Preserve your own beauty

Preserve your own beauty

July 15, 2018  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Preserve your own beauty

Grace to you

Over the next couple of Wednesday evenings we are going to explore the Enneagram. The Enneagram is an ancient tool used to discern different character or personality types. When used as it was intended, we are taken much deeper than mere behaviour traits to the profound pulls and pushes of the deep patterns of our living.

The Enneagram has an ancient history of many origins, spanning different religions, spiritual practices and philosophies – in other words it is radically inclusive in design and use.

The reason for our Enneagram study is to deepen our self-knowledge and at the same time our understanding of our neighbour. As we grow in knowing we will be invited to grow in loving. We will learn of the gifts of our “type” and the liabilities that come with it. We will search for a truthful way of living life, accepting that for each of us the way will differ in slight or even vast ways. And we will also hopefully discern what specific exercises are necessary for each of us to more fully honour the deepest truths of our humanity.

Teresa of Avila, the great Christian mystic, writes in her masterpiece The Interior Castle:

“Not a little misery and confusion arise from the fact that through our own guilt we do not understand ourselves and do not know who we are. Would it not seem a terrible ignorance if one had no answer to give to the question, who one was, who (their) parents were, and from what country (they) came? If this were a sign of bestial incomprehension, an incomparably worse stupidity would prevail in us, if we did not take care to learn what we are, but contented ourselves with these bodies, and consequently know only superficially, from hearsay, because faith teaches us, that we had a soul. But what treasures this soul may harbour within it, who dwells in it, and what great value it has, these are things we seldom consider, and hence people are so little concerned with preserving their beauty with all care.”

What an incredible concluding sentence! “…and hence people are so little concerned with preserving their beauty with all care.” So herein lies our task: to preserve our beauty with all care. And surely not only our beauty but the beauty of all with all our care. In this act of careful preservation of human beauty we honour and praise the Original Artist of our collective beauty.

Grace,
Alan

Sustainable Living

Sustainable Living

July 8, 2018  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Sustainable Living

Grace and Peace

I am spending this weekend at Bulungula Lodge which is on the Wild Coast overlooking the (hopefully warm) Indian Ocean. It is situated around 300 km north of East London. If you hit Coffee Bay you have gone too far by about 56 km. If you hit Durban phone a therapist.

I first heard of Bulungula Lodge when I was exploring building an “off-the-grid-house” a couple of years ago. As you know, the Eastern Cape is beset with traumatising poverty and unemployment. This environmentally sustainable lodge, which is embedded within the Nqileni community, hopes to overcome poverty with minimal impact on the environment.

The founders and co-owners, David Martin and Rejane Woodroffe “realised that the biggest problem in the world is the unsustainable economic system we were chasing”. When they first began in the area there was nearly 100% unemployment. Once the Bulungula Lodge opened in 2004 and began to grow in popularity, cash into the area increased slowly.

Social entrepreneurial community interventions, through the Bulungula Incubator (www.bulungulaincubator.org) includes numerous micro-enterprises as well as health and education services covering the full cycle of life – womb to tomb.

While access to quality formal education has always been challenging in the region, cattle farming and farming for staple foods and vegetables is a way of life. It is this traditional knowledge and lifestyle that is leveraged and built upon to improve livelihoods, nutrition and provide opportunities for income-generation and wealth-creation.

The first 18 people directly employed by the lodge were carefully selected by the community as those who needed it most. Many are disabled ex-mine workers or their widows. I would call this Gospel Governance.

Both Martin and Woodroffe believe that despite its poverty, Nqileni is miles ahead of the First World in terms of achieving a form of sustainable living. Nobody owns a car in the village. The village is powered by solar energy and wind power. A solar pump draws water from a spring for the showers while rain water is the drinking source. The famous rocket showers are powered by paraffin that only heats the water that is used, so nothing is wasted. Grey water is recycled through the banana plantation. Compost toilets with a urine diversion system take care of sanitation.

Martin says: “For our community to become a model sustainable and happy society is considerably easier than for, say, Newlands or Sandton, which seem doomed for the next few decades to live fearfully behind high walls, unsustainably addicted to energy that’s running out.”

