Peace

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Peace is something we all want, even if it is amongst an adrenaline-filled pacy existence.  As our lives are filled with appointments, visual stimulation and stress, we become aware of our essential need for calmness alongside our busyness.  Is this a possibility?

In English, the word peace implies a rather passive picture of the absence of disturbance or hostilities.  It conjures up pictures of a personality free from internal and external strife.  However, the Hebrew word for peace is shalom and this word has a much fuller meaning.  It rests heavily on the root slm which means to be complete or to be sound.  It speaks of wholeness, of life, of health.  It refers to right relationship between two parties or people.  The word, shalom, implies prosperity, success, fulfillment and victory over our ‘enemies’.  It refers to things that are quite disparate, like wellness of body and an absence of war.  Encompassing so much meaning in the nature of the word, shalom is as complete a word for well-being as we could find.

In Jewish communities, shalom was (and still is) used in both greetings and farewells.  It is meant to act as a blessing on the one to whom it is spoken: ‘May your life be filled with health, prosperity and victory’.  And what a wonderful blessing that is!

Some Christian gatherings include a time when people pass the peace to each other. When I first came across this small ritual, I panicked.  I had no idea what it meant; whether I had peace to pass, who I was suppose to pass the peace to if I did have peace to pass, how many people I could pass the peace to before I would risk being left with none?  I jest a little.  Passing the peace in a church simply involves shaking another person by the hand and saying ‘peace be with you’ and they reply ‘and also with you’.  This greeting is also founded on the word shalom and affirms the Christian belief that Christ has established a pure shalom between Yahweh (god) and humans through His living, dying and rising experience.  In believing and receiving Christ, each person is given friendship with Creator and an eternal shalom.  This speaks of a well-being freely given based on grace and faith instead of good works or rule-keeping.

When shalom is used as a verb , it conveys both a static and a dynamic meaning; to be complete or whole or to live well.  This implies that it is both a state of being (a gift given to us) and a state of doing (a gift received by us).

Now that I am totally overwhelmed by the beauty, generosity and love contained in the meaning of this word,  I must sincerely pass shalom to each one of you:

Shalom’.  

And may we all have the courage and humility to receive it.

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The middle ground

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It seems in the science/faith or science/spirituality discussion there are plenty of people who can talk knowledgably about one of the two extremes: science or faith, but not so many who want to discuss that ground in the middle.  We listened to a talk by a leading Christian geneticist who really knew his stuff about the history of evolution as recorded in our genes.  He was also pretty good at standard Christian doctrine, clearly having read his Bible well, no doubt along with numerous commentaries and associated texts.  The interesting part of the talk was when everyone in the audience landed their questions right in the middle of these two fields.  It was clear that our speaker felt less comfortable there, but in a room full of experts in either of the two fields of science and theology, so did everyone else.

So who is trying to help us map out this middle ground?  Who is brave enough to spend their time on the fringes?  Is it a dangerous place to be, a mere slip and slide into heresy or is it the new frontier, with scores of interested souls waiting to be engaged?

We recently had the opportunity to give some science talks to an audience not trained in either science or faith.  The talks were predominantly about science but they also covered where science borders philosophy by looking at the limits of what we know.  It was a fascinating experience and one where the audience showed through their questions that they did not fully accept the standard line coming out of the two extremes.  It has encouraged us to continue our search for a broad discussion in the middle ground between science and spirituality.  Sometimes this may put us at odds with those who hold fast to mainstream science or mainstream religion, but there are lots of souls out there searching for answers and I don’t think it is a good idea to just sit in our bunkers.

What we did learn from delivering our talks was that the questions were genuine and heartfelt, and the questioners sincere in their enquiry.  And I don’t think we had to trade any of our hard-won beliefs, we just had to listen and to learn from each other.

Blessings.

At the cross-roads

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I was thinking about this again today…

God and me

We were recently on a car rally where we were sent around some beautiful countryside, navigating with the aid of a tulip diagram. These are simple schematic images of how an upcoming intersection will appear. Of course, the 3-dimensional reality is spectacularly different from this simple line drawing and so there is a challenge in first recognising the intersection and second navigating through it.

People sometimes talk about “being at the cross-roads” as if they have magically arrived at some moment in their life where they are faced with a clear cut decision. A decision that is a significant change or where they can choose to keep going along the current path. I think that life is seldom like that. Decision points can build gradually, or they can sneak up on you, or they can arrive suddenly and demand an immediate response.

Perhaps the most “cross-roads” like moments are when you are…

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Trust

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One of the main “benefits” of a faith journey has been those moments in my life when I have been able to trust my life and circumstances to the Divine.  In such moments I have found simplicity; all has seemed right with the world and my current problems have been just a ripple on a deep pond – not unimportant but somehow part of a grander scheme.  Those moments have felt like that pause between a deep breath and a sigh.

