Archive for the ‘inner light’ Category

Jesus for the Non-Religious

December 2, 2007

Today I listened to this podcast from National Radio’s Spiritual Outlook programme*. I listen to all the episodes of Spiritual Outlook as they come out, but it’s only rarely that one inspires me to blog about it.

This one was an interview with Bishop John Spong. He is a liberal theologian and has written many books, including recently Jesus for the Non-Religious. His views resonated very closely with mine.

Historically agreed facts he cites:

  1. Jesus lived between 4 BC and 30 AD
  2. The gospels were written between 70 and 100 AD
  3. The gospels were written in Greek, a language that neither Jesus nor his apostles spoke
  4. The gospels were written by people who had never met Jesus, and were going on two or three generations of stories passed down by word of mouth

Bishop Spong argues that the literalist interpretation of Jesus as a supernatural figure in the Bible, capable of performing miracles, leaves people today with only two alternatives (at least from the point of view of the Christian tradition) . To be hysterical irrational fundamentalists, or to give the whole thing up as a lost cause and be secular. He thinks it’d be nice if there was something in between that was possible. An interpretation of Jesus that sees him as a man who was so open, so fully human that he was able to be so utterly filled with the energy of the Universe, the ground of being, the divine spirit, what Quakers call the inner light.

This is the Jesus I want to believe in. I want to believe that it is possible for any human to be as filled with the spirit as Jesus. To me it is so much more impressive that he did this as a man, rather than as a supernatural being with special powers.

Bishop Spong also talks about prayer, critical of prayers that are ‘adult letters to a Santa Claus God’. Rather, he sees prayer as a way to become more human, more open to the spirit.

Again, this is very close to the way I see prayer and worship, a way inward, to walk on the journey toward being more fully human. To me the historical Jesus is a guide on this path, someone who walked it with integrity, insight and love.

* if the podcast is gone by the time you read this it’s because National Radio only keep their podcasts up there for 3 months or so. If you’d like a copy of it just email me.



October 26, 2007

4am in the morning the rooster crowed. I woke and went outside the cabin. The grass was damp and cold. I looked up, directly over the trees, my eyes drawn to the brightest moon I have ever seen.

Full, large, and shining in the night sky. I looked around me and there were distinct shadows cast by the clothesline, maypole, trees and me. No wonder the rooster thought it was dawn.

In the chill air I was struck by the clarity and beauty of things. Little colour, but near light as day. Life seemed simple and pure.

Cat Stevens sings about Moonshadows. To me the song is about gratitude and acceptance:

I ever lose my eyes
If my colours all run dry
yes, if I ever lose my eyes
oh if …
I won’t have to cry no more.

It’s a calm and gentle acceptance of suffering and loss. It also implicitly conveys gratitude for what we do have, in a pure clear way like the shadows cast by the moon, darkness against darkness. This verse though is the one that struck me the most:

Did it take long to find me
I ask the faithful light
Ooh did it take long to find me
And are you going to stay the night

To me the faithful light is like the inner light, perhaps cooler and less distant that sunlight. Sunlight either is, or isn’t. Dark and light are more distinct during the day. The ‘faithful light’ is more tolerant, dark and light coexist, merging at the edges. That’s like suffering, gratitude and love. They’re all part of the same life.

Love and loss, grief and guilt

May 13, 2007

A stylish bar, 1995. House music pumping, I looked across and saw my friend Tim talking to a girl wearing white leather pants and a canary yellow shirt. Her hair was blond, and fuzzily spiked in all directions, cyberpunk style. Tim came over to me “Do you know who that is? That’s Cheryl Vuillermin”. Cheryl was a bit of a celebrity in Chch at the time, a very successful young fashion designer with her own shop. She was about six years older than us, and lightyears more stylish.

Tim and I went back to her place that night (I was there for moral support and slept on the very trendy retro couch). In the morning she made us miso soup, the first time I’d ever had it. We became good friends with Cheryl and although nothing further happened with her and Tim we hung out regularly with her in styley bars and got to know some others in that scene. A couple of years later, after a trip to Paris she came back, opened a new shop, and ended up flatting with Tim for a year or two. Cheryl named her shop Lumiere, French for ‘light’.