In gratitude for those who help us to live life in life-giving ways,
Alan

We are one

We are one

July 1, 2018  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on We are one

Grace and peace to you

As a kid I was always amazed and puzzled and intrigued by the fact that the word ‘ONE’ was pronounced exactly the same way as the word ‘WON’. I mean how does that even work? Who agreed that this was possible? How does the letter ‘O’ take on the sound of the letter ‘W’ without changing shape? Is it playing a magical mystical game of twister with our tongues?

I went through primary school repeatedly embarrassed because I didn’t know which one/won to use, when someone won/one. As the years passed I have noticed that these two words continue to be mixed up. Not in a primary school grammatical sense, but rather in a relational and religious sense.

Marriage is sometimes described as two people becoming ‘ONE’ flesh. Sadly some couples become ‘WON’ instead. This occurs when the people involved obsess about keeping score. From counting how many times they have done the washing-up to counting who last paid for dinner. Keeping score is tiring. All the while forgetting that they are a team and that to score a goal against your partner is an own goal. In other words winning is losing.

The mixing up of ‘ONE’ and ‘WON’ also plays out in religion. Sadly much of religion is about how to secure the winning edge in life rather than how to embrace the all-embracing truth of our unity with all of creation. Prayer has been reduced to an insurance policy for safety and an investment policy for success, rather than a pool of loving assurance which we are invited to submerge ourselves in to be washed clean of all the stains of separateness that keep us from realising our oneness with all. As Jesus prayed: “…so that they may be one, as we are one … that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us…” John 17: 11, 21. And here is the good news that when we realise we are all ‘ONE’ it is impossible to ever lose, so one never has to ever pray to win.

Grace,
Alan

“Take a course in good water and air;
and in the eternal youth of Nature
you may renew your own.
Go quietly, alone; no harm will befall you.”

-John Muir-

Human Be-ing

Human Be-ing

June 24, 2018  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Human Be-ing

Grace

Here is another poem from our Wednesday evening reflections. The poem invites us into the depths of what it means to be human as it draws us into the deep wonders of nature. As we fall in love with nature we find ourselves falling in love with humanity. The one can’t really happen without the other. Check out: http://www.climbingpoetree.com

Human Being

I wonder if the sun debates dawn
some mornings
not wanting to rise
out of bed
from under the down-feather horizon

if the sky grows tired
of being everywhere at once
adapting to the mood
swings of the weather

if clouds drift off
trying to hold themselves together
make deals with gravity
to loiter a little longer

I wonder if rain is scared
of falling
if it has trouble
letting go

if snow flakes get sick
of being perfect all the time
each one
trying to be one-of-a-kind

I wonder if stars wish
upon themselves before they die
if they need to teach their young
how to shine

I wonder if shadows long
to just-for-once feel the sun
if they get lost in the shuffle
not knowing where they’re from

I wonder if sunrise
and sunset
respect each other
even though they’ve never met

if volcanoes get stressed
if storms have regrets
if compost believes in life
after death

I wonder if breath ever thinks of suicide
if the wind just wants to sit
still sometimes
and watch the world pass by

if smoke was born
knowing how to rise
if rainbows get shy back stage
not sure if their colors match right

I wonder if lightning sets an alarm clock
to know when to crack
if rivers ever stop
and think of turning back

if streams meet the wrong sea
and their whole lives run off-track
I wonder if the snow
wants to be black

if the soil thinks she’s too dark
if butterflies want to cover up their marks
if rocks are self-conscious of their weight
if mountains are insecure of their strength

I wonder if waves get discouraged
crawling up the sand
only to be pulled back again
to where they began

if land feels stepped upon
if sand feels insignificant
if trees need to question their lovers
to know where they stand

if branches waver at the crossroads
unsure of which way to grow
if the leaves understand they’re replaceable
and still dance when the wind blows

I wonder
where the moon goes
when she is in hiding
I want to find her there

and watch the ocean
spin from a distance
listen to her
stir in her sleep
effort give way to existence

~ by Naima from Climbing Poetree

Love into soup

Love into soup

June 17, 2018  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Love into soup