Different faiths encourage their believers to handle problems in different ways.  I gather that followers of Islam learn to accept whatever life throws at them as fate.  Buddhists are taught to make good decisions so that they will have peace of mind.  Christians are taught to have faith in God – but is that a job to do or is it a state of mind?

Our conscious minds are busy most of the time.  There are jobs to do, relationships to navigate and conundrums to ponder.  At times, our unconscious mind adds to the problem when it throws ideas on the table through our dreams.  How do we learn to find peace amidst the clamour?

I was re-reading something we wrote many months ago where we encouraged our readers as they started out on the road of spirituality.  In it we encouraged simplicity – a simple prayer, setting aside small moments, adopting a watchful presence.  I think that is my desire for the coming weeks.  Simplicity in my trust.

I hope you find rest and succour along your journey.

Baboon Lessons

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Robert Sapolsky’s book, A Primate’s Memoir, describes in detail the interactions within an African baboon community.  Such communities function to enable the biggest, strongest, most-fertile individuals to flourish and reproduce so that the majority of offspring are produced by dominant individuals and carry their superior genes. This means that baboons form hierarchical societies ruled by a dominant alpha-male individual.

One of the great advantages of studying animals in their natural environment, particularly primates, is that we inevitably learn something about ourselves in the process.  We can sometimes even discern which behaviours can fairly be used to ‘mirror back’ our failure (or refusal) to develop effectively into human beings. Other observations can remind us of important behaviours common to all primates that we have unwisely left behind.  We are called back to our animal instinct and challenged to temper our overly-busy, productive, ‘sophisticated’ lifestyles.

So, what do we observe from baboons that we can learn from?  The baboon community shares the responsibility of raising young so parents are not left isolated in nuclear families.  Grooming each other is considered an important activity for all members of baboon society so that no individual suffers from the neglect of a touchless existence.  Mating is generally initiated by the female baboons. When they are sexually aroused and interested in copulation they present themselves to the males and foreplay begins.

Within the alpha-male, hierarchical community-structure of baboons, there are some behaviours that would be considered unevolved and unacceptable in human society.  These include: males grabbing babies to protect themselves from other males, alpha-males occasionally forcing females to copulate against their will, and a small number of dominant individuals consuming the lions-share of all community resources.

I will leave you to contemplate the lessons we may choose to learn from our baboon friends.

L’chayim.

A Primate’s Memoir

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We have recently finished reading A Primate’s Memoir, by Robert Sapolsky. It is an entertaining account of his time in the African jungle studying the savanna baboon. He describes his adventures as a young post graduate student becoming accustomed to the African way of life and particularly living amongst the baboons. He is studying the effect of position in the social structure on stress hormones in the body and their effect on the animals’ health. Of course he also gives insight into the ways of the baboons and describes in detail the way they interact with each other.

As a scientist he is careful to avoid anthropomorhising the baboons’ activities and trying to see human traits among them, or more dangerously, seeing baboon traits among humans. But somehow it is inevitable that the reader sees something of themselves or their acquaintances played out in the lives of the baboons.

Is that valid or is it dangerous? Of course we have far more complicated social environs than the baboons. In fact we are a part of multiple structures including family, friends, work colleagues and so on. And none of those groups would function in the same fairly one-dimensional manner that the baboons experience. And while the baboons are somehow destined to play out roles provided to them by breeding, their physical attributes and the particular circumstances of their group, we have the privilege of discernment, the ability to learn and the orientation of an in-built moral compass to affect our behaviour.

Still, it was an entertaining read and one that helped me to see that sometimes I seem to behave just like a baboon.

Blessings.

The Animals of Narnia

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In The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis uses a number of different animals to bring us wisdom from the mouths of animal characters such as Aslan the lion, Reepicheep the mouse, Bree the horse and the Bulgy Bears.  Not all the Narnian animals are endowed with voice as is explained in the first book in the series, The Magician’s Nephew:

‘Creatures, I give you yourselves,’ said the strong, happy voice of Aslan.  ‘I give to you forever this land of Narnia.  I give you the woods, the fruits, the rivers.  I give you the stars and I give you myself.  The dumb beasts whom I have not chosen are yours also.  Treat them gently and cherish them but do not go back to their ways lest you cease to be Talking Beasts.  For out of them you were taken and into them you can return.  Do not so.’

And so it is that certain animals are given voice that can be understood by humans in the seven books that make up The Chronicles of Narnia.  C.S. Lewis uses his understanding of animal behaviour and inherent animal characteristics to explore anthropomorphic allegories in order that we may learn something about ourselves.  The use of this literary device is masterful in the hands of Lewis and I will give you some examples:

‘We’re free Narnians, Hwin and I, and I suppose, if you’re running away to Narnia, you want  to be one too.  In that case Hwin isn’t your horse any longer.  One might just as well say you’re her human.’  (Bree the horse

‘You need not always be grave.  For jokes as well as justice come in with speech.’ (Aslan the lion)

‘This is a very great adventure, and no danger seems to me so great as that of knowing … I left a mystery behind me through fear.’  (Reepicheep the mouse)

 

‘I tell you it is an animal,’ said the Bulldog.  ‘Smell it for yourself.’

