to copy the pattern of liturgical worship in Heaven.
But like photo-copying a wonderful picture..the copy does not have the precise beauty of the original.
It is a bit blurred and some-what smudged most of the time.
Still..by telling us something about the true glory the original possesses, it pulls us into itself and draws us to contemplate it's wonder.
It's an icon of Heaven.

Trish xx

Ember said...

That's interesting, Trish . . . I can't really get my head round the idea of liturgical worship in Heaven. But I find it hard to conceptualise biblical ideas of heaven and hell at all - because it seems to me that if hell exists then it makes a hell of heaven too. It would be hell to me to be enjoying myself knowing that in the dungeon to our palace souls were kept in perpetual torment, their groans drowned out by our joyous singing. People who do great evil here carry their hell within them. They need healing not hurting. So the heaven/hell system makes no sense to me at all. But the threat of it in the Bible makes me afraid of being separated from Jesus, because I am an idle and selfish person and have made very little positive or purposeful use of my time on earth. The parable of the sheep and the goats bewilders me. I mean, the goats were just being goats. And inconvenient and frightening though thugs and maniacs are, the same is true of them too, I guess. I try to stay our of their way but the prospect of them being fried forever appals me, and I don't understand it.
So I cannot relate to biblical pictures of the afterlife. If there is liturgy in heaven, maybe heaven won't be heaven for Quakers. Also the Bible says it will always be day and never night. Can you imagine the torture of relentless day without the peace of twilight and the quietness of night, and the stars? A glaring, fixed noon.
For all these reasons, I try to concentrate on the here and now, and leave heaven in God's hands. My only request of Him is "Please, take me with you."
Most of our household has stopped going to church most of the time - but they haven't put in place substitute liturgies, nor ceased to believe. Their reverence is a movement of the soul that happens where they are, the same as the animals and other created beings. Something in them lifts up to God, turns toward God as a flower turns its face to the sun. But the formal and community expression of reverence they found something they could no longer work with. It's just me and the Badger still going to church.

Nearly Martha said...

Fascinating and, if I may say so, very brave blog and comments. Much food for thought here. I have spent most of my Christian life in a full on Penty church where spirituality was measured by church attendance. As we have moved to another church and things have been slightly different, I have been surprised to find myself entirely comfortable with it. I still need community, that's just who I am. But there has been a kind of release finding that God is working on a closer one to one basis with me than I thought. Thanks all.

Ember said...

:0) Listening just now to a livestream of Thich Nhat Hanh teaching on our mindfulness of the presence of Jesus, the presence of the Holy Spirit - whatever we are doing, to be really there, really present and aware - and that we suffer because of our way of looking. He speaks of how we can leave our worry and despair and anger, and come out of it into the present moment, where we we will find the conditions of happiness and enter the Kingdom of God. And he says this is our resurrection in the here and now. Brushing our teeth, washing our dishes, we can enter the Kingdom of God which waits in the present moment, and be inhabited by the Holy Spirit, wake up to real life. This makes sense to me; I can make something of it.

Linda said...

"and that we suffer because of our way of looking" at things and the world?

Ember said...

:0) That's right. x

Veiled Glory said...

*sobs* I needed to read this today!

A couple months ago, as I was getting ready for Sunday church with a heavy heart, my kitty meowed sweetly at me. I looked down and told her, "You don't have to go to church - you are a cat and already know thy Creator. Why do I have to go?"

I still don't know the full answer - but I continue to go. Maybe because there are other people who are happy to see me.

Ember said...

:0) If there are people who are happy to see you, then you are blessing the meeting by being there. xxx