Grace

Yesterday was Youth Day. Today is Father’s Day. Standing side by side they invite us to consider the sacred purpose of family, which is to be an incubator of love. Family is where we learn to love and be loved. The shape of family-love forms the shape of our loving far into the future for good or for ill. In Jeanette Winterson’s amazing novel, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal she writes about her first lesson in love:

“Auntie Nellie cannot have had much money. Twice a week she had all the neighbourhood children she could squeeze into her one room and she made onion soup or potato soup and all the children brought their own cup and she ladled it out off the stove… They all loved her and she loved them. She called her dark little house with its one window and black walls ‘Sunshine Corner’.

It was my first lesson in love.

I needed lessons in love. I still do because nothing could be simpler, nothing could be harder, than love.

Unconditional love is what a child should expect from a parent even though it rarely works out that way. I didn’t have that, and I was a very nervous watchful child. I was a little thug too because nobody was going to beat me up or see me cry…

When love is unreliable and you are a child, you assume that it is the nature of love – its quality – to be unreliable. Children do not find fault with their parents until later. In the beginning the love you get is the love that sets.

I did not know that love could have continuity. I did not know that human love could be depended upon…

Auntie Nellie made love into soup. She didn’t want thanks and she wasn’t ‘doing good’. She fed love on Tuesdays and Thursdays to all the children she could find, and even if the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse had … ridden into the stone-floored kitchen, they would have been given soup.

I went down to her tiny house sometimes but I never thought about what she was doing. Only later, much later, trying to relearn love, did I start to think about the simple continuity and what it meant. Maybe if I had had children I would have got there faster, but maybe I would have hurt my own kids the way I was hurt.

It is never too late to learn to love.

But it is frightening.”

Grace,
Alan


Stepping Stones Children’s Centre
Playground Spruced Up

A member of CMM generously donated synthetic grass
to spruce up the playground for the children of Stepping Stones.

 

Practice Fasting From Plastic

Practice Fasting From Plastic

June 10, 2018  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Practice Fasting From Plastic

Grace to you

Last week I quoted at length from Clarissa Pinkola Estès’ letter to a young activist during troubled times written earlier this year. This week I want to share with you a letter written in 1966 by Thomas Merton to a desperate and despondent peace activist. There are great similarities between the letters as well as the worthy reminder that troubled times are not new and nor is feeling desperate and despondent. By grace, may the wisdom in these words hold us:

“Do not depend on the hope of results. … You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. And there too a great deal has to be gone through, as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end, as you yourself mention in passing, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.

You are fed up with words, and I don’t blame you. I am also, to tell the truth, nauseated with ideals and with causes. This sounds like heresy, but I think you will understand what I mean. It is so easy to get engrossed with ideas and slogans and myths that in the end one is left holding the bag, empty, with no trace of meaning left in it. And then the temptation is to yell louder than ever in order to make the meaning be there again by magic.

As for the big results, these are not in your hands or mine, but they can suddenly happen, and we can share in them: but there is no point in building our lives on this personal satisfaction, which may be denied us and which after all is not that important.

So the next step in the process is for you to see that your own thinking about what you are doing is crucially important. You are probably striving to build yourself an identity in your work and your witness. You are using it so to speak to protect yourself against nothingness, annihilation. That is not the right use of your work. All the good that you will do will come not from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God’s love. Think of this more and gradually you will be free from the need to prove yourself, and you can be more open to the power that will work through you without your knowing it.

The great thing after all is to live, not to pour out your life in the service of a myth: and we turn the best things into myths. If you can get free from the domination of causes and just serve Christ’s truth, you will be able to do more and will be less crushed by the inevitable disappointments. The real hope, then, is not in something we think we can do, but in God who is making something good out of it in some way we cannot see. If we can do His will, we will be helping in this process. But we will not necessarily know all about it beforehand…”

Grace,
Alan

“Letter to a young activist during troubled times”

“Letter to a young activist during troubled times”

June 3, 2018  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on “Letter to a young activist during troubled times”

Grace to you

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, author of the best selling “Women Who Run With Wolves”, more recently wrote a “Letter to a young activist during Troubled Times.” Estés is not only an author, she is a Jungian psychoanalyst (i.e. she knows people) a post-trauma recovery specialist (i.e. she knows suffering) and is 73 years old (i.e. she has been around). This makes her letter to a young activist (all of us) all the more important to read and more importantly to trust.

