Generosity & Gratitude

Grace and Peace

At the end of the 10 day Vipassana Meditation the teacher spoke: “You will know that you are progressing on this path of meditation when you notice the following two signs …”

The teacher pauses…

In this moment of pause I begin to ponder what the teacher is going to say. What are the telltale signs of meditative progress I wonder? Are we to measure meditation progress according to how still we can sit – or how long we can sit – or how many times per day we can sit? Or will he speak of how our nomadic minds will finally stop wandering? Or about how ‘in-touch’ we will begin to feel with our breath and our body? Will he tell of one day attaining a blissful meditative state of good vibrations void of any backache? I wonder?

The teacher continues: “The first sign of progress on this path of meditation is … generosity. Yes, generosity is the first sign. A growing generosity. When you give without expectation of repayment in return you are progressing. When you can give without any need for recognition then you know you are progressing well.”

“The second sign of progress on this path of meditation is … gratitude. Yes, gratitude is the second sign. A growing gratitude. When you are grateful for all you have been given through your entire life. When you are grateful for the gifts that fill every single moment of your life then you know you are progressing well.”

Progress on the path is not measured by mastering a technique. Progress is measured by what happens to our heart. A generous and grateful heart is progress. Generosity and gratitude are the natural fruit of a tree that has its roots planted in the knowledge that we are all one. Inter-related and inter-dependent. When I awake to the truth that my life is dependent on all other life and all other life is impacted by my living – then generosity and gratitude are bound to blossom.

Paul agrees on how we should measure progress on the Jesus path: “If I speak in the tongues of angels, have prophetic powers or am able to move mountains, but do not love, I am a noisy gong … I gain nothing.” [1 Cor. 13]. Or again: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” [Gal. 5:22].


Christ Reigns

Grace and peace to you

Today is the “Reign of Christ” Sunday marking the end of the Christian year. Today liturgically / symbolically invites us to trust that after all is said and done Christ will reign on high. Put differently, it means that everything Jesus believed in and gave his life for will win in the end: love will face down fear, truth will win the race against the lies and justice will satisfy the hungry. Mercy will be without measure and the gentle will finally inherit the earth.

We have seen evidence of this in the past couple of days. Oppressors fall (and fall asleep!) while the God who neither sleeps nor slumbers fans the flames of freedom within the human hearts of the dispossessed. And the Spirit hovers over our imaginations with new visions of what justice and peace really look like. What was whispered is now declared from the rooftops. That which was feared is now laughed at. What was covered up is exposed. This is true in neighbouring Zimbabwe as it will be true once more in our own land. The final score will be in Jesus’ favour.

Knowing the end score before the end of the game en-courage-s us to be bold and faithful, especially when all the evidence suggests that a loss is inevitable. Knowing justice and truth and freedom will win encourages us to follow the light while it is still dark and speak-up while many still whisper in fear. The end in Jesus’ favour demands we stay in the game and not forsake the field where justice and mercy are being contested. None of us know when the final whistle will blow just as a few weeks ago no one on the planet could foresee the resignation of Robert Mugabe this past week… and besides it is not for us to know dates and times of end whistles.

We must not be naïve though. This game is not a friendly. The fight is fierce. The stakes are high. There have been casualties and sadly there will be more. Listen to how Prof. Njabulo Ndebele – an academic and chairperson of the Nelson Mandela Foundation – describes the desperate state of South Africa today:

“The government that was elected to act according to, support and promote law, order and constitutional rule, has abdicated that responsibility. It has itself become a thief that steals… Under this government, syndicated thieving has become the very purpose of government, because government has become an instrument that protects itself from the consequences of its own transgressions.”

It is against this tragic truth that we dare to proclaim Christ Reigns.


To imitate Christ is to worship Christ

Grace and Peace to you and through you

Today is Christ the King Sunday. It is also the last Sunday of the Christian Calendar. Yes, the Christian year ends with Christ on the Throne. It serves to remind us that all of creation is hemmed in behind and before by Christ who is the Alpha and the Omega. Christ is the enfleshment of love, truth, justice, gentleness, forgiveness, generosity, compassion and joy. Therefore to say Christ is on the throne is another way of saying love, truth, justice, gentleness, forgiveness, generosity, compassion and joy reign above all else (despite headlines to the contrary) and warrant our worship through our own enfleshment. To do so is to imitate Christ. And to imitate Christ is to worship Christ. This alone is our task. Not only is Christ the start and the finish, but Christ is also the bond that holds everything together. As we read in Colossians: “Jesus is the firstborn of all creation… Jesus is before all things and in him all things hold together…”

Col. 1:15. Enfleshed love, truth, justice, gentleness, forgiveness, generosity, compassion and joy are the authentic center that holds…

This reminds me of William Butler Yeats’ (1865-1939) poem: The Second Coming that he penned in 1919 in the aftermath of the First World War:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Next Sunday is the first week of Advent and it is always dedicated to the second coming of Christ… surely some revelation is at hand!? A revelation that exposes our false centers that cannot hold and calls us to recommit to the true center that always holds – Christ.

Open and vigilant to grace,




Grace and Peace to you

In the light of last week’s reflection if we are going to be a people who choose life rather than death we are going to need to change our spirituality (meaning: world view) from one of separation to one of interconnectedness.

To help us shape this life-saving spirituality I share with you the following principles from the Metta Center for Non-Violence:

  1. Life is an interconnected whole of inestimable worth.
  2. We cannot be fulfilled by an indefinite consumption of things, but by an expansion of our relationships.
  3. We can never injure others without injuring ourselves, therefore:
  4. Security does not come from locking up “criminals” or defeating “enemies”; it can only come from rehabilitating offenders and turning enemies into friends. As Jesus taught: “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.”

