Generative action

The action in a universe of possibility may be
characterised as generative, or giving, in all
senses of that word – producing new life, creating
new ideas, consciously endowing with meaning,
contributing, yielding to the power of contexts. The
relationship between people and environments is
highlighted, not the people and things themselves.
Emotions that are often relegated to the special
category of spirituality are abundant here: joy,
grace, awe, wholeness, passion and compassion.

Rosamund Stone Zander
Benjamin Zander
The Art of Possibility, page 20

What would “a universe of possibility” look like? There are times when the assorted tumults of this world give rise to some measure of despair in all humane and thinking persons. At such times we do well to afford ourselves some breathing space, some time for imagination’s being given free rein. What would such a universe look like?

Ben and Rosamund Zander dream dreams. I turn to their wonderful book wherever and whenever I need a bit of a lift. What would such a universe look like? … joy, grace, awe, wholeness, passion and compassion … generative and giving.

From above

I’ve just seen a fabulous time-lapse video, in The Telegraph, of night-illuminated UK from above, made by Major Tim Peake up there in the International Space Station. And Ian Sample of The Guardian writes today:

Traces of DNA found in remains of
Neanderthal woman show date of first
human-Neanderthal couplings is tens of
millennia earlier than previously thought

Further to yesterday’s post I muse that we’re capable of looking backwards (in this case tens of millennia after events took place) and forwards, sideways, up and down, from above and from below – consciousness capable of “infinite extension” on the road to integration. There is plenty of cause for hope – and daily evidence of growth.

The Other Kingdoms

Consider the other kingdoms. The
trees, for example, with their mellow-sounding
titles: oak, aspen, willow.
Or the snow, for which the peoples of the north
have dozens of words to describe its
different arrivals. Or the creatures, with their
thick fur, their shy and wordless gaze. Their
infallible sense of what their lives
are meant to be. Thus the world
grows rich, grows wild, and you too,
grow rich, grow sweetly wild, as you too
were born to be.

Mary Oliver
The Other Kingdoms
The Truro Bear and Other Adventures

A blogging friend I admire shares my delight in the works of Mary Oliver and – on different continents – we’ve both been pondering her The Other Kingdoms, each especially attracted, apparently, by the same lines: Their / infallible sense of what their lives / are meant to be. Ivon’s piece is here. I wonder how many others have carried this poem with them through the hours of this past day alone? Poetry breathes a life of its own and is, in a sense, one of The Other Kingdoms.

Life is ineffably rich. Yesterday I contemplated the farthest reaches of the universe. Today, early, I meditated long upon the agility of the tiniest of wrens – fleet of foot, not just upon the wing; and later on the slant of the sunlight through the window at the gym; still later upon the bravery of snowdrops nodding cheerfully above frost-covered earth; later again upon a vase of Cornish daffodils come North! And upon the miraculous and perpetual developments taking place every day in the lives of my loved ones near and far, scattered family, and dear, dear friends.

And of course I pray for a healing touch upon the innumerable tragedies of the world – but, by poetry’s insistence perhaps, from a space within that holds on to what I can only describe as “love’s perspective” – an indefatigable faith that, ultimately, as Mother Julian has it, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and yea, all manner of things shall be well.” My baby grand-daughter is developing a fondness for little animals – “lambie”, and her family’s dog, and teddy bears. I hope she’ll come to know poetry’s other kingdoms, and

creatures, with their
thick fur, their shy and wordless gaze. Their
infallible sense of what their lives
are meant to be.

And I reach out, hoping daily that such a sense might ever grow, and grow, in me.

Mind your head!

The entrance door to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was among the very many things that touched me deeply when I first visited the Holy Land twenty-one years ago. Why this particular door? Because it’s tiny. Most adults are required to stoop to half-height to gain access and many are the cries of “mind your head” – though the entrance itself seems to suggest precisely the opposite.

The door seemed to be saying “Come down from your lofty heights! Worthy Magi, wisdom-seekers all, get down from your camels. Come, by all means, whoever you are and from wherever you’ve travelled, offer your gifts gladly and quietly. But pay less mind to what goes on in that head of yours! This place is about wisdom of the heart, known only by persons willing to bend the knee, to stoop, to enter in to the cradle of a quite different and very particular kind of “nativity”, an epiphany Now: veritable adoration, wondrous contemplation, most glorious meditation, healing and restoration, Otherness-in-ordinariness.

Some Carol words come to mind: “Do you hear what I hear?”

