POST COVID SPIRITUALITY

There is no bright line between meditation and spirituality. Nor is it useful to distinguish too sharply between contemplative prayer and meditation. Contemplative prayer is associated with the idea of an external deity or figurehead, while meditation tends to represent a journey inwards, to the very core of our being. However, even as I write this, it seems to me that religious prayer often does both of these things almost seamlessly.

For the purposes of clarity, I am a trained theologian and philosopher, an ordained minister of the Church of Scotland and also an agnostic. Most readers of my website or my published articles will pick up the evidence of all of these aspects. My aim is to weave from these disparate threads, a series of insights which might be helpful to the atheist, the adherents of various religions, sister and brother agnostics and the ‘unconcerned’ (a wonderfully evocative term from a landmark European case on freedom of religion).

I rarely speak from a pulpit these days, but I was invited to do so in the last month, in Dublin. I was asked for copies of the full services and reflections. So, here is the first of three August reflections.

Rev Dr Celia Kenny BSoM, Dublin

Theme: Resourcefulness

Come in the peace 

That transcends anxiety

Come in the hope 

That we can change

Come in the knowledge

of all the others 

who have trusted in the goodness of the world

and the integrity of creation

We gather in thanksgiving

  • For the people who have kept us strong during these months of solitude and anxiety
  • For the privilege of health and strength amid suffering
  • For the fact that hope exists in the face of loss 
  • And for the curious characteristic of human beings
  • When we seek out goodness and the source of all goodness

We gather in solidarity

  • With those we know
  • And with those we have heard about
  • Who are in the midst of sorrow and loss
  • For all those whose faith in God
  • Is currently being tired and tested
  • In ways that neither we nor they
  • Have been fully prepared for

We gather…knowing that we must be counted

  • Among all the inhabitants of the Earth
  • Who have contributed to the destruction of the planet
  • Through greed, through thoughtlessness 
  • or a refusal to read the signs
  • And when we close the doors of our homes…to lock in our safety
  • In full knowledge that so many of Earth’s people
  • Have no doors, no windows, no means of protection from the elements

May we be forgiven

May we learn to see all things more clearly

Knowing…at last…

That the well-being of one

Is the well-being of all

And may all our prayers be as honest as we can make them…

Reading: Psalm 8

The psalmist asked the question:

         What are human beings…

                  And why have they been created with the privilege of abundance?

And throughout the entire gospel account, Jesus answered that question…

Men and women…Jesus said…were created…

  • To find an cosánthe way…to be fully human 
  • To learn the difference between truth and its opposite…and
  • To show gratitude…for the gift of life
  • then to pass life on…

To those who will come after us…

The way…the truth…and the life…

These represent a triad that ought to be the focus of all lives well-lived

AND NEVER MORESO…THAN IN THE PRESENT MOMENT

Never moreso…than during the last 5 months…living through a pandemic…

         With all the anxiety and sorrow that this global threat has brought…

                                        **************

In common with many other people…I have given a lot of thought

         To how I might respond positively…to isolation…

How can I see isolation as both a crisis and an opportunity…

From long chats with friends and family…

both the young and the not so young…

It appears to me that so many have us have approached

the various degrees of social isolation…

as a time for reflection 

  • on what it is to be human
  • what we really need to acquire among the plethora of goods in the world
  • and what it is that we love…about the people who are closest to us…

We are ALWAYS faced with choices in life…that is the old normality…

But…Covid 19 has brought it starkly home to us…

That we…each one of us…will actively either create a better world

Or destroy the world we have inherited…

By the seemingly small choices we make every single day…

And that…I think…brings to the fore…

the question of how we would like to be remembered

         what will be our legacy…the gift we leave behind us…

Of course…

There will be as many different responses to that question…

as there are people on the planet

  • It is up to you…
  • it is up to me…
  • it is decidedly personal…
  • how we go about creating a legacy 
  • for those who will come after us

