May 31, 2011
Less logs, less logs!
I'm just practicing some writing for a new book, and I wrote this today as I limber up for serious labours to come.
Only jottings at the moment; proper writing will come in its own time.
But if you don't mind being practiced on, read on. It's the beginnings of a meditation on the Three Fires which Buddha makes reference to. Deep breath and -
There are three fires burning inside us, with sometimes unbearable heat and fumes. But the good news is this: having noticed the blaze, we can deal with it.
The conflagrations I speak of are the fires of hate, delusion and greed and each has left their dark scars across our inner terrain.
But which fire flourishes and which fire doesn't depends on which fire we choose to feed.
When we wallow in sour feelings towards another, we put a log on the fire of hate.
When we close ourselves to the possibility of being mistaken, we put a log on the fire of delusion.
And when we are grabby and grasping for a particular object or outcome, we throw a big log on the fire of greed.
But rather wonderfully, as we stop feeding them, something else appears in their place. Denied fuel, the fire of hate becomes a reservoir of kindness; the fire of delusion, a meadow of truth and the fire of greed, a waterfall of generosity.
Less logs, less logs!
May 30, 2011
A Man is only what he knows
How he is treated
Determines how he grows
Can he look another in the eye?
Can he trust the promise of the bright blue sky?
Will he reach out to others to fill his need?
Or will he run scared, hiding from his creed?
A Man is only what he knows
How he is treated
Determines how he grows
But what if that Holy Spark within
That is there before mortal life begins
That is there when mortal life departs
What if that Spark speaks to his heart?
Then Man could take his rightful place
Live with honour, justice and grace
Man could hold his head up high
And trust that promise of the sky
He would hear the Heartbeat of the Earth
He could walk with her dispite his birth
If he would hear her gentle call
Allow her to break through his anger wall
Allow her to hold him to her breast
To nurture, nourish and caress
If he could give up all he knows
Give up his fears, give up his woes
If he made space and let her in
Then surely healing would begin?
And he could grow, and he could be
A hopeful Man for all to see
A Man whose hand is kind and strong
A Man who knows that he belongs
A Man like this has broken free
Of lifes limits and misery
He has grown good and he has grown wise
With the deepest trust within his eyes
This Man, his body is just the same
But he has grown beyond his earthly frame
He lives life's truths
With friends, alone
Content he walks The Journey Home
May 27, 2011
Do your eye brows hurt?
There was a radio discussion about what people were given when young to make them feel better.
A man offered his story of what he used to do with his children whenever they were hurt.
Whatever the particular problem, he'd say to the child: 'Do your eye brows hurt?'
There was this understanding that if it was really bad, your eye brows hurt. If they didn't hurt, it wasn't too bad.
Of course, its rare for your eyebrows to hurt, which meant that usually, painful though it was - it wasn't too bad.
If your eye brows didn't hurt it was OK.
I like this story.
There are times when we all need to re-frame our pain, and dislodge it from it's determined efforts at primacy.
Perhaps the eye brow thing will work for you too.
Perhaps something else.
May 23, 2011
The End Times
Recent rumours of the end of the world - again - reminded me of a snatch of conversation from my 'Conversations with Jesus of Nazareth'. (Whitecrow books)
Like everyone else at the time, Jesus used apocalyptic imagery. But two things struck me as we spoke. First, he said no one knew when the end would be, except his father in heaven. (A truth that seems to have by-passed a number of pulpits.)
And second, and quite unlike anyone else, he was forever dragging the end times into the present, and indeed into the past, the eternal moment.
Our origins are our future, he claimed, as this breif extract reveals:
S: So tell me teacher, what will be our end?
J: What do you know of the beginning so that you now seek the end?
S: I don't know. Is the beginning important?
J: Where the beginning is, there the end will be also.
S: You mean we return to where we started?
J: Blessed are those who abide in the beginning, for they will know the end and not taste death. Become as children.
S: You make me think of the circle, teacher, in which each beginning is an ending. Every point in the circle is both a beginning and an end, as is every moment; a taking up and a letting go. If we attend to the present in this way, the end looks after itself.
J: The heavens and earth will roll up before you.
S: Is that so? I understand, of course, that we must use picture language.
J: The living who come from the Living will experience neither fear nor death, for as it is said: the world cannot contain those with self-knowledge.
May 21, 2011
Yesterday, the daisies were closed when I spoke with them in the dew-grass morning.
And then closed again when we spoke in the dry-grass evening.
In between, they'd opened wonderfully of course.
But they have to look after themselves; they can't burn the candle at both ends. Or indeed, at either end.
Being beautiful is surprisingly tiring.