‘Smelling isn’t everything,’ said the Elephant.

‘Why, ‘ said the Bulldog, ‘if a fellow can’t trust his nose what is he to trust?’

‘Well, his brains, perhaps,’ she replied mildly.

 

Treat yourself and read all seven of the Narnia series.  My favourite is The Horse and His Boy, however the most famous book in the series is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  I will leave you with a quote from Prince Caspian where Aslan has been interacting with the talking mice:

Ah!’ roared Aslan.  ‘You have conquered me.  You have great hearts.  Not for the sake of your dignity, Reepicheep, but for the love that is between you and your people . . . you shall have your tail again.’

Animal Voice

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We have completed our series on Science and Spirituality and shall now do a series on Animal Voice.  What do I mean by animal voice?  I am referring to the way many of us learn about life, the universe, ourselves and the Divine through watching and interacting with animals.  Over the next few weeks we shall explore this topic and celebrate the wisdom taught to us by other species that we share the earth with.  Here is a poem to get us started.

animals who acted

Fish, who coughed up the tax money

Donkey, who spoke the truth

Raven, who fed a depressed prophet

Bear, who mauled insolent youths

Whale, who swallowed a drowning man

Dove, who announced the end of a flood

Goat, who took away the guilt

Lions, who refused to eat

Foxes, who torched a food supply

Lamb, who provided the sacrifice

            replacing the first-born child

            enabling death to passover

            predicting the greatest act of all

Time is of the Essence

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We are currently preparing five talks to be presented on a cruise ship a couple of weeks from now.  They are discussions on Science and the title of one is ‘It’s about time’. We have been reading, thinking and talking about time. In doing so, we have realized how the way we relate to time seriously affects how we live and relate to others.  I will not dwell here on the science of time but instead share a few thoughts on the philosophy of time.

Humans have been captivated by exploring the boundaries of time since the beginning.  Our literature, art and film-making reflect a committed desire to understand time and how to relate to it in ways that create health and empowerment.  We have developed much language around our relationship with time, using verbs such as making time, losing time, wasting time, killing time, escaping time and using time (just to name a few).

‘The Sword and the Stone’ by T.H. White introduces us to a character called Merlyn who is a wizard.  He attempts to explain to Wart (the main character) what it is like to live time backwards while everyone else is living it forwards.  Merlyn remembers the future but does not know about the past which creates confusion for him when relating with others who experience time in the forward direction.  Interesting to read!  And, Norton Juster expands our thinking on time in ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’ through a character called the Watchdog. As he relates to a boy called Milo, he describes what life was like before time was made and speaks with great wisdom about the different types of stillness.  It is definitely worth a read.  There is an entire genre of literature (science fiction) which explores the possibilities of how humans may, or may not, experience life in the future.  And, of course, there are whole libraries around the world with books describing all manner of versions of past human lives and activities.  Sacred texts tell of times when ‘the sun stood still’, ‘one day is like a thousand years’, ‘a thousand years is like a day’, and ‘there was silence in heaven for time, time and half a time’.  They also speak of a person called ‘the Ancient of Days’ and explore themes around timelessness and eternity.  We have poetry and songs from all over the world using lyrics to speak of the rhythms of days, tides, seasons, love and suffering.

Three of my favourite movies that contain strong time themes are: ‘Back to the Future’, ‘About Time’ and ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’.  They all encourage us to think  more deeply about time.

Well, ‘Time has run away with me’ (and I am not sure whether that’s a good/bad thing but perhaps don’t tell my husband!).  I will leave you with a quote from the Watchdog:

Why, did you know that there are almost as many kinds of stillness as there are sounds?  But, sadly enough, no one pays any attention to them these days.  (The Phantom Tollbooth)

L’chayim (to life!), Lyn

A Walking Wonder

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Men go forth to wonder at the heights of mountains, the huge waves of the sea, the broad flow of the rivers, the vast compass of the ocean, the courses of the stars; and they pass by themselves without wondering.  (St. Augustine)

The human body!  What a wondrous thing it is.  I am reading a book called The Wisdom of the Body by Sherwin B. Nuland and this is the quote he has placed at the beginning of this masterfully written exposé of the human being.  This book can only be read slowly as it speaks to an unprotected part of my soul causing an overwhelming sense of awe.  The mind struggles to comprehend the vast number of detailed processes that the body is involved in at any moment in time.  How is it that any system can be that efficient?  I know of no other biological system that demonstrates such incomprehensible generosity.  As I read, I am totally baffled.  The rational side of my brain does not know what to do with this information so I must drop down into a more intuitive understanding of what I am reading.

I don’t know why but I find myself weeping, overcome with gratitude for the body I call ‘home’.  I am deeply honoured by how hard it works to keep me alive, healthy, balanced and happy; sometimes against fierce opposition.   And this is only in response to what we know about the human body!