As it nears its close, few people are talking about 2018 in glowing terms. ‘Hard’, ‘gloomy’, ‘wearying’, ‘frightening’, are some of the adjectives I hear. The big issues, political, economic, environmental remain unresolved; they’ll be back next year.
So we need hope, courage and tenacity in large quantities. ‘Spiritual resilience’, said my Sufi friend, which I think of as inner, spiritual security, no less important than its external physical counterpart.
Resilience is social; it’s about creating and drawing us in to warm-hearted, inclusive and outward-looking communities. Resilience is moral; it’s about studying, debating and living our values. Resilience is spiritual; it means developing a restorative, healing inner life.
At its heart is prayer. There are many ways to pray: silence, music, meditation, walking. I love the beaten path of Jewish prayer, its discipline, its words, its music and mantras.
Most of the time I don’t pray in the hope of changing the mind of some all-powerful, heavenly being, – though sometimes, in moments of fear, I do.
I mostly pray to go downwards, not up. I try to pray like a digger of wells who persists until fresh water seeps through the dry earth and fills the hidden depth. That depth is not in the earth, but in myself. Can I get there? Can I listen, travel down below my flitting, floating thoughts, beneath my irritations and preoccupations, and feel life from my heart? At that moment, new sweet water flows and sings its way back into the dried out receptacle of the soul. What I feared was empty is replenished.
Some rare days this is easy. Many days I fail, usually because I don’t stay still in mind or body long enough, or because my effort is forced and I leave my spirit behind.
But when the water sings, it’s always a gift. Someone or something has been the inspiration: a kindness I witnessed, a moment of generosity or tenderness, a phrase of poetry, a quietly grazing horse.
The gift is life, connection with the life which nourishes all things. It begins with particular connections, with the trees, the birds, with people around me, this community at worship, that man in the hospital who said, ‘Can we pray together’. I feel the same spirit flow through us all, bestowing on us our respective consciousness. We belong together, all of life. It owns us, and none of it do we own.
Here is the presence of God, not in the heights but in the earth and everything alive. Without words it instructs us to take off not just our shoes but our selfishness, for the ground on which you stand is holy.
It’s the source of love, not perhaps of passion and attachment, but of a steady, determined chesed, a faithful kindness, which condemns cruelty, and insists that all life commands respect and needs compassion and understanding.
It’s the source of responsibility and moral determination, reminding us that we are not here to make life serve us, but to be of service to life. This is the truth we must not betray and try never to let down: that everything and everyone matters.
I wish all our Christian friends and their families a good and happy Christmas and a peaceful, worthwhile New Year