May 19, 2011
Conversations with Jesus of Nazareth: After Zachaeus
I recently had some long 'Conversations with Jesus of Nazareth', published in a book of that name by White Crow.
The words of Jesus are his; my words are mine.
I'm going to put up one or two extracts in the coming weeks.
What follows is a chat we had just after he'd met a nasty little fellow called Zachaues, who had a complete life change in his presence, suddenly flooded with the light of trust. 'The lamp of the body is the eye' said Jesus, and they eyes of Zachaues had certainly changed.
Here's how the conversation then went, me bringing up some old Jewish wisdom Jesus would have known:
S: They say the body is nine parts light and darkness, teacher, or perhaps a combination of the two.
J: I have heard it said.
S: So before he met you, Zachaeus must have been seven parts dark and two parts light, but afterwards? Seven parts light, surely? Maybe eight parts! All that light flooding through the dark areas!
J: So see the light in you isn't darkness.
S: Like Zachaeus, we are to draw back the shutters on our lives?
J: If your body is well lit, having no part dark, it will be full of light, as when the glowing lamp shines all around.
S: And it starts with our eyes, with how we look at things.
J: I was watching the rich people putting their gifts into the treasury.
S: Ah yes, quite a sight. They do give generously, if rather obviously, to charity.
J: I then saw a poor widow drop in two brass coins.
S: Not everyone's so generous.
J: No, truly I tell you, this poor widow put in more than all of them.
S: More? She couldn't have put in less!
J: The others, they gave to God from their fat abundance but the widow, she gave from her thin poverty; she gave all she had to live on.
S: There's a recklessness to such giving, teacher and you like recklessness.
J: So do not be anxious.
S: Laugh in anxiety's face.
J: Do not become anxious about where your food and drink will come from.
S: You have no time for the anxious. You see anxiety as an act of fear or pride - a sign we're taking ourselves too seriously perhaps. And God not seriously enough.
J: Your food and drink - these are things the pagans are always concerned about.
S: So we're back with trust, aren't we? Everything comes back to trust. They say all roads lead to Rome, but with you, they all lead to trust.
May 16, 2011
At the end of last week I posted a piece about qualities I believed would be helpful in a bishop.
The first concerned the individual's awareness of, and recovery from, their own suffering.
In response to this, I received a marvellous e mail from a Church Times reader. It was a story of recovery from his own suffering. I found it very compelling and he has kindly agreed to allow it to appear here.
'My ikon is Nelson Mandela revisiting as a free man the cell where he had been on a life sentence.
Because my personal recovery from what felt like death (My wife going off with a member of the congregation) was in the following steps.
First step: the only truth in the world = life sentence.
Second step: the most important truth in the world = prison.
Third step: the slow recovery = day release.
Fourth step: bad days mixed with good days = a survivor.
Fifth step: the glimpses of resurrection, the joy in discovering I could help people because they didn't have to explain things = going through the vale of misery and using it for a well.
Sixth step: Finally (5 years later) accepting she wasn't coming back without blaming her or myself = freedom.
But still, when needed pastorally, being able to go back as a free man to my prison cell.'
May 11, 2011
I did a piece for the Church Times recently about the appointment of bishops.
If that interests you, read on. If it doesn't, you're on the way to enlightenment.
The appointment of prelates has always been, if not a dark art, certainly an obscure one. Why some triumph and others don't is never entirely clear. But is the fog lifting on the process?
Nick Holtam has recently become bishop-elect of Salisbury. How did he achieve this? By interviewing for the job. Instead of a nod and a wink from godly power-brokers who 'take soundings' for a living, Nick saw off the opposition in a three way fight - in a terrifying ordeal by questions.
Interestingly, the panel of 14 included six representatives from the Salisbury diocese. Locals, it seems, are acquiring the right to add 'No' to the list of possible answers when it comes to appointing their next overseer.
But amid the revolutionary excitement of old ways overthrown, comes responsibility. Suddenly the ball is in our court. If Anglicans are now to interview bishops who seek residence in their diocesan palace, what on earth are we to ask them? Here are five questions I'd want resolved:
1) What has the candidate done with their suffering? The presence of pain in their past: do they understand its legacy in their present life? We hurt others and ourselves from our unacknowledged and unexamined suffering; people in power need to be especially aware of this. It would be helpful if the candidate had befriended their personal sadness.
2) What is the overall disposition of this person? What climate do they create? Do people blossom in their hopeful and peaceful presence? Or do folk wither in either spoken or unspoken criticism? The successful applicant should live rather than preach Jesus' 'beam in the eye' story. A judgemental spirit, tempting for those in religious authority, is the property of a damaged soul which can create fear but not virtue.
