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Seek the fire

Posted by Simon Parke, 18 March 2019, 5.21am

Seek the fire that warms you today

Come in from the cold for a moment

Some people, some places are flames

You can’t always be there, but sometimes you can

Knowing life is good, and you are good

And perhaps make a fire for another

Your warmth warms them, maybe you don’t realise this

Though life is difficult, we find such fires along the way, sometimes by chance

Our spirit so simply restored

By old embers and new flames both

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More bird, less cage

Posted by Simon Parke, 18 March 2019, 5.00am

Some are more cage, less bird

Though one day the bird will see

The bird complains and bristles at the cage holding them in, making them prisoner

Though one day they’ll see they’re both bird and cage

This is the truth, whispered, the two are one

And the bird may flutter and fluster at the thought, it is a difficult owning

‘I am the cage?!’

But once done, bars can melt and rusty locks crumble

More bird, less cage

More skyline

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Enneagram and our primary programmes

Posted by Simon Parke, 13 March 2019, 12.37pm

Next week, I’m hosting an Enneagram retreat at Holland House.

What will we be doing? Here’s one way of describing it.

We all develop our primary programme from our childhood experiences. You’ll have yours as I have mine.

Particular feeling responses, repeated and reinforced, become a child’s programme. It’s how they will survive in an uncertain world.

With reasonable stress, the child develops appropriate strength and the programme becomes a moderately flexible style of personality.

But severe stress, repeated, can make the programme very rigid, very defensive.

These programmes operate below our consciousness, so we don’t see them at first. This is why Enneagram listening is a very different sort of listening.

It’s listening to things beneath our consciousness. No wonder we struggle with it sometimes.

But these programmes are worth bringing to the surface; for they are very busy on our behalf, giving very precise instructions about what signals to heed, what information to screen, what emotions to release – and yes, what choices to see.

From here on, the brain sends only information of interest to our chosen programme. And from here on, habitual feelings and thoughts block other, possibly more appropriate, responses.

So the Enneagram’s work is to describe these nine behavioural programmes, one of which is ours…and help us toward freedom.

Each of them has a range of intensity. The more an individual’s behaviour is locked into a programme, the more psychotic they are.

When identification with the programme is lighter, there’s greater freedom.

And where the shadow issues are encountered, (that is, the aspects of ourselves we reject/deny) there is strength. For health to break out, what was rejected by our childhood programme will need to be greeted and brought into the fold.

And as with kind attention our programme dissolves, what happens? We screen out less information meaning choices increase, spontaneity is released, new paths appear.

We don’t now need our programmes in the way we once did.

Once they saved us; now they restrict and close down.

You’ll see that in this process, stress has two sides. It can reinforce our defensive patterns… or it can reveal to us what needs to change.

So if we hang around our shadow side rather than always opting for the more positive aspects of ourselves, it’s because it has more to say, more to offer.

Strange but true.

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Towards silence

Posted by Simon Parke, 12 March 2019, 7.17am

In the end, words are not real.

The word God is not God; neither is the word light light.

We are not made drunk by speaking of wine or by writing the word often.

Words point… but they do not embody.

Everyone makes of words what they will; words do not make them.

Like ghosts, like the hollow men, wispy and gaunt, words hang around truth, demanding to be noticed; without substance in themselves, they pretend or steal substance from others.

Words give birth to illusion – to an image of the real, but not the real itself.

So we use words for a season.

And then we don’t use words for a season, we take our leave of the chatter; for there is only the real and the true; and words do not come near.

So let everyone in the Temple be silent.

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Thriving in the sausage machine?

Posted by Simon Parke, 11 March 2019, 10.39am

I recently had the honour of spending a day with some head teachers.

In the afternoon, we were thinking about what gives us uplift in life; what restores our sense of humanity.

No two stories are the same, of course, but one strong theme came through: nature.

Whether it was finding a windy beach or sticking their hands in soil and re-potting a hyacinth or looking up at the vast and mysterious night sky, it was nature that was declared most healing.

‘It seems to give me back to me,’ someone said.

Whether it’s work, or other circumstances, life can be a sausage machine, forcing us into particular shapes.

We’re forced to play a role; and may close down on significant aspects of ourselves in the process.

This can happen without us realising. We can be drained of joy without noticing, losing all delight in the world, and sometimes, all hope.

The sausage machine can press the life out of us. So uplift and restoration are essential for our essential selves.