For the next seven years I bought almost all my streetwear from Cheryl, from mid nineties rave gear, to more subdued urban pants and shirts later on. I’d go into her shop at lunchtime and chat about fashion, design, and people we knew.

Cheryl died a bit over a week ago. She was 41, and left a 16 year old and a 4 year old son. She was diagnosed with Cancer two years ago and closed her shop then. Over that time I’d had her details and had always meant to get in touch and see how she was doing. I never quite did though. And now she’s dead.

Another of my friends, Cam, who’s ex partner Bronwyn used to work in Cheryl’s shop saw her sitting in a cafe three weeks ago. He too hadn’t seen her for a couple of years. He was in a hurry though, and just smiled, waved and kept on walking, expecting he’d see her again soon. And now she’s dead.

I feel sad that Cheryl’s gone. And I feel guilty. Guilty that I didn’t get in touch. Guilty that I didn’t try to help. Guilty that I wasn’t there for her. Cheryl was so inspired, she had a creative energy that shone like a light. And she had a darkness that gave her an edge, chic and black, like drum&bass. In the end though the darkness took her.

Cancer’s hard. I always feel that there’s something more I could have done. If I’d just known what to say, or been more supportive, or helped them think more about complementary treatment options, then they wouldn’t have died. I know this isn’t true but but I still feel it nonetheless. I know I can’t save everyone, I couldn’t save Mum, or Andrew, and I didn’t save Cheryl. I know I don’t have the emotional energy to be there for everyone, but I wish I did.

Cheryl was married just a few weeks before she died. She was very much in love, and looked beautiful, radiant and full of light in her wedding dress in the picture on her funeral pamphlet. I know you died in the light Cheryl, and that even though I wasn’t there for you, there were many people who were. Many who fought with you, and held you, and loved you. Goodbye dear Cherry, I’ll remember you always.

Welling up

October 30, 2006

During JYF camp we went to Waikoropupu springs. In this place a whole river wells up out of the ground, apparently from nowhere. The water is the clearest, most pure I have ever seen. We had a walking Meeting for Worship, following each other in the silence through the bush on the path to the springs. Standing at the viewing platform as a whole group, silently and in reverence of this incredible natural beauty it was easy to see why Maori held this place as sacred. Nowadays it is protected by the Department of Conservation.

In Meeting this week someone spoke about a documentary he had seen on the establishment of a Thai Buddhist monastery in Christchurch. He had been curious about how the monks did not cook for themselves, and that this was done by the Thai community, who contributed much to keeping the monastry going, both time and money. The monks were given the space to meditate, and to teach on matters of the spirit and of healing.  He drew a comparison with the incredible plethora of committees, conversations and work that goes on simply so we can have an hour of silence on a Sunday morning in Friends.

Other ministry that morning was about truly listening to people when they talk, taking the time to really hear what they were saying. All these things spoke to me about the upwelling of the spirit. When we create the space for silence, when we wait before responding when listening to someone, we allow the spirit to well forth. We get out of the way, and let the pure clean energy of the universe flow through us.

Learning to fly

October 13, 2006

In my dreams I can fly.  Not always very well. Often I struggle to get altittude. Sometimes I can’t soar like I want to, but I can fly, and in my dreams I can, and other people can’t.

My son often talks about super powers. We often have debates about which super powers would be preferable. “Would you rather have heat beam eyes, or be able to go invisible?” I’ve told my kids a few times recently that when you’re an adult you get new powers and some of them are super. I didn’t really know what I meant until I read this. I had some vague ideas about how you gain the power of being responsible for yourself, about being able to communicate with people in a deeper, more capable way than you could when you were younger.

Peggy talks about powers that seem to be spiritual in nature (rather than the physical powers that most comic book super heroes have). I’ve for a time had a sense that some people had spiritual ‘powers’ that others didn’t. The obvious ones like Ghandi, the Dalai Lama seemed to have a spiritual resilience. Dan Millman too addresses the notion of spiritual powers in the Way of the Peaceful Warrior. I’ve never before this seen them articulated in a Quaker sense though. It seems almost unquakerly to talk about powers. Powers are something that differentiate us, make us special, unique, better than. This feels so opposite to Quaker notions of equality that it feels uncomfortable to even talk about it. But we’re happy enough with the notion of people having different gifts. And as Quakers we seem well versed with as a very few small people being able to make a huge difference through faith and speaking truth to power. So maybe it’s OK for us to have powers too.

