I heard on the radio a couple of days ago that there were hundreds of people lined up outside the Auckland City Mission waiting to receive food parcels. Around the world there must be millions of people without enough to eat - while many of us "put on weight over Christmas".
Food for thought
"I am truly astonished at how such richness came to dwell in such poverty".
I recommend two books I have read recently. Two very different authors (a middle aged man and a teenage girl); two very different challenging life experiences; two different religious affiliations - both inspiring!
I am Malala: the Girl who Stood up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban
by Malala Yousafzai with Christine Lamb
Although I have read several other books about the Taliban in Afghanistan this one gave a much greater "grass roots" feeling for living right in the midst of their reign of terror. (It is set in Pakistan - but the issues are the same.) What courage! I can't imagine being anything like as brave as this child/teenager. I realized too that her father was a hero in his own right. The news understandably focussed on Malala but the book gives the perspective of the whole family.
Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife.
by Dr Eban Alexander
I was initially rather skeptical of the title so I hedged my bets by buying a Kindle version! Now I wish I had bought a regular book so I could lend it. The medical people who cared for Alexander during his bacterial meningitis and week long coma did not expect him to survive, or if he did he would have severe brain damage. However he made full recovery and was then able to describe his "near death experience" with an integration of medical, scientific and spiritual perspectives that I have not read elsewhere. What particularly inspired and, yes, even excited me, was that the descriptions of his experience matched what both the mystics of the past and contemporary scholars with an interest in non-duality and levels of consciousness are talking about. Of course there are plenty of people "de-bunking" his account and the conclusions he draws from his experience - but see what you think for yourself.
A very different musical style from my last post in the link here. This brought tears to my eyes for a couple of reasons: First the sheer breathtaking beauty of the voice of a nine-year old. This little girl sings in Holland's Got Talent and as you will see the judges are completely speechless by what they hear. (To hear the judges comments you need the second video clip - click on "full version" at the end of the first clip.) My second reason is a bit of an assumption: the song Amira sings is Puccini's ‘O mio babbino caro’ (Oh My Beloved Father) and it appears from what you see backstage that it is her father (and brother) who are waiting for her as she runs off stage. Perhaps she sang the song for him? Perhaps her mother is not around for her for whatever reason?? Assumptions I agree! But regardless of that, this is a taste of childlike beauty in her innocence and her amazing voice.
Here's a very powerfully thought-provoking song written and performed by someone I know. The music style isn't what I would normally "like" but knowing the composer/singer I always watch and listen carefully. Whatever your music style listen right to the end … don't miss the final challenge.
I've probably mentioned this before - but the Gratefulness site is a wonderful place to go for all sorts of inspiring things. Today I want to mention the Labyrinth. You can be "carried" round a Labyrinth journey with beautiful images and quotes for reflection popping up at intervals. In this busy pre-Christmas season why not make a cup of coffee, sit for five minutes and be carried. Click here to begin.
The website Spirituality and Practice has some lovely "12's" - i.e. Galleries of twelve sayings on a topic accompanied by beautiful photos. In the busyness of a day you might like to look at the "12" on Grace. One I especially liked was:
You don't have to do anything.
You don't have to do anything.
You don't have to do anything."
Advent reminds us of the first coming of Jesus and that brings with it wonderings about "the second coming" or "God's reign on earth as it is in heaven" or "the end of time" or "the apocalypse"…
(Of course many people don't wonder about any of the above! But keep reading anyway :-)
Two helpful thoughts from Cynthia Bourgeault:
"'The end of time' actually occurs whenever we step fully into the now!"
"The word apocalypse does not actually mean a fiery final catastrophe. It literally means an 'uncovering' or 'unveiling' - as for example, when the wrappings are removed from a package and you get to see what's inside."
Exciting…inspiring…mind blowing… what a marvelous weekend!
I joined a couple of hundred others for a weekend with Dr Ilia Delio who unpacked the topic of Science and Theology in a masterful and engaging way. I am in awe of her ability to communicate such a wide reaching topic with both depth and a light touch. One of the key truths expressed in both science and theology is that we really are all connected. Technology makes this connection "visible" and possible in new ways. (Like this Blog for example!)