Grace, Alan

Read – Reflect – Renew

Psalm 132

Enter into the Silence
Into the Heart of Truth
For herein lies the Great Mystery
Where life is ever unfolding
Herein the Divine Plan is made known
The Plan all are invited to serve
Listen for the music of the Holy Word
In the resounding Silence of the universe
May balance and harmony be your aim
As you are drawn into the
Heart of Love.

Those who follow the way of Love
With calm and faith-filled intent
Know that all is working toward
Healing and wholeness
And may the healing power of love
Lift you from the limitations
Of fear and ignorance
Into the arms of freedom
May the peace of the Spirit bless you
And lead you on life’s journey
Be not afraid of the Silence
For Wisdom’s Voice is heard there!

As you follow the Light
You become gentle and kind
You come to live in the Light
Children enter into the world
Radiating the Spirit
Learn from them of innocence and simplicity
Learn to co-operate with the unseen realms
To see beyond the veil.

Wise are those who learn through silence
Learn then to listen well
For beyond the silence and stillness within
You will come to know a profound
And dazzling Silence
Herein lies the music of the spheres
The harmony of creation
Enter into the Holy Temple of your soul
Converse with the Beloved
In sweet communion
Blessings of the Great Silence be with you
As you help to rebuild the heart of the world with love!

~ Nan C. Merrill

Context gives meaning

Grace and Peace to you

I have included the full article (including image) by columnist Tom Eaton from The Times 12 November 2014. The reason I include his column is to illustrate two very important points. The one about context and the other about co-option: Context gives meaning. To deny or forget the context is to disturb and falsify the meaning. When we read scripture our first task is to honour the original context and thereafter to make sure that our interpretation of the text honours that context or in the very least does not betray it. Last week’s sermon: “Viva the Whistle Blowers Viva” (available on the web at or click on the link) is an example of how the context can radically alter the meaning of the text. Eaton also shows how a subversive message is often co-opted by the “powers-that-be” (commercial or political power). Recent sermons have shown how this has also happened to the Gospels.

The spectacles are enormous. Steel-rimmed and impervious to the summer wind, they lie on the grass of the Sea Point promenade as if left behind by a myopic titan after a picnic. But their placement is not arbitrary. The vast lenses, many inches thick, are fixed on Robben Island out in the bay.

A nearby plaque explains. The sculpture is entitled Perceiving Freedom, and encourages us to contemplate how Nelson Mandela saw the world. The artwork is, it says, a “testament to the power of the mind”.

I know very little about the power of the mind but the sculpture certainly seems to be a testament to the power of corporate sponsors: Ray-Ban, the famous brand of sunglasses, is prominently named on the plaque, causing one’s {expletive} detectors to start pinging. But only for a moment. If artists didn’t take the money of merchants there would be very little art in the world. Besides, they have some grand precedents, like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, an advertisement for the biggest corporation of the Renaissance, the Catholic Church.

And yet my unease remains and soon I realise why. It is not the sponsored spectacles that worry me. It is the picture on the plaque, a cropped portion of a famous photograph taken on April 25 1977.

On that day a group of South African journalists was given a guided tour of Robben Island by Major-General Jannie Roux, a psychiatrist and deputy commissioner of prisons. They were shown sporting facilities, tidied cells, neatly swept and weeded paths, all carefully curated to show the outside world a picture of a humane regime. And it was on this walkabout, according to the blurb on the plaque, that “the journalists encountered a tall, thin man dressed neatly in prison clothes and leaning on a spade. The man was Nelson Mandela, in his 13th year of incarceration on Robben Island.”

The words are factually correct but they have completely excised the human tensions of that moment. Handed a spade and told to look gardener-ish, Mandela was disgusted at being forced to be part of the charade, and, according to biographer Anthony Sampson, retreated behind a large bush as the journalists approached. Roux seems to have been slightly embarrassed.

“We have located him for you,” he told the group, “but he doesn’t want to see you, and we won’t drag him.” But the photographers kept coming, and so Prisoner 46664 stood his ground, making a point of not doing the work he was supposed to be doing, his rage and disdain barely hidden behind the dark glasses. The resulting photograph does not show Madiba the reconciler contemplating forgiveness. It shows a proud, intelligent man trapped, exploited and angry.

By removing this context, the photograph (and the artwork it speaks to) do us a disservice in that they subtly rewrite our collective history and therefore skew our collective present. Over the last three decades Mandela has been transformed from a man into a concept and finally into a kind of sentimental pulp, used to plaster over the widening cracks in our national psyche; but this doesn’t help us get any closer to his – and therefore our – humanity. We need to know that Mandela could be proud and angry, that his beautiful smile could become a tight, disapproving scowl. It is healthy for us to know these things.

In the last few weeks the white Right has eagerly been rewriting history. One very famous country singer even wrote an article explaining that whites have been reading “for millions of years”, a startling revelation given that vaguely whitish people have been around for only about 10000 years, and that Sumerians (not white people) invented reading only about 5000 years ago. In this climate of history being up for grabs, determined not by the brightest minds but by the loudest tweeter, it is important that we get our facts straight.

Even more important is to allow expressions of anger to remain unexpurgated in our history. Group hugs are lovely but if we airbrush over expressions of anger we deny the cause and legitimacy of that anger, and lose the opportunity to discuss it in any meaningful way. Once we begin to cherry-pick the warm, affirming bits, leaving out the complex, fractious, often ugly parts, we begin to convince ourselves that it is never acceptable to show anger, and that injustice must be suffered with a sigh and shrug.

We can begin to persuade ourselves that those who burn tyres and municipal buildings are just being thuggish; that they are concepts rather than furious human beings. And once that happens, we have lost forever any hope we ever had of seeing the world through the eyes of Nelson Mandela.

By: Tom Eaton in The Times