Be like a Butterfly – a concept of Christian Practice

We live our lives on autopilot. Our minds are noisy with thoughts about the past and worries about the future. We hardly see our present drifting through time, we certainly don’t stop long enough to notice it.  The end of this is a constant stress on our minds and bodies.  I for one can’t keep that up, so here is how to live like a butterfly:

FIRST – STOP! Butterflies are busy insects but every so often they have to stop buzzing about, and so they settle on a plant or flower and just stop. In July 2014 Timothy Wilson and colleagues at University of Virginia and Harvard University offered students 15 minutes of doing absolutely nothing but sitting still, with the option of self-administering an electric shock by pressing a button. The students all said they would be prepared to pay $5.00 to not have a shock, yet 67 percent of men self-administered shocks and 25 percent of women. One man gave himself over 160 shocks! We also struggle to stop and just let go of all the thoughts that buzz around our minds.  In the 1970s Jon Kabat-Zinn a molecular biologist University of Massachusetts researched the eastern concepts of mindful meditation then created Mindfulness-Based-Stress-Reduction describing Mindfulness as “… paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally.” It works! In patients stress fell by 70% and associated physical symptoms by 44%. It is scientifically proven to lowers blood pressure and heart rate and cortisol, the nasty stress hormone.

Every day, whenever you can – STOP! Cease the noise in your head and listen instead to the feeling of your breathing. Nothing more, nothing less.

SECOND – SOAK! Butterflies need to keep at a constant temperature and they use the sun to warm themselves. Spreading their wings out as they face the sun they receive warmth from the sun.  Instead of striving to come into God’s presence and struggling to get his attention periodically through the day, realise he is always present “The God who made the world and everything in it, … is actually not far from each one of us, for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’…we are indeed his offspring.” David describes this as “I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.” Mother Teresa said “Each moment is all we need, not more.” Brother Lawrence said “…that his prayer was nothing else but a sense of the presence of GOD, his soul being at that time insensible to everything but Divine love

There is nothing hard or strenuous about coming into God’s presence – because we are always in it!  Once stopped we simply soak up the presence of God by staying still and calmed like David. In Orthodox Christianity there is a practice called Hesychasm. It is “stillness, rest, quiet, silence”, a mystical tradition of prayer. Based on Christ’s injunction in the Gospel of Matthew that “when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret“, hesychasm in tradition has been the process of retiring inward by ceasing to register the senses, to achieve an experiential knowledge of God.

Spend time SOAKING God’s presence and love. The one thing we seek is what God has promised to give us – “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

FINALLY – SHINE! Butterflies don’t paint their own wings, they have them painted for them. Yet how wondrously beautiful they are! When we stop and soak up God’s present presence and live in his perspective, we can go back into our daily lives and display whatever pattern he has painted on our wings. Don’t wear a mask, be who God made you to be.

STOP – SOAK – SHINE

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“Let me know why you contend against me?”

end-of-sufferingJob 10:2 – Perhaps, O tried soul, the Lord is doing this to develop your graces. There are some of your graces which would never be discovered if it were not for your trials. Do you not know that your faith never looks so grand in summer weather as it does in winter?

Love is too often like a glow-worm, showing little light except in the midst of surrounding darkness. Hope itself is like a star, not to be seen in the sunshine of prosperity, and only to be discovered in the night of adversity. Afflictions are often the black foils in which God sets the jewels of his children’s graces, to make them shine better.

It was just a little while ago that on your knees you were saying, “Lord, I fear I have no faith: let me know that I have faith.” Was this really, though perhaps unconsciously, praying for trials? How can you know that you have faith until that faith is exercised? Depend upon it, God often sends us trials so that our graces may be discovered, and that we may be sure of their existence.

Besides, it is not merely discovery for real growth in grace is the result of holy trials. God often takes away our comforts and our privileges in order to make us better Christians. He trains his soldiers, not in tents of ease and luxury, but by turning them out and using them to forced marches and hard service. He makes them ford through streams, and swim through rivers, and climb mountains, and walk many a long mile with heavy backpacks of sorrow on their backs.

Well, Christian, may not this account for the troubles through which you are now passing? Isn’t the Lord bringing out your graces, and making them grow? Isn’t this the reason why he is contending with you?

Trials make the promise sweet;
Trials give new life to prayer;
Trials bring me to his feet,
Lay me low, and keep me there.”