I am also participating in an Advent retreat on-line (technological connection again!) with Cynthia Bourgeault. Today's reflection from the Gospel of Thomas is Jesus saying:
"I stood to my feet
in the midst of the cosmos
appearing outwardly in flesh."
What a powerful way to think of the incarnation: Jesus "standing to his feet" as if suddenly waking up to being here, with us, in a body…
What a shock, what a challenge.
In the same passage Jesus goes on to say:
"My soul ached
for the children of humanity.
For their hearts are blind
and they cannot see from within."
Jesus - catapulted into a body in the midst of us, with an aching soul for what he encountered.
I am convinced that a healthy spiritual journey is primarily about letting go. I could say a lot more about that but for now a few quotes from the latest issue of Parabola, a journal we receive regularly. The theme of this issue is Liberation and Letting Go. (You can see more content from this issue on line.)
Where is God
- Mark Nepo
It's as if what is unbreakable -
the very pulse of life - waits for
everything else to be torn away,
and then in the bareness that
only silence and suffering and
great love can expose, it dares
to speak through us and to us.
It seems to say, if you want to last,
hold on to nothing. If you want
to know love, let in everything.
If you want to feel the presence
of everything, stop counting
the things that break along the way.
(Like most poetry this repays a repeated reading in a reflective, open-hearted way.)
"Death is not extinguishing the light,
it is only putting out the lamp because dawn has come."
On my recent holiday, in the midst of so much freedom and beauty ...
(Jacarandas in Adelaide)
… I was very aware of the contrast for the people of the Philippines -
It is hard to comprehend - and respond - to tragedy of such magnitude. Giving financial support is one way and all the aid agencies are appropriately asking us to do that. I was encouraged to learn that Campbell Live (TV3) promoted an appeal to donate just $3 via a text. This raised more than half a million dollars! This shows that "every little bit" does make a difference.
Praying is another response. But this too can be difficult. How to pray? What to pray? Does it really make any difference? The website Spirituality and Practice has a Blog that specifically focusses on "praying the news". I found their prayer for the people of the Philippines very helpful. You can read it (and pray with them) here.
On a recent holiday I stayed for a week at a house where Wi-fi internet was not available. Ouch!
Surely I can't be that addicted to "having the world at my fingertips"! After all I don't even have a Smart phone… But my trusty iPad was supposed to connect me to emails, Blogs, weather forecasts, timetables for transport, "what's on" in a strange city… etc etc
I have to admit I was frustrated!
But it got me thinking.
Like most things, there are pros and cons to being constantly "connected".
Used wisely the World Wide Web (www) is an amazing tool that demonstrates an even deeper reality that both scientists and mystics have known for some time -
we really are all connected at levels far beyond the internet. There is much food for thought here. I might have lacked Wi-Fi connection but at deeper levels connection is never lost. Unfortunately though, we are often completely unaware of it.
Synchronistically (!) I'm currently reading a book by Ilia Delio called The Unbearable Wholeness of Being: God, Evolution and the Power of Love.
Delio is a Catholic Sister who is the winner of a Templeton Course Award in Science and Religion. I haven't read very much of the book so far but as the title and sub-title suggest she is delving into the spiritual and scientific depths of our connectedness. She will be in Auckland and Christchurch later this month and I am looking forward to attending a series of lectures she will give. (If you are interested email Joan Roberts for a brochure and registration: email@example.com )
Sitting on a seat above the beach on my morning walk I watched a couple walking with two dogs… I didn't have my camera but one was like this:
And one was like this:
As they walked the man threw long fast balls for the long-legged dog to chase while the woman kept looking behind, encouraging the Dachshund and waiting for him if he was too far behind.
It was a lovely picture of taking care of others whatever pace they can go. It's true (and can be challenging) for all relationships. I was especially thinking of spiritual direction where the "Anam Cara" (Soul Friend) role is to stretch and extend those who are ready to move forward in great strides, and to walk slowly and encouragingly with those whose pace is slower.