Here is a taste… (please go to http://mavenproductions.com for the full letter).

“I have heard from so many recently who are deeply and properly bewildered. They are concerned about the state of affairs in our world right now.

…You are right in your assessments. …Yet … I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because, the fact is — we were made for these times.

…We have a history of being gutted, and yet remember this especially … we have also, of necessity, perfected the knack of resurrection. Over and over again we have been the living proof that that which has been exiled, lost, or foundered — can be restored to life again. This is as true and sturdy a prognosis for the destroyed worlds around us as it was for our own once mortally wounded selves.

…In any dark time, there is a tendency to veer toward fainting over how much is wrong or unmended in the world. Do not focus on that. Do not make yourself ill with overwhelm. There is a tendency too to fall into being weakened by perseverating on what is outside your reach, by what cannot yet be. Do not focus there. That is spending the wind without raising the sails.

We are needed, that is all we can know. And though we meet resistance, we more so will meet great souls who will hail us, love us and guide us, and we will know them when they appear. Didn’t you say you were a believer? Didn’t you say you pledged to listen to a voice greater? Didn’t you ask for grace? Don’t you remember that to be in grace means to submit to the voice greater? You have all the resources you need to ride any wave, to surface from any trough.

…Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely.

…One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires… causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these, to be fierce and to show mercy toward others – both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.

…This comes with much love and prayer that you remember who you came from, and why you came to this beautiful, needful Earth.”

Grace,
Alan

 

Training our eyes not to avoid...

Training our eyes not to avoid…

November 19, 2017  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Training our eyes not to avoid…

The African proverb, “When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers most,” speaks of the reality of who ends up crushed in the midst of conflict and war. So often, it is the ones Jesus calls us to, the poor. With so much going on in our own context, it is easy to keep our eyes turned inward, but there are conflicts in the world from time to time that create an imperative for the eyes of all the world to turn.

Right now, there is a humanitarian crisis arising the likes of which the world has not witnessed in years.

Mark Lowcock, from the UN names that the famine in Yemen “will not be like the famine that we saw in South Sudan earlier in the year where tens of thousands of people were affected. It will not be like the famine which cost 250,000 people their lives in Somalia in 2011. It will be the largest famine the world has seen for many decades, with millions of victims.” The most tragic reality is that this famine will be man-made.

Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East and the people there rely on imported food items in order to survive. Because of the ongoing Civil War, air, land, and seaports have been closed. Humanitarian aid cannot reach the people who are in need of it desperately. They have already experienced the worst cholera epidemic in modern history, with 1 million people expected to be affected before the year ends. International donors are sending money in, but “humanitarian groups say any additional international aid is only a stopgap and have called for a political solution to end the war,” says Megan Palin.

Yemen is 6,354 kilometers away. It is too far for many to travel, but not too far to move to the center of our prayers, the center of the universe within our minds that we might be learning all we can about the realities for the people in Yemen, so that we can join the voices of the humanitarian agencies that are calling for the gates to be opened that aid might get in.

There is light enough in the love of God for more than one place in this world. We turn our eyes to the world in order that we might not lose compassion. Sharon Salzberg shares that, “compassion is the strength that rises out of seeing the true nature of suffering in the world. Compassion allows us to bear witness to that suffering, whether it is in ourselves or others without fear; it allows us to name injustice without hesitation, and to act strongly with all the skill at our disposal.”

To think that there are people 6,354 kilometers away on the brink of starvation, for being caught like the grass between elephants, only they are between other humans in conflict, humans who have allowed their hunger and thirst for power to desensitize them to the reality of others right in their midst. It is hard to keep our eyes trained on violence that leads to senseless death, but our common humanity requires it. May we be strengthened to hold in our hearts compassion enough for all the world, that leads us to action in the places where we are drawn to stand.