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Brexit Reflections

brexitThere has been a lot of angst over the result of the referendum. Here is what a close friend shared with me. See what you think:

“Although I voted to leave I had little idea how it would feel if the vote did go in favour of leaving. I have these reflections on the issues:

  1. My reason was never based upon an isolationist, xenophobic feeling that we shouldn’t be Europeans. In fact quite the opposite, the deficiencies of the European Union as a political / governing organisation seemed destined to bring less harmony to Europe not more.  But instead of anyone understanding this motivation, I am branded along with all other leavers as a bit of a cocky, arrogant Roast-Beef racist.  It turns out that in the place of respect and understanding, human nature has delivered demonising.
  2. I had hoped that the men and women who ran this country, when they recognised that leaving was the choice, would stand tall and take a statesman-like approach during the following weeks and months, respecting our European neighbours and acting in ways that would attempt to heal and galvanise the country. I was very mistaken. It turns out that in the place of responsible government, human nature has delivered squalid infighting.
  3. And so the theme continues. It turns out that in the place of restrained and conciliatory media coverage, human nature has delivered mercenary, opportunist gutter headlines and coverage.
  4. The worst issue for me in many ways is the clear fact that on a straight line graph young people wanted to remain while older wanted to leave. If the three aspects above had gone the other way it could be argued that older folk (including press, government etc.) did vote with a clear and hopeful future in mind, but in fact we now see that it was in fact young folk who carried the optimistic, hopeful view of the future!

My view of the EU hasn’t changed but I now feel like I wish they hadn’t asked me!

…he makes some good points I feel. Yet surely it is always only in the future that hope can be turned to sight. Perhaps some older folk have a charmingly nostalgic view of what the UK was like prior to the EU, but even if it were true there is no going back. The final movement of Vaughan Williams London Symphony in which the true scheme of the old order is altogether dwarfed and swallowed up is inspired by the last chapter of H.G. Wells’s novel Tono-Bungay: “... Light after light goes down. England and the Kingdom, Britain and the Empire, the old prides and the old devotions, glide abeam, astern, sink down upon the horizon, pass – pass. The river passes – London passes, England passes

The teacher said ‘Never ask, “Oh, why were things so much better in the old days?” It’s not an intelligent question.‘ We would do well to learn from him!

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Exodus: Gods and Kings and Movie Stars

mosesSo last night we went to see Exodus, not really expecting too much, knowing Ridley Scott was a ‘realist’, aware that movies have to take some licence but nevertheless, still anticipating a blockbuster. As I came away the only feeling I had was… um… well – no feeling at all. It was kind of “Meh…”

I’ve been thinking all day and trying to work out why the film turned out to be so much less than sum of its parts.

I guess there is a part of me that was a little annoyed at the blatant errors versus the biblical narrative. After all this is where the story was first written so it would only be justified if the alternative reality produced a more compelling story or explanation of events?

Here’s just a few of them, in the Bible account

  • There is no suggestion that Moses never knew he was a Hebrew
  • Pharaoh tried to kill Moses and so he ran away
  • He had two children in Midian and the whole family initially went back to Egypt
  • He stood before the burning bush and the angel was in the middle of the bush
  • Moses only asked Pharaoh for a 3 day journey to sacrifice to God
  • It was the Pharaoh alone who needed convincing not the people, his servants already told him Egypt was ruined before the eighth plague even started.
  • Moses staff! – all the stuff he did was done with his staff!
  • Aaron did all the speaking and he met Moses in the wilderness before he returned from Midian
  • Pharaoh acquiesced and asked for each plague to stop before then changing his mind
  • They dabbed blood using hyssop rather than ‘painting’ their doors
  • Only 600 chariots went to re-capture the Hebrews

But as I say, all this could be overlooked if only the story had some internal dramatic integrity. In my opinion it didn’t. Instead it appeared to be a mash-up of conflicting aims. A vehicle for Ridley Scott to experiment with retelling a story in a way he could believe, A vehicle for Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton to seduce themselves by their own style of ‘Marvel’ acting, consisting of either shouting or whispering or else looking with hooded and set features at the mid-distance. Or else a vehicle for thousands of CGI effects (CGI effects = box-office money, surely?) Either way the wheels fell off. The result was one of Letitia Cropley’s recipes, and I’m sorry but that’s how it now feels – a bad taste in my mouth after eating parsnip brownies with a hint of liver.