And then as a PS - Last night (27th Oct) the TVNZ Sunday programme featured a story of incredible courage, love and optimism for a family where the husband and father had to have all four limbs amputated. So even if your "legs" seem short and your pace slow, be grateful that you have legs of any kind! (If you missed the program me it will be available on TV on Demand but wasn't yet posted when I wrote this.)
"The spirituality behind the Twelve-Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous is a "low Church" approach to evangelization and healing that is probably our only hope in a pluralistic world of over seven billion people. Most of those people are not going to "become Christian" or join our church, which even the Vatican now admits.
Our suffering in developed countries is primarily psychological, relational and addictive: the suffering of people who are comfortable on the outside but oppressed and empty within. It is a crisis of meaninglessness, which leads us to try to find meaning in possessions, perks, prestige and power, which are always outside the self. It doesn't finally work. So we turn to ingesting food, drink or drugs, and we become addictive consumers to fill the empty hole within us.
The Twelve-Step program walks us back out of our addictive society. Like all steps toward truth and Spirit, they also lead downward, which they call sobriety. Bill Wilson and his A.A. movement have shown us that the real power is when we no longer seek, need or abuse our outer power because we have found real power within. They rightly call it our "Higher Power". "
It is the second paragraph that strikes me: "Our suffering... is primarily psychological, relational and addictive: the suffering of people who are comfortable on the outside but oppressed and empty within."
Of course there are other kinds of suffering in "developed countries". But his point is well made. To put the "psychological, relational, addictive" checklist alongside our own suffering may be a wake up call. I was motivated to refresh my memory about what the Twelve Steps are. Click here if you'd like to do the same! I knew that Bill Wilson framed these steps from his Christian perspective and this shines through. And as Rohr says - these steps are now a world-wide guide to a Higher Power available to anyone - whether they call that Power "God" or not. My final thought, having re-read the 12 Steps, is that, if courageously followed, they represent something much more rigorous than many "Christian discipleship" programs!
I attended the book launch for this book earlier in the week. I was prompted by the fact that three of the authors are members of the church I also belong to and another three are people I know. It certainly seemed like a book I should read! (It is a collection of essays.)
"How can one believe in an age of
doubt? How can we name the mystery of God in human words? Does nature speak of
the glory of God? Does science undermine faith? Is the problem of evil
unanswerable? In this volume scientists, theologians, philosophers, as well as
a historian and social scientist, take seriously the challenge of knowing and
speaking about God in an age of doubt and challenge."
The book launch was a delight! Nine of the essayists were present and each took a couple of minutes to introduce their chapter. They did so with considerable skill and humor. I was definitely intrigued and inspired to read.
We both woke up feeling sluggish and "draggy" this morning. I even felt slightly dizzy. (How come some people say they feel clear, sharp and more focussed when "fasting"?)
Fasting has never been one of my spiritual disciplines! I've occasionally had a mini fast of some kind and once joined in the 40 hour famine but generally speaking it hasn't been a priority - probably because it felt "too hard". However, this experience of Living Below the Line has given me some food for thought (interesting metaphor!) This morning I was thinking of Isaiah 58 which is headed True Fasting. The writer is scathing about those who fast in order to look good but carry on "doing what you please". Hmm... It is easy to feel quite self righteous about doing this 5 day challenge... and through these days I have certainly "done what I pleased" apart from the food bit.
Isaiah goes on to say that the true fast is to:
"loose the chains of injustice,
set the oppressed free
share your food with the hungry
provide the poor wanderer with shelter
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood."
It seems to me that Live Below the Line is the ideal fast. The various agencies involved carry out all of the things mentioned above. Look at the official Live Below the Line NZwebsite and scroll through the participating charities to see what I mean.
I am on my way to bed - at 8.30pm. I have felt tired all day - but we made it! Only five days of "living below the line" but it felt quite long enough. If I do the challenge again I would make slightly different food choices but overall we chose reasonably well.