3) Does the candidate make the panel homesick during the interview? The best art, philosophy and religion is concerned with a strange longing for home; with an inner flame we have glimpsed, but seen smothered along the way. We do not need a bishop to construct something new. Merely to help us stir embers and recover that which we've lost.
4) What is the nature of their vision? True vision does three things: it sees things as they are, both the sorryness and the grandeur; it connects people to each other in both curiosity and solidarity; and it arises from the being of the leader. God spare us from untimely death and power-point visions. People can only create around them what they themselves are.
5) And finally, does the applicant know that their words are a bright shade of nonsense, a collapsing staircase, a vanity of inaccuracy? Truth cannot be told in formulations - merely noticed in passing and greeted with a smile. The successful candidate will not want anything built on their words; they’ll hope only that life will grow in the gaps in between.
The mitre would fit one such as this.
May 07, 2011
The death of a conversation
He's getting his point across. And I think this is the 6th time during our conversation.
I heard his point the first time and received it. It was an opinion with grains of truth in it, but not enough to make it something substantial or whole.
It was an opinion, a fly-away, skimpy little thing, interesting for half a second. Or a newspaper column.
So I heard it, acknowedged it but let it pass into the ether.
But that wasn't enough for my friend. He didn't want his opinion merely received. He wished it to convince, to conquer - this was apparent.
The less important his opinion appeared to me, the more important it became to him. It was a noise in his head which forbade any listening, and in due course, the conversation died, sapped of the energy of listening.
The sad irony is that he started out as a boy desperate to be heard, desperate to be listened to.
But as his personality hardened around his pain, this emotional need to be heard became the heady need to convince.
Scarred by the absence of deep listening, he moved in with cerebral opinion, which feels nothing.
Its relief of sorts. But only in the same way that a second wound in battle sometimes distracts our attention from the first.
May 04, 2011
The wisdom of ninety
And here, as promised, is one of the responses to my 'Useless' piece a couple of days back.
It's from Mary, who kindly gave me permission to use it:
Dear Simon Parke,
Your Church Times column has cheered me enormously. I am attending an ecumenical Lent Course and in our small discussion group I mentioned that at the age of 90, I had settled for Being not Doing in the time given to me - in good health but easily tired - to reflect on things, prepare to meet my maker and enjoy myself.
An Amplforth monk in our group - admittedly quite young - said, 'Oh no, keep going! God has something for everyone to do, age is no excuse.'
He explained that they had monks, older than me, willing to conduct retreats.
Well, I have heard very old priests, almost inaudible and out of touch with the times. They were boring and should have given up long ago and realised that the world could get on well enough without them.
I sometimes comfort myself when I think I might be being self-indulgent with a verse written in protest at a hymn which began 'Rise up, men of God, have done with lesser things.'
It went like this:
'Sit down O men of God
Ye cannot do a thing
The kingdom is the Lord's
And he will bring it in.'
May 02, 2011
The good part of useless
A few weeks ago, after a short illness, I wrote a piece for the Church Times about being useless.
I'm posting it here now, so that in a day or two, I can post a splendid reply I got in response.
This was the piece:
'There's a lot of it about,' said the woman at the bus stop, and I nodded sagely. We do all seem to be ill at the moment, or at least avoiding someone who is.
My particular dose was a respiratory infection, though I didn't know it at the time. For three weeks, I was coughing like Russian writer, but without their book sales, and it all seemed slightly unfair. I was delivering on my various writing commitments, but a temperature arrived with dull precision every afternoon and evening and then I was fit for nothing and no one.
Finding a doctor before Christmas was a Herculean task in itself, and as ever, we must fight for these things when feeling at our weakest. But finally, in a small corner of a busy A&E department, I discovered an out-of-hours doctor service and the prescribed antibiotics did the rest: health restored. Not before the medic had told me, however, that all cough mixtures were a complete waste of time, and that the best thing to drink with a cough is water.
But the fact is, I had some good times when ill. On one level, it's a nuisance, having to ring people and cancel engagements, whilst wondering if perhaps you're fit enough to attend. And then there's the inability to plan or promise anything, as a day of sickness, becomes a week, and then one week becomes two. How long, O Lord? But shining like a beacon in the darkness was a wonderful sense of uselessness. As I collapsed day after day, I felt like a complete passenger in the world, unable to contribute to the voyage and with no desire to do so. Nothing I had previously set my heart on had any meaning, and it was all very liberating.