With you on the journey,
Michelle

Reading Scripture as Poetry

Reading Scripture as Poetry

November 12, 2017  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Reading Scripture as Poetry

Grace and peace to you

On Wednesday evenings a group of us gather in the hall for prayer practice. Our practice involves sitting together in silence for 30 minutes. Thereafter we practice stretching our imaginations by reflecting on a poem or two.

Learning to read poetry helps us to read scripture because both fiercely engage our imagination. Poetic imagination and “prophetic imagination” are close cousins. The first helps us practice the second. What the poet does with language under poetic license the prophet does with society under divine calling. Both unpick the locks that hold our sense of the possible captive. Both invite us with all of creation to be born afresh. Poets like prophets know that “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them” – Albert Einstein.

Last week we reflected on the poetic blessing (above) by John O’Donohue. In each verse this Irish poet gives us a task and a gift. Or more like a task that is a gift and a gift that is a task. Here is another one of his poems to prayerfully ponder. [Note: we don’t have to “get it” all in one go. Nibble on the juicy bits first, trusting that once we get a taste of it the tougher bits may soften].

A Morning Offering

I bless the night that nourished my heart
To set the ghosts of longing free
Into the flow and figure of dream
That went to harvest from the dark
Bread for the hunger no one sees.

All that is eternal in me
Welcome the wonder of this day,
The field of brightness it creates
Offering time for each thing
To arise and illuminate.

I place on the altar of dawn:
The quiet loyalty of breath,
The tent of thought where I shelter,
Wave of desire I am shore to
And all beauty drawn to the eye.

May my mind come alive today
To the invisible geography
That invites me to new frontiers,
To break the dead shell of yesterdays,
To risk being disturbed and changed.

May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more.

John O’Donohue
(From To Bless the Space Between Us)

Grace, Alan

 

 

Redemption Song

Redemption Song

November 5, 2017  |  All Saints Day, Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Redemption Song

Grace and Peace

One of the psalms set for today is Psalm 107. It is a “redemption song” that recounts the myriads of occasions of the Lord’s steadfast love delivering a despairing people. A people lost, wandering aimlessly in desert wastes. A people hungry and thirsty, about to faint with fatigue. A people sitting in darkness, unable to see and stand. A people locked in leg irons, prisoner to the past in the present. A people broken and bent by hard labour. A people sick and dying of disease. A people tossed about on stormy seas drenched in fear. But then, interspersed between the trauma and tragedy the psalmist sings: “They then cried to the Lord in their trouble, and the Lord saved them from their distress. Let them thank the Lord for the Lord’s steadfast love and wonderful works to humankind.”

This redemption song was sung to en-courage all the despairing to doggedly resist their despair. To ‘vasbyt’ and keep the faith, the hope and the love when doubt, despair and fear monopolised the evidence on hand. Singing of redemption past was more than a mere act of memory. It was a protest. It was to re-member it to the now. To sing of redemption past was to subversively plant redemption into the soil of the present that would break open a new future.

Redemption may sound like a religious word to our modern-day ears but long ago it meant being set free for the sake of the just-ordering of society where everyone had enough and none was superior or inferior to the other.

As we witness “things fall apart …” in our present days, one redemption song we must not tire to sing into the present is that of our Constitution. Yes, our Constitution is a redemption song. The preamble of which encapsulates so succinctly and contextually the gospel’s call for redemption: the just and merciful ordering of society. It was written in the wake of what many called a miracle. A miracle because many thought it was impossible. As it was written before the cement of what was possible and impossible could set, it calls us to imagine again what some have stopped believing is possible in SA today: a truly just land and healed people. God’s steadfast love has not given up on us. Our past tells us the impossible is possible…again…and again. We must keep singing our redemption song:

We, the people of South Africa,
Recognise the injustices of our past;
Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;
Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and
Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.

We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to

  • Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
  • Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
  • Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and
  • Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations. May God protect
    our people.

Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika. Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso.
God seën Suid-Afrika. God bless South Africa.
Mudzimu fhatutshedza Afurika.
Hosi katekisa Afrika.

Alan