I resonate with some of the powers that Peggy speaks of especially the first two, but some, like quixotic vision and time travel I don’t even begin to understand or experience.  Hyper-resilience I am interested in. I’ve always been fairly good at discipline, and I’ve seen eating well and exercising as disciplined activities that give me the energy to do the things I want to do. I’ve never seen them though as a means of connecting with the ‘divine power source’. This really struck a chord with me, eating and exercising as acts of worship and connection with that which is.

So maybe if I keep at it, one day I’ll be able to fly. Somehow though, that doesn’t seem quite so super a power as being able to love.

Going unconditional

August 19, 2006

When I’ve bought and sold businesses and houses the contracts always come with conditions. “I’ll buy the house, as long as you fix the leak in the ceiling, and as long as I can get finance”, or “I’ll buy the shares in your business, as long as I find out it doesn’t have any debt you haven’t told me about”.  Once all these conditions are met, the sale goes ‘unconditional’.

I’ve been thinking recently about unconditional love. Someone at Meeting last week gave ministry about having noticed recently that the things that annoyed her about other people were often the things that she hated about herself.  Once she realised that, it was easier to accept those things in herself, and then easier to love others.

How is it we can love our children unconditionally, our partners, and maybe at a stretch some close family members, but everyone else comes with conditions. “I’ll love you as long as you treat me nicely”, “I’ll love you as long as you don’t bomb my country”. It’s like there’s this little circle of light around us, but it’s only big enough for those closest to us.  The rest of the world is in the darkness of conditional love at best, at worst it’s unconditional hate. They have to ‘make the grade’ to get into our personal circle of unconditional love.

Maybe this makes sense. It might be dangerous to love everyone unconditionally.  It could be a big risk.  They might hurt us.  Maybe we do need to filter the bad people out to protect ourselves.

But what did Christ mean when he said “love thy enemy”. Was he talking about conditional love, or unconditional? Was he playing it safe? Love thy enemy is easy to say, but I imagine very hard to do. I’ve never really been challenged to do this in a significant way. Seeing the opportunity for it to happen to people in Lebanon, Israel, in the news in NZ, and even in our own communities and Meetings I think I can see why it would be so hard, and why it is so important to try.

Only then can we expand our circle of light. If we only give unconditional love to those who give it back to us, those who somehow ‘make the grade’, we’re unlikely to grow very much. And we’re even less likely to have a chance of healing those hurt by others in the past. If we can expand our circle of light even just a bit though, we might just be surprised by what happens.

Being ourselves, together

June 25, 2006

At Meeting today the first ministry was about roots of trees intertwining, and that being a metaphor for the way we connect with each other in a Quaker community.

This prompted a further response in me to Leith's WGYF report, which I read again yesterday as it'd just been published in the NZ Friends Newsletter. In it she spoke of being so challenged by beliefs so very different to her own, and yet being able to try love, and being accepted by those whose beliefs were at times contradictory to hers.

She wrote that Grace from (Australian YM) had summed up her experience by saying:

"I came here with my heart and mind prepared to meet all of you, and most importantly, to be myself and also to encourage all of you to be yourselves . . . through my time here, there have been some times when I’ve been sitting in this room and I’ve been so uncomfortable. And for these times I give thanks, because it’s in these times that many of you feel most at home. The most important thing that I’ve learned and embraced is that we’re all so different from each other. And yet this is the only place in my life where I feel I truly fit. So, if I can be me and fit here, and you can all be you and fit here, then that’s just totally amazing!"

I heard a few years ago of a theory of human needs, which said that we have a number of needs which are in tension with each other. We have, the theory states a need for significance, and a need for connectedness. We need to be individuals, to be ourselves, to be distinct from others, and to be noticed and appreciated for what we uniquely provide. We also need to be connected to others, to be love, and accepted as a part of a greater whole. If we become too significant (like a celebrity) we risk not being able to genuinely connect with anyone, and if we become too connected we risk losing our identity.