For the head teachers, we discovered that nature is a constant life-changer.

What changes life for you? What gives you back to you?

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Can imagination save us?

Posted by Simon Parke, 04 March 2019, 4.32pm

Is imagination our greatest need right now?

‘Imagination is at the deepest root of what it means to be human,’ says Jean-Yves Leloup.

So can it save us? And how?

All great structures and institutions, however large and looming, are imaginary – the result of imagination.

And so they need to be approached with imagination.

It is this idea which gives birth to politics – to the questioning of that which is, to the pondering of possibilities and purposive action in response.

Politics is an act of the imagination: ‘It doesn’t have to be this way!’

It is the same with boundary-pushing science, poetry and spirituality; each a creative response to that which is, a fresh spring bursting.

They allow nothing to be written in stone; for nothing is written in stone.

When the gift of imagination is not kept alive, the story dies, the music dies.

Institutions harden, calcify and become dogmatic; they are relative, but behave as if they are absolute.

Labels become small and intolerant gods.

Imagination is also important in our personal lives.

What is – whether a difficult relationship or situation - can be perceived as absolute…when in truth, it’s imaginary; an act of interpretation.

Nothing has built-in meaning; but without imagination, we might imagine it does and bow to the weight of its claim over us.

The gift of human imagination is the gift of questioning and possibility. It looks constantly to re-create freedom and meaning here and now.

And it’s at the heart of resilience.

If we lack imagination, we will struggle to find solutions to the challenges of life; we may be over-powered.

To imagine a better world is the beginning of a strong wisdom; an underground stream of change.

Don’t give up.

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The silhouette of the cross

Posted by Simon Parke, 04 March 2019, 9.07am

I once wrote an historical novel, which reminds me what I appreciate about Lent.

A moment to explain.

The narrative focused on the final year in the life of Charles 1, the only English king to be executed.

So it’s a story told with the silhouette of death on the horizon which reaches its denouement on January 30th, 1649.

The English monarch stands on a cold scaffold in Whitehall; and it is very cold, the Thames has frozen over. He wears two shirts today so that he does not shiver and appear afraid to the waiting crowd.

And then, having placed his head on the block, with one swing of the axe, he loses his head.

The impossible has happened. The king is dead.

It had not been an inevitable death, far from it. But as, with hindsight, we follow the twists and turns of the narrative, it stands waiting for us, gaunt-eyed, there at the end of the story.

As with the film Titanic, we know what’s going to happen, we can’t avoid it and can’t step round it… and it’s rather the same with Lent.

People use this season in a number of ways, choosing from various spiritual practices.

Not doing something/Taking up something…that just about covers it.

But however we use it, we know the destination of Lent: the Good Friday crucifixion of Jesus.

It’s there in our consciousness. Like a scratch in the window, whenever we look out, we see it - the silhouette of the cross.

So this is a walk through the wilderness of our mortality.

We may not die for another fifty years, another seventy years…we may die in eighteen months or tomorrow.

But the ‘when’ doesn’t matter.

The genius of Lent is the reminder that life is best lived in death’s kind shadow, in the creative companionship of the daily letting go of our egos.

I call it a kind shadow, when it might seem unkind. The valley of the shadow of death is not traditionally celebrated.

But a sense of our brevity bestows life with energy, focus, awe and perspective.

We are passing through, brief travellers on earth, gasping in wonder, living a mystery.

And again and again death asks important questions like: ‘How goes your journey? Is this the journey you want?’

Sitting on the side in my kitchen is a card which says: ‘She decided to live the life she’d always imagined.’

It’s the sort of decision people take when something in their life has died.

Something has died… and now something else can live; perhaps something longed for.

Death, in its many guises, brings loss, bereavement and pain… and grief needs its voice and its tears.

But it also brings space: fresh space, a different path, a new order.

The genius of Lent is in the silhouette of the cross on the horizon, stark against the sky.

Like a scarring on the window we can’t ignore, it is the sparse but kindly reminder of death – our small deaths, our big death… we might live the life we imagined in the time given to us.

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Posted by Simon Parke, 01 March 2019, 1.16pm

It is the climate grace we lack.

There’s a lot of striving around; but this is quite different.

Self-helpery is full of striving, as is much religion.

We make a project of ourselves: ‘I must be better – or else!!

There is no end to strivery, no finish point; which is why it sells so many books and courses.

‘One more push!’