This nativity is about a baby, and about all babies, about the baby – the promise and potential – at the heart and in the soul of everyone, everywhere, and so about you and me. This is Emmanuel-revelation, a manifestation: something in littleness that all of us need to see, and to be … “Till we cast our crowns before thee, lost [and thereby found] in wonder, love and praise” *

* from Charles Wesley’s hymn: Love divine, all loves excelling

Little Icon

Shepherds, wisdom seekers, astrologers, hoteliers, flute players … Everychild, Everywoman, Everyman – any and all of us may find ourselves surprised and touched to the core by the advent of an infant. A tiny little living icon. The contemplation and the meditation come naturally as we take in the miracle: eyes, nose, little mouth, fingers, toes …

The life lessons – for all of us – begin with the the wonder of perfectly proportioned littleness, moving on to the realities of words beginning with every letter of every human alphabet – words like awakened, becoming, crying, dependence, education, feeding, growing, hoping, imagining, joy, knowing, learning, mothering, newness, otherness, purpose, quietness, radiance, simplicity, thankfulness … 

Whosoever and wheresoever we are in the world, with or without faith tradition, with or without much expectation or imagination, we’re never very far from a tiny little living icon of Life present to and with us, a living, breathing wonder of both immanence and transcendence, a reminder of where we’ve all come from and where we’re all heading, encouragement in hope and strength, and in weakness and vulnerability.

Tiny little living icons turn our lives upside down and right side up again, and in each and every one of them, in good times and in bad, theirs and ours, we come face to face with the imprint of the Life-giver, with the Immortal, with the Invisible, and – even if unknowingly – yearn to become Wise. Oh, Shalom, precious little Icon. Shalom.

Communion beyond words

Parker J Palmer, renowned author, Quaker elder and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal, is a weekly columnist at On Being. He writes

I met Thomas Merton a year after he died. I met him through his writing and through the communion that lies “beyond words,” met him in the seamless way good friends meet again after a long time apart. Without Merton’s friendship and the hope it has given me over the past forty-five years, I’m not sure I could have kept faith with my vocation, even as imperfectly as I have.

That’s what poetry has been and is for me, both writing – words on breath or page: “Let there be light, and there was light” – and communion beyond words. A special “other” kind of encounter with an other – and the air between us, and the space between lines and stanzas, facilitating ongoing co-creation. Heart touches heart and consequent co-creation gives heart. This is, indeed, what Parker Palmer has called A Friendship, A Love, A Rescue.  This is a coming to us, an advent.

Quakers and poets alike value words so much that they’re used precisely, and with care, and sparingly – because something else they share is a profound appreciation for Creation continually evolving, brought forth from the contours, depths and shapes of silence, from the space between lines, from communion beyond words.

The poetic spirit puts all forms of fundamentalist literalism to flight, calling forth life in acts of co-creation and co-operation, here and unto all eternity. Poets invite us to take little or no notice of words unless we mean also to breathe and to think deeply in the deliberate spaces in-between, for, to quote from Louis MacNeice’s Mutations

… every static world that you or I impose
Upon the real one must crack at times and new
Patterns from new disorders open like a rose
And old assumptions yield to new sensation;
The Stranger in the wings is waiting for his cue,
The fuse is always laid to some annunciation.

A far-off clarity

New Grange

Enter ...

whirling suns resound
          engraved on the threshold,
flowers of immortal fire
          shake their sistra.
In a dark school you will overcome
          the colour of mortality
when a far-off clarity seems near.

Sally Purcell
Collected Poems, p228

Snow fell around us quickly and quietly today, creating picture postcard scenes of stillness and beauty – cause for deep gratitude in a world where graphic images and lived realities of unimaginable horror are now part and parcel of our ordinary, everyday lives, wherever in the world we are.

The late poet Sally Purcell looked forward in hope to a time when humankind “will overcome the colour of mortality …”, stirred from grave’s “dark school” (literal or metaphorical) and quickened, re-vivified, by warmth and music – shaken sistra – of “immortal fire”.

And we do well to celebrate signs of hope – contradicting hopelessness wheresoever we’re able. There have been other “picture postcard” scenes today too. Women voted for the first time in Saudi Arabia. 195 nations reached a historic agreement to work together anew in the urgent task of limiting dangerous global warming. Here in the UK tens of thousands turned out to support winter festivals in communities flooded just a week ago.

Hope and hope some more – until “a far-off clarity seems near”.


Two Kinds of Intelligence

There are two kinds of intelligence: one acquired,
as a child in school memorizes facts and concepts
from books and from what the teacher says,
collecting information from the traditional sciences
as well as from the new sciences.

With such intelligence you rise in the world.
You get ranked ahead or behind others
in regard to your competence in retaining
information. You stroll with this intelligence
in and out of fields of knowledge, getting always more
marks on your preserving tablets.

There is another kind of tablet, one
already completed and preserved inside you.
A spring overflowing its springbox. A freshness
in the center of the chest. This other intelligence
does not turn yellow or stagnate. It’s fluid,
and it doesn’t move from outside to inside
through conduits of plumbing-learning.

This second knowing is a fountainhead
from within you, moving out.

Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi
translated by Coleman Barks

The practice of Mindfulness now has a literary genre and a worldwide following of its own. So there’s hope for our fearful, fractious world, a hope, indeed, that is “already completed and preserved inside you” (Alpha and Omega, beginning and end), a hope that dates back not just to the thirteenth century Persian poet Rumi, nor to the gradual emergence of the world’s great faith traditions, but to the very Author, the Creating Power of life itself.

Hope is to be found in this mindfulness, because – wherever we are in the world, and however deeply covered over or entangled by acquired influences – “this other intelligence” remains eternal and unsullied, it “does not turn yellow or stagnate”, it can neither be poisoned nor poison. This “fountainhead” is immortal.

Mindful awareness of this life source, this “other intelligence”, renders human persons capable of reassessing, reordering and making ever-new sense of all forms of externally acquired influence. Wisdom’s primary truth is to be found in the fountainhead within. What great and life-giving, life-saving wisdom is this fountainhead whispering into the man-made noise and too often murderous divisions of our time?

Mindfulness – variously called awareness, confession, contemplation, eucharist, examination, meditation, penitence, prayer, reflection, thanksgiving, waiting, watching or wonder.

Whatever it’s called, this fountainhead is bubbling up in the hearts and minds of world leaders gathered in conference about climate change in Paris today, and this same intelligence is heard in the voice of Imam Tidiani Moussa Naibi from Bangui, in the Central African Republic, who, in thanking the Pope for his visit this morning, said it was “a symbol we all understand.”

Pope and Imam alike are drawing upon the same fountainhead, in company with millions of others. “Muslims and Christians are brothers and sisters” the pope has said, “and we should act like it.” His is a mindful heart that believes the same of all humankind. And this “other intelligence” is being recognised across national, religious and philosophical boundaries everywhere. The world is having a rethink, or, more accurately perhaps, a deeper searching within, so we can dare to be hopeful.


This second knowing is a fountainhead
from within you, moving out.

Holding on

The Kingdom

It’s a long way off but inside it there are
quite different things going on: Festivals at
which the poor man is king and the
consumptive is healed: mirrors in which the
blind look at themselves and love looks at
them back: and industry is for mending the
bent bones and the minds fractured by life.
It’s a long way off, but to get there takes no
time and admission is free, if you will purge
yourself of desire, and present yourself with
your need only and the simple offering of
your faith, green as a leaf.

R S Thomas
Collected Poems, 1945-1990, p233

Paris in the Spring. The excitement of the colourful markets in Jerusalem’s Old City on a sunshine filled morning. Strolling through the park in Madrid. RomCom set in New York’s Central Park. Italian ice cream – in Africa. Roman Holiday.

Astonishing art in soaring mosques. Ancient praise daily ascending the heights of Westminster Abbey. Family. Fishing boats on Galilee. The taxi driver’s peaceful kindness as he spoke of his practice of the Ramadan fast.

Friends. The compassion in the face of the young surgeon saving the life of a child. The overwhelmed returning soldier holding his 9 month old baby daughter for the first time. Thich Nhat Hanh.

The young violinist wedded to channeling unspeakable joy to the ears of her listeners. The lined face of the grouchy old poet who penned visions of glory. The little girl who’s over the moon with a hand knitted jumper made specially for her.

Desmond Tutu’s giggle. The Dalai Lama’s smile. Her Majesty the Queen’s personal faith and steadfastness. A little gathering in the rain – helping to stack sand bags to redirect floodwater. Pope Francis offering a ride and a smile in the Pope-mobile and – beaming – bearing a lamb upon his shoulders.

Parisian café life. Blue skies. Snowy Alps. Venice. Persian poetry. Bedtime stories. Cherry blossom. Hot chocolate. The hand in hand. The lifeboat crew. Home. #porteouverte. The gentle border guard.

Birdsong. Jesus teaching on a hillside. Those who will willingly sit through night and day and months and years with the bewildered and the disorientated and those who have lost all hope and weep and grieve and mourn.

River running. Books. Freedom of Speech. Rolling lavender fields. Shepherds. The birth of a calf, a foal or a baby giraffe. The stars in the bright sky. Space on earth and space in the heavens. The grin on the face of a border terrier. Some folks offering – and others queuing for – “free hugs” in the Place de la RĂ©publique in Paris.

Ice Skating outside the Natural History Museum. Nicola Sturgeon’s warmth and openness on Desert Island Discs. Cycling with a warm wind at my back – especially near the coast. Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

These are just a few of my favourite things – and people.

And when, ashen-faced, as it seems we so often are, before what can feel like world-overwhelming heartbreak, we must bring these favourite things to mind – with and for the heartbroken, for the refugee, for the sick, the terrified, the dying and the dead, as much as for we ourselves. We must bring these favourite things to mind and be thankful for them. And for the (healed and Ultimate) Kingdom.