*********************

Way back in early March…when it became obvious

         That we would be physically separated from family and friends

One of the decisions I took…was to gather some stories and insights…

         From the store of my own experience…

                  To pass on to the next generation…

I have spent decades writing in some form or other…

         So…it is perfectly natural that my thoughts should turn 

To how my own stories…

                           Might be passed on to my children and grandchildren

So that they might say to themselves…

Ah…these are the things that mum cared about…

these are the places where she found the signs…

                of beauty and truth and goodness

So…I built a website…full of reflections…

to be made…eventually…

                  into a small book

As a legacy for my family and any friends who might find it useful…

And…for the 3 Sundays in August…that I will be with you…

I want to share some of the reflections from the website…

Because…as my thoughts flowed into words… 

I found that each of the small stories…

Turned themselves…into 

REFLECTIONS ABOUT…

  • FAITH
  • CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER   
  • CREATIVITY…
  • PURPOSE…
  • And what are the sources of our own strength…

In other words…quite unbidden…I discovered that…in the midst of the pandemic

I am being drawn to approach

the same set of questions

that the Psalmist posed…

WHAT IS THE VERY ESSENCE OF HUMAN LIFE?

          *****************************

I said at the outset today…

That isolation…can be seen as both a crisis and an opportunity…

Our solitude…will either be tormented by anxiety…

Or blessed with peace…

According to our own…inner resources

Now…let me explain what I mean by RESOURCE

Because I am using the word in 2 different senses…

First…

I mean the great store of things we have learned…or inherited 

From others…

  • Scraps of philosophical wisdom…
  • The spiritual insights that we have gleaned 
  • From pastors, theologians…from our reading of the Bible
  • From what we were told at the family table
  • From poems and stories that echo in our ageing minds…

I look out today…at your faces…and I have the evidence

That you all have resources…

BECAUSE YOU ARE HERE

You came to this sanctuary…

Whether or not it is out of habit is not the point

You came here…because you still have a shred of a suspicion…

That THERE IS MEANING IN HUMAN LIFE

Despite the bad things…

And you want to be counted among those who will go on searching

SO…

Our resources are these things we draw on

The well-springs of our FAITH

That we call on from the dark places

And 

That we celebrate in the light places

And it will follow…

That the second sense of the word RESOURCE

If we express it as a VERB

TO RE-SOURCE

Is to return to the source of things…

  • It is a well-known aspect of getting old…
  • That the first things we learn…
  • Are the last things to leave our consciousness…

I have called my website…PATHWAYS…

Because I believe that 

OUR SPIRITUAL JOURNEY

Should not be…only in a forward direction…

The healthy human being…

Constantly returns to the source of her identity

To…the source of his being…

  • Spiritual progress…is like a dance
  • Sometimes forward 
  • Often sideways…
  • RETRACING…THE STEPS…to find a pattern 

Returning to source…

To remind ourselves why we believe 

This and not that

Why we trust this person and not that person

Why we cherish this part of ourselves 

But want to change that other part…

AND CENTRAL TO OUR RESOURCEFUL-NESS

IS PRAYER

OR MEDITATION

Central to our well-being

Is our capacity for

CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER

WHICH IS…A steady…thoughtful…disciplined…

PRACTICE…of inward searching

When…we return to source

there…is the well-spring of who we really are

And there we will find the small stories of our life

And…in time…we will be able to connect them…

To the one overarching story…

Of what it means…

TO BE FULLY HUMAN

*************************

At outset today…I said that…during the pandemic…

Many of us have discovered what it is…

among the plethora of goods in the world

That we really need…

So let me confess to you…

That I decided that it is the time in my life…

To get a Hornby train-set…

(My brother tells me that I have had train-set envy since I was about 10…)

But no more…

I am now the proud owner 

  • of the Flying Scotsman and the wee Highland Rambler
  • and I plan…with the help of family and my friend, the carpenter…
  • to build a MINIATURE