Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Time to wake up?

What can I do to persuade you to read the book I've just finished?

Now that you're in the middle of writing your own book (something I strongly support) it's odd, if not perverse, to urge you to stop writing and start reading. But, believe me, this book is different. Not only is it different, it is vitally important.
How can I convince you?

The other week we were talking about climate change. At other times we've talked about personal development . . . spiritual development . . . the unity of all life. We've talked about the pressures of daily living, and the disconcerting way in which the world seems to be spinning out of control. Whilst embracing all those topics, this book is, by extension, bigger than any of them. It's the whole picture in relation to life on earth - and earth before life as we know it.

Written by the scientist, Peter Russell, it's called 'Waking Up in Time'.
Let me whet your appetite with one of his opening contentions.

He asks us to envisage the evolution of the Earth as a year-long cinema epic. Seen in that time-scale, it isn’t until May that we glimpse the first emergence of the plant kingdom. Fish would appear in November, dinosaurs in December, and it would be just before Christmas that the dinosaurs would die out. Our early, ape-like ancestors would make their debut on New Year’s Eve, whilst human beings would delay their appearance until a quarter to midnight. That’s how long we’ve been here!

Now that man has arrived, just watch his progress in those final fifteen minutes! Human language doesn’t occur until the final five minutes, in the last minute farming begins, the first civilisations come thirty seconds later. Buddha achieves enlightenment seventeen seconds before the end, and Christ is born three seconds after that. The Renaissance, two World Wars and the Industrial Revolution rush past in four seconds. The world of the Internet is no more than a flash.

Now do you get this sense of how everything is moving faster and faster? How, with ever speedier, more innovative technology, the twenty-first century is rushing headlong towards . . . what?

Peter Russell charts this speeding up process which, as he sees it, is caused by the ever-increasing development of man’s mind, his acquisitive nature, and his manual dexterity. He charts the growth in population worldwide, the fact that today each one of us consumes, believe it or not, up to a thousand times as much of the world’s resources as a person living before the Industrial Revolution. Citing the rapid scientific developments in the past twenty years, he says (and who could disagree?) that no-one can possibly anticipate where this rapid acceleration will end, nor what the next ten years will produce.

But, take heart! Despite climate change, an exploding population, and our seemingly lemming-like charge to the cliff’s edge, this isn’t a scare story. It offers guidance and hope, has faith in the future, and is based on age-old spiritual truths. More than anything, as the title indicates, it's a wake-up call - a call for another evolution in the development of man, a major shift in consciousness if we are to survive.

Near the end of the book, Peter Russell quotes Teilhard de Chardin. I'd like to share the quotation with you.
“The day will come," he writes, "when, after harnessing the winds, the tides and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of Love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire."

I was left feeling strangely invigorated. I also felt humbled. Humbled by the responsibility of being a 'human doing' here on earth who must, as soon as I possibly can, learn what it is to be a 'human being'.

Now . . . I've only given you a flavour of this outstanding book.
May I offer you a copy . . . ?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Who's Anna?

Have you got a spare moment?
I've just had a phone call from Tina and . . . no, let's start at the beginning. I think you’re going to enjoy this.

I'm sure I've mentioned Tina, she is a very dear friend. She’s been a friend for more years than I can remember. Tina is eighty-seven - although, in spirit, I often think of her as being considerably younger than some of my more careworn friends in their thirties. We make each other laugh - and we share our lives by means of long, weekly 'phone calls.

Tina lives on her own, something made possible by the fact that she’s greatly loved in the neighbourhood of her home town in Surrey. Friends regularly invite themselves to meals (she is an excellent cook), bring fuel for her open fire, or just drop in for a chat. There’s never a day when an unexpected caller doesn't ring the doorbell and set the dogs barking. Despite increasing short-sightedness, she continues to drive (a somewhat nerve-wracking exercise as far as the local police are concerned!) and, with her walking stick to support her, resolutely goes out each morning to exercise her two exuberant dogs.