Someone said that it was a four hour film that was reduced to 2:30 for release. It felt like it. None of the characters ever really developed. I felt no emotion for Moses or Pharaoh yet in anyone’s book this should have been quite emotionally powerful?

But more than everything else, in hindsight perhaps the story in Exodus is not so much about Moses, or Pharaoh, or even Ridley Scott. It’s more about God and any decent film director whether atheist, agnostic of religious should have been able to see that and bring it convincingly to the screen?

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Home no more home to me

home

Will Scotland vote for independence?  I am struck by the even match of the facts on both sides of the debate, perhaps this is why the polls say it will be a very close call. But I believe the YES vote will win tomorrow and it won’t be as close as predicted. The feeling of excitement in the yes camp is illustrated by the use of language. ‘Hope’,  ‘opportunity’, ‘adventure’, ‘bright’ are words that adorn the passions of the vision of independence. All the no camp has to offer is ‘fear’, ‘worry’, ‘nervous’, ‘danger’.  It is the rhetoric of Barak Obama’s rise to power. It was the rhetoric of Tony Blair and also of Margaret Thatcher.

It really didn’t turn the world upside-down then and I doubt the rainbows in the sky will have large pots of gold at the end this time either.

My personal feeling is one of sadness.  My father-in-law came south from Nigg and lived a good life in England, which despite his yearning for the ‘Quickening’ he came to call home. My daughter now calls Glasgow home.  All the places we have been to in Scotland and still called home will feel to me like they have moved away. Yes I know they will still be there but if everyone else is allowed to be emotional over this then so am I.

To quote a rather well known Scotsman:

Home was home then, my dear, full of kindly faces,
Home was home then, my dear, happy for the child.
Fire and the windows bright glittered on the moorland;
Song, tuneful song, built a palace in the wild.
Now, when day dawns on the brow of the moorland,
Lone stands the house, and the chimney-stone is cold.
Lone let it stand, now the friends are all departed,
The kind hearts, the true hearts, that loved the place of old.

 

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Genuine Significance

Iain and Abi

The first dance!

It’s late and I’m thinking that if I don’t go to bed the weekend won’t end while I am still awake! It’s a strange thing how our experiences quickly become memories. Sometimes this fading is a good thing if the things are painful, but sometimes we want to hang onto the good times, yet they slip through our fingers like water. The last couple of weeks have been such a great time with Abi and Iain’s wedding. Many times I’ve thought “I wish it would never end”. Yet they do end and then am I alone in wondering what is their legacy? I see two options I think:

The first is that our experiences mean nothing, we are blobs of carbon spinning through a heartless universe and so the emotions we experience are weird and complex shadows of genes preserving themselves “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day to the last syllable of recorded time; And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing”

I can’t except that.

The fact that we do all search for meaning and significance tells me that it is there to find. I know that it is impossible for me to believe our lives are just part a complex, impersonal machine. The events we live through resonate with us through our lives affecting the way we react in new situations and changing us. People we meet and relate to shape our future and theirs. The truth of our past bears promise of hope for the future -hope and purpose, an ultimate goal we can head towards.  Things that happen to us have significance, they mean something.  Learning this makes the horizon an exciting destination because the future is where all the good things are going to happen.

And as Mark Twain said:

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why”

And as Tolkien confirmed:

“The greatest adventure is what lies ahead.
Today and tomorrow are yet to be said.
The chances, the changes are all yours to make.
The mold of your life is in your hands to break.”

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Deeper blue

image

Deeper blue

2013 to 2014. A time to reflect, time to peer into the future, time to stand still for a while and look around ourselves. There are bright and dark memories of 2013 and some make us smile while some bring us tears.
Then, we look at where we are heading  we see similar shades on our horizon. Fears for the future, some excitement also. We wonder if we have done well and if we will do well. We wonder what has remained constant and whether it will stay that way.
Over Christmas I walked our dogs under a clear passion-blue sky and saw that the blue ran deeper the higher you look up. And I know that the closer you get to heaven the more intense is the colour. So I already know what is my solid ground for 2014. The closer I live towards my Lord, the deeper and more passionate is my future. I’ll head in that direction next year.
May your days ahead also be filled with a deeper and more deeper royal blue!

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