Was it worth doing? Yes, absolutely! As my previous Blogs show, I learned an enormous amount about what it is really like for people who genuinely live in poverty here in NZ and in many places around the world. It was worth it for my deepening awareness of my own relationship to food and to going without. It was definitely worth it for the money raised for the various causes each charity supports. As I write the total so far raised by TEAR Fund to rescue girls from sexual slavery is $54,863. I'm sure that will rise considerably as many people (like me) will not have sent their money in yet. Multiply that by the 20 or so agencies raising money for their projects and it becomes apparent that doing something like this makes a significant impact. Never say: "There's nothing I can do."
Two days to go - so we are carefully dividing up what we have left. I am on cooking dinner for these two nights. Here's what we have - remember each of these meals is for two people!
Clearly we won't starve! And with every meal we remember those who would think of this as a feast.
I think it is getting harder each day. Probably our bodies are noticing the cumulative effect. And the temptation to "cheat" is harder too. We have each been out two evenings this week and we discussed whether if supper was provided would we be "allowed" to have some. Fortunately supper has not been provided! But my theory is that people who have very little food would definitely be very grateful for a free supper - so I think I would have succumbed if that had been the case :-)
PS There was coffee and chocolate biscuits at an event last night, after I had written the above. I did not have any coffee but I did have a biscuit - and boy did it taste wonderful!
Living on $2.25 for food per day is revealing much more than just "being hungry". I am aware how often I eat for reasons other than hunger. I often eat according to the clock: "It's 12.30 so I will eat lunch." Or out of habit: e.g. between my two morning clients I have coffee and a cracker and cheese. Or to distract from emotions: e.g. with this frustrating and agonising America's Cup dragging on I feel like escaping into a nice cup of coffee and a piece of cake! (But I won't this week!!) Or from boredom: Eating something nice fills a boring or lonely space. Or simply for pleasure: My favorite cafe has a great double shot coffee and a fruit tart that make an excellent treat!
(It sounds as if I drink a lot of coffee. Actually I don't - and I'm not really missing coffee itself this week - but I can see that it is one of my special treats - especially the "real" coffee in a cafe!)
Today is my day off and I have been to Tai Chi for an hour. Coming home at 11.05am I was really hungry and thinking "I'll be even hungrier later if I eat lunch now!" Then I remembered that I had "saved" half of yesterday's apple. What a lovely thought. So half an apple and a cup of hot water felt like a real treat and lasted me till lunchtime.
When I am really hungry - and don't immediately eat - I notice I get irritable, anxious and distracted. It gives me a much greater appreciation of what it's like for children who go to school without breakfast (or lunch).
A mix of lentils, kidney beans, tomatoes and frozen veg. Quite nourishing but not top of the usual menu choices. We have now run out of tinned tomatoes and will only have enough frozen veges for one more meal.
Today has been a hard day for both of us. We have both felt extra tired and not really focussed. I went for a walk down to the beach this afternoon (in the rain!) to get some fresh air but it wasn't a good idea as coming home uphill felt a real challenge. Again - such a good experience of the energy depletion that goes with less food.
So - the end of day 3. Nothing to complain about - just lots to learn and ponder. And of course I have only two days to go. Billions of people have no end in sight. Very sobering.
Many charities are combining to issue this Live Below the Line challenge. I have chosen to send the money I raise to TEAR Fund who will use it towards giving new opportunities to girls sold into sexual slavery. Here's a quote from TEAR Fund's website:
"Human trafficking is the illegal trade
of human beings, mainly for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and
forced labour. At the moment it's estimated that 27 million are in slavery
across our planet. The average age of a trafficking victim is only 12 years
We think that’s
outrageous and so we’re fighting for their freedom by supporting the work of
our local partner Share and Care in Nepal and the incredible team at Nvader. If you Live Below The Line for TEAR
Fund you’ll see your money preventing, rescuing and rehabilitating the innocent
victims of the fastest growing criminal industry of our generation."
I have received donations from many Church people but if you are a Blog reader who would like to contribute to this cause you can donate directly (without it having to go through me) here. Scroll down to Anti-trafficking in Nepal. And as for me today - I haven't felt as hungry today even though I have eaten exactly the same as yesterday. Maybe my stomach is shrinking :-)