As I said, Tina receives constant phone calls from friends who want to visit her. They come to share anxieties, to seek advice or just to enjoy her open fire and good company. Apart from a sister who lives in Chichester, a sister whom she rarely sees, Tina has no relations. Her friends are her life.

Then, last week, the phone rang and Tina found herself listening to an unfamiliar voice.
"Hello, is that you Tina?” said the voice, “This is Anna. I was wondering . . . I'm in your district this afternoon, could I come to tea and bring Mother?"
Tina thought quickly. The name 'Anna' meant nothing, but clearly Anna knew her.
"Of course," she said brightly, hoping that her moment of hesitation had passed unnoticed, "I look forward to seeing you both."
At four o'clock an unfamiliar car drew up in her drive. An unfamiliar woman got out of the driving seat. Standing in the doorway, Tina saw this stranger help the passenger, presumably her mother, out of the car. She was an old woman walking with difficulty on two sticks. Tina stepped back out of the doorway to allow her visitors to come in.
"The lounge is the first door on the left," she said as the two strangers progressed through the hall.
The conversation, as Tina poured out the tea, was a little stilted. It was clear that these two women knew her, it was also clear that they had visited her before. . . but who on earth were they? She tried hard to conceal her confusion, but was afraid that the younger one suspected the truth.
Then, as she held out the tea-cup to the older woman - who had been sitting silently, head bent, eyes downcast - the old lady lifted her head and looked directly at her.
Tina did a double-take.
Surely not? Could it be . . . was it . . . was it her sister? Her brain began to whirr . . . of course . . . her sister's son had married a girl named Anna . . . this must be her niece-in-law who, together with her ageing sister (who looked and behaved in a manner so very much older than Tina had ever felt) had unexpectedly travelled up from Chichester and invited therselves to tea!

So, the moral of the story? Oh, a very reassuring one!
Quite simply, it’s only the body that ages. The mind and spirit remain youthful as long as you wish them to.
Mind you, it can be quite a shock, when you consider yourself to be still in the youthful stage of life’s journey, to encounter a decrepit old woman who turns out to be your sister!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Feline blackmail!

Nothing important, but just to give you a laugh - and some insight into the devious workings of the feline mind!

As you know, Rupert sleeps in bed with me. As you also know, since that anxious time when his jaw was first dislocated, about six months ago, the pain and dislocation have seemed to recur more often than not in the night. I now know how mothers of young babies must feel . . . bleary-eyed and in need of sleep!
Normally, our sleep patterns are pretty similar. We go to bed at around eleven, we awake in the region of seven the next morning. But, if Rupert has had an undemanding day, a dull day, a day devoid of stimulus or good exercise, then he wakes up early and, in order to obtain breakfast and a morning game, needs to waken me.

His means for wakening me are subtle. First of all, he positions himself on the pillow just above my sleeping head. He then reaches forward and gently pats me on the cheek. If this produces no effect, he pats again . . . a little more firmly. If this still fails to rouse me, he pats me, with great delicacy, on the eyelid. By this point I have usually been shamming sleep for several minutes. After the pat on the eyelid, I cautiously open one eye . . . tell him that it's not yet morning, and suggest that he returns to bed. With great deliberation, I close my eyes again.
The whole procedure is repeated . . . and repeated . . . and repeated, until, worn out by his persistence, I finally get up.

This morning I was awoken by these familiar, persistent tactics. Opening my eyes, I saw that it was a cloudy morning. The time was uncertain, so I switched on Radio Four. A talk was being given by the Bishop of Rochester. Concluding that this must be the "Sunday" programme, and that the time must be around seven-thirty, I succumbed to Rupert's demands, and got out of bed. It was only when I looked at my watch that I realised it was only ten-to-six - no time to rise on a Sunday morning. To Rupert's shocked amazement, I proceeded to return to bed.
He was dumbfounded. This was not part of the morning procedure. Once up, we stay up!
Once more he returned to his place on the pillow . . . once more he patted my seemingly sleeping face . . . once more I feigned sleep.