I remember long ago being haunted by 'The Stature of Waiting' by WH Vanstone. If my memory serves me correctly, it compared the active and challenging life of Jesus before his arrest in Gethsemane and his passive acceptance of circumstances afterwards. His behaviour was suddenly different. Implicit, if not explicit, was a theology of uselessness; an acceptance of holy futility as circumstances changed. If we ever link our value and place in the world with being useful, I suspect we become a danger to ourselves and others.
One of my sweetest memories is of an old man at the end of summer. In his youth, he'd been active and applauded, creating so much in the eyes of the world; but these days, things had changed. He pottered about the allotment, un-pressed by time, happy to rake one or two leaves from his borders and ponder the weakening summer sun. It was a uselessness which shone as bright as anything achieved in his life.
So I'm better now, but there's something about my illness I don't want to leave. Energy has returned and I'm running again, seeing people again - but let me retain the liberating truth of my uselessness.
May 01, 2011
The Long Day Part 3
As you may remember we have just left the cocktail bar and we are weaving our way along Oxford Street towards Tottenham Court Rd.
At this point our group splits into two.
My niece and her friends who live outside London head back to their hotel to get themselves ready for the evening event.
My other niece and my sister come with me and my girls back to my home via Dorethey Perkins where we attempt to buy my sister another outfit to replace the one she is wearing which is now covered in spilt cocktails.
We are waiting at the 29 bus stop, but time is ticking and it is not on our side, so we opt for the Londoners favourite 'The Black Cab'.
Now normally these guys know exactly where they are going but we seem to have found a novice, but with alot of help from his new friends (us) he does eventually get us home.
We now have less than an hour turn around time before we are due to meet again, so it is quick change time.
I quickly judge both my nieces and sisters outfits as not sizzling enough and decide to dress them from my wardrobe.
Considering I can count on one hand how many times I now go out in one year and in all honesty would probably have fingers left over, this is not a problem.
Ever the optimist, my wardrobe is brimming with far too many slinky shiny shimmering dresses all eager to get out for the night.
We are just about ready as the cab arrives to take us to Part 3 of the day, a Restaurant and Night Club in Holborn.
When we arrive the other half of our group are already in full swing, It is 'Happy Hour' and they are making the most of it.
My decision to stick to water for the rest of the eveing is forgotten as I find myself at the bar ordering more cocktails, well they are very reasonable and I even manage to convince myself that they are healthy as the fruit juice must count towards my five a day!
As we have already paid up front for the meal we are given a set menu to choose from. It is decent enough with four choices for each course.
But when my 'Prawn and Avacado Salad' arrives, there is not a piece of avacado in sight. I mention this to the Waiter and he tells me that it is just cut up very small.
Now I know I've had a drink but even after consuming plenty vodka, my eye sight is still pretty good and I can tell avacado from cucumber, of which there is plenty.
Some of the other girls who have chosen the same starter, are also noticing the absent avacado, the Waiter has realised that we are not buying his cut up small explanation and now has a worried expression on his face, I think he may be concerned that we might start to do some cutting up small of our own, so he relents and says he will go and ask the Chef.
When he comes back he admits that the Chef had simply forgotten to put it in. We find this quite amusing, that one of the two named ingredients in this particular dish could be forgotten, which leads to some jokes at the expense of the Chef, the waiter and men in general.
Personally I find myself at peace now the truth has been told and it is certainly not worth crying over forgotten avacado.
After the meal, we are ushered down to our booth in the underground night club.
It is a bit surreal and for a moment I think we have been time warped back into the 80's, with dancers in leotards, leg warmers and roller skates.
Our table is ladened with more booze, bottles of champagne and vodka with various mixers and another line of shots.
It is such a lovely display of bottles, glasses, jugs and ice, all shimmering with their different coloured contents.
I have a brief moment of contemplation, where I think it would be nicer to paint the image before me instead of drinking it, but unfortunately the display does not last that long once the girls get into it.
I chat to a few of the younger girls, they tell me they go out and drink like this maybe two, three times a week. I'm thinking that I will probably need to detox for the next six months!
We are soon all up dancing, my niece has managed to pick up a whole group of men who are out on a night of their own.
I watch her in action, Oh the power, once my own, but in truth I am happy to pass the baton on, she is definitely a chip off the old block and if this was a medal winning event she would be grab the gold.
Much to their obvious disappointment, we leave these lads behind when we are moved to a more exclusive part of the club, not that the girls mind they are here to have a good time and are now managing to do just this without a single man in sight.
As I settle down on the white leather sofa, I find myself yawning, it is just passed 10.30, not late, but I did leave my house at 9.00am this morning and now my body is calling for it's bed.
I decide to leave it to the youngsters.
For me, the long day is over. I didn't quite make it to midnight but I had a fantastic time.
With a last 'You go girls!', I say my goodbyes and head for home.