With striving, we never make it, we never arrive home in the harbour; we’re always disappointing, always failing, always not quite there, out on the big sea of life.

Grace is the opposite of striving.

It doesn’t judge you on what you achieve because it doesn’t judge.

This is the aspect of Julian of Norwich I most like; the gracious climate she creates, in which God calls her ‘my dear darling’.

There is no space in the divine character for judgement or assessment; and no cold shoulder offered when everything gets messy.

When, in one of her parables, the servant falls over on an errand for his lord, he is terrified.

But the lord, instead of getting angry – ‘How could I be angry?’ he asks - buys him a new, and rather better, coat.

If you sense you lack grace, and tire of strivery, do nothing about it. 

Grace will come and find you, you dear darling.

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Whatever happened to Abbot Peter?

Posted by Simon Parke, 27 February 2019, 10.12am

The other day, in a deep dark wood, I stumbled across various reviews of my Abbot Peter detective series, all gathered together.

It reminded me that I have a new Abbot Peter story written, ‘A Hearse at Midnight’, set in an undertakers in Stormhaven.

I haven’t offered it for publication yet. The Abbot failed to get much national attention, which is why I hesitate.

But never say never, and in case you were wondering about dipping your feet into the murky water of murder, here are some outsiders’ assessments of the series so far.

‘Cunningly plotted, scary and darkly funny . . . the dialogue crackles as crisply as ever’. Source: Church Times

‘Abbot Peter is a true original’. Source: Daily Mail

‘To a long list of much-loved detective pairings, which includes Holmes and Watson, Poirot and Hastings, and Morse and Lewis, we must now add Abbot Peter and Tamsin Shah.’ Source: Church Times

‘He is a brilliant creation. Clever. Rounded. Articulate and real. It may take a few years for him to be accepted as one of the greats. But . . . he will be.’ Author: Tim Hastie-Smith, National Director of Scripture Union

‘The characters that Parke pens are convincing, and the dialogue is rich and entertaining.’ Author: The Revd Professor Nicolas Goulding Source: Church Times

‘Highly original . . . very different from most detective stories.’ Source: Clerical Detectives

‘An engrossing page-turning thriller, propelling the reader through its multiple twists and turns and keeping one guessing until the final unpredictable - yet satisfying - denouement.’ Source: Irish Independent

‘A nicely plotted, swiftly paced yarn, full of teases . . . Parke evokes the creepiness of the setting marvellously. He has a stunning ear for the way people actually speak, with pages of uninterrupted dialogue flashing by with the speed of a radio play.’ Fiona Hood Source: Church Times

The series so far, in order of publication, (tho’ each is self-contained)  ‘A Vicar Crucified’, ‘A Psychiatrist Screams’ ‘A Director’s Cut’ ‘A Very Public School Murder’ and ‘The Indecent Death of a Madam.’

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How to become an adult

Posted by Simon Parke, 25 February 2019, 10.21am

When does someone become an adult?

Society isn’t absolutely sure.

You can join the army at sixteen; start driving a car at seventeen and buy a drink in a pub at eighteen.

The age of consent for sex is sixteen in the UK, though it varies from twelve to twenty around the world.

Meanwhile, you can become an MP at eighteen but interestingly, the youngest judge in the UK is thirty two.

So you can have been making laws for fourteen years before you’re reckoned wise enough to make judgements on them.

In the end, being an adult is not about age; but about being able to make good choices for yourself and for others; and I don’t believe we can become such adults before our late twenties…by which time quite a few big decisions have been taken.

Why our late twenties?

It takes time to put clear blue water between ourselves and our childhood influences; without such awareness, we might not be making the free choices we imagine.

We also need to experience the life of work in our twenties, experience the world of relationships; and perhaps watch the wheels come off some of our assumptions.

I sometimes call it ‘the quarter life crisis.’

So we may be able to become an MP at eighteen; but the earliest we can reach emotional adulthood is at least ten years later.

Some, of course, never make it; sadly, emotional adulthood eludes many. We’ve all known powerful men who remain angry two-year-olds - but in long trousers.

We’ve all known high-achieving women/men who remain children, still using the anxious childhood survival pattern of people-pleasing.

In the end, true adulthood is not about age - but about the ability to make good choices; and it takes time.

Adulthood arises in each of us, like a beautiful flower, from the rich inner soil of awareness, courage, honesty…

...and self-kindness.

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