But this time Rupert boxed clever. Crawling back under the covers he rejoined me in bed. Surprised, but relieved, I began to relax. It was then that his devious plan was put into action. Slowly . . . deliberately . . . he opened his mouth. He opened it as wide as he possibly could . . . realising what was going on, I opened my eyes and watched apprehensively. Rupert watched me watching him . . . still he held his mouth open. He tested his jaw . . . he wriggled it about . . . I heard the distressing sound of the bones rubbing against each other . . . I pleaded with him to stop and not cause further dislocation . . . he looked at me, and opened his mouth even wider!
It worked . . . it worked like a charm . . reluctantly, grudgingly, I got up!
I had been blackmailed out of bed!

Now, two hours later, his breakfast devoured, an energetic game enjoyed and his morning brush completed . . . there hasn't been a single further trace of discomfort in his jaw! Nor, I suspect, will there be until he wants to blackmail me into something else . . . how's that for a manipulative, devious (much-loved) cat!

(Or has he guessed that, later this morning, we're off to the woods in search of bluebells!)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Answers or questions . . . ?

Why is it that questions are so much more powerful than answers?
This thought came to mind when I saw the Easter poster outside St. Mark's. Have you seen it? In great, bold lettering it states:
I'm sure that's perfectly true. But what I was being offered was a statement, a reassurance, a conclusion . . . where did I come into this picture?
Just see the difference if you add a couple of question-marks:
Immediately the observer is involved.

Why, I wonder, do human beings have this obsession for answers? Answers, or so it seems to me, are full stops. They close us down. Whereas answers are cul-de-sacs, questions lead us to the open road and new horizons. Questions stretch the mind and spirit. Questions invite greater, more profound, more liberating questions.
Children ask questions. That’s how they grow.

If we could answer the question about God, if we could describe God, we would not be here. Any God capable of being held within the grammar and syntax of a sentence cannot, by definition, be God. Any God that causes us to cease wondering, and marvelling, and questioning, and doubting, and straining at the restrictive limitations of our mind's capacity (for God can never be held within the mind) is surely not God. Any God that can be pulled down from the skies and labelled and courted and bargained with . . . is not God. Any God that demands politeness, and Sunday best, and a sanitised version of events can hardly be God.

God catches you when you're not looking . . . speaks to you when you're not expecting it . . . carries you when you've given up hope . . . shines from the sunset . . . blazes out from great music . . . shouts at you when you're about to do something stupid . . . holds you within the arms of a tree . . . is reflected in the faces of those you love . . . looks back at you from the mirror. And, finally, when you're ready, absorbs you so that the petty 'you' no longer exists.

And love? Who can possibly describe love? We recognise it the moment we see it . . . there's no denying when it's absent . . . and there’s nothing we can do to artificially create it. We can rejoice in it, be thankful for it, marvel at it . . . . the one thing we can’t do is to describe it.

Yet we know what love can do. Love holds our fragile world together. Love is the component of unity. Without love flowing through its veins, our physical creation would turn to dust. It is love that holds the shape of the flower before it withers away. Love that, as water, refreshes, revitalises and renews creation. Love that, despite its apparent fragility, is the strongest power that exists. Love is not the stuff that sells the magazines on the top shelves of the supermarket, nor the ingredient that demands bigger and better gifts and trades on gratification and selfishness. To give it away is to increase its abundance, to experience it is to be empowered as by nothing else, to trust in it is to acknowledge divinity.

Do you know what I'd like to put on that notice-board outside St. Mark's? The incredible photo that you showed to me last week. The picture of a sunset at the North Pole . . . do you remember . . . ?

There are no answers in that picture, just questions . . . wonderful, wonderful questions. And, who knows, it might even prompt us to ask that vital question of our age, a question that is very relevant to Easter:
'How do we, between us, nurture and protect our endangered planet?'.