Many faith communities it seems to me ask a high price for the connectedness that comes from belonging to them. They ask people to subscribe to a particular doctrine, or set of beliefs, to behave a particular way. Other communities, like New Age ones for example allow people to be however they please, but appear to have little true spirituality which connects people together. In Quakers we seem somehow to have gotten the best of both worlds. In this community I feel like I can be fully and uniquely me. I can have my beliefs, my faith, my spirit develop at the pace I need it to, and to express itself in the way that is right for me. And at the same time, I can be connected to a wider community that will accept me just exactly as I am. Here I can be connected, and interdependent, and loved without having to change how I am, or the way I act.

During Meeting this all came together for me. The first speaker was the mother of people I went through children's Meeting, JYF and YF with. My roots are here, and now finally I'm beginning to understand why I've come back. At that moment I realised I was ready to apply for Membership. I have been asking when this would come, and waiting until it did. Tonight I'm going to write a letter of application to our Clerk.

This sort of expresses how I feel: 

To stand in this forest we do not have to be pine trees,
To grow here we do not have to stand in rows,
Or rustle just so because all the other trees do,
We do not have to be a particular colour, or height,
And we do not have to grow tall and straight,
We can be whatever shape we need,
And choose our own way to grow into the light,
We can be covered with birds singing,
Or stand quietly in the silence of the night,
And yet we are all essential parts of this forest,
Loving and sheltering each other,
And together we can celebrate,
And stand shaking in the wind of the spirit.

Pillar of light

May 14, 2006

On Tuesday morning a dear Friend in our Meeting died.  I got a call early in the morning to tell me the news, and burst into tears.  I was surprised by the intensity of my reaction.  I had become quite friendly with Richard over the last two years.  His ministry I always enjoyed, and I loved the dry sense of humor he used when requesting helpers for the tea roster.  We’d had some interesting chats about things biblical of which his knowledge was vast.  He was in his early 80s though, and it was his time to go.  Why then was I so affected?  Over the last few days I’ve been trying to make sense of this.  Some of it is perhaps a similarity to Mum’s death.  Richard had a deep compassion for people, very similar to Judith.  He approached death with a pragmatism, with no outward signs of fear or the need for pity or sympathy.  He was lively and active until right near the end, then went quickly, just like Mum did.

From his hospital bed Richard volunteered to help redraft the guidelines for financial assistance, which had become a somewhat contentious issue in the Meeting.  He had just recently been told that he hadn’t long to live, yet he still was committed to the needs of others.  I think it was this that hit me the most, rather than any similarities with Mum.  Richard always sat across from where I normally sit at Meeting.  When he stood to give ministry I always felt a sense of anticipation, what he said almost always spoke to me in some way.  He was tall and lean, white a shock of white hair.  I see him now as such a pillar of the Meeting, a voice of reason and compassion.  I guess I expected him to always be there.  And now he is gone, and I am sad. 

I don’t know how we will fill the gap that Richard left.  I don’t know who will work quietly behind the scenes with compassion and love, keeping us all together.  I don’t know who will now speak about the bible with such a deep spirit, and I don’t know who will recite poetry by heart.  I don’t know who will gently and dryly jibe us about the tea roster.

When a big tree falls in the forest, it leaves way for more light for the saplings below.  I hope the light that Richard has shared with us, the love he has given us will help us fill this gap.

Rosy glow

April 20, 2006

I've just come back from YF Camp. It was an incredible, tiring, moving experience, and one of the best Quaker camps I've ever been to. As often happens, once I'd finally said goodbye to everyone and left for the airport I felt filled with a kind of glow. I was smiling at everyone in the airport, looking deep into their eyes, and feeling all rosy with the joy of being alive. It was all I could do to restrain myself from hugging the friendly airline crew.

It's a feeling I don't often get in my busy life, especially in airports in which I spend a lot of time, generally stressed and in a rush. What is this feeling, and what causes it? Is it some kind of 'happy clappy' religious fervour induced type thing like speaking in tongues? Or is it a brighter expression of the inner light that's always there? I know it wears off over time as I go back into the busy world. I'm wondering whether it's something I get from being around other Friends, which then fades over time, or whether it's something that's always there, and I've just temporarily peeled back some of the barriers to it shining through (which then grow back to protect against the pressures of the world). I'm not sure which idea I like better.

I do wonder if it's possible to feel that way all the time. Imagine a world where that was the case for everyone. Imagine if we could each in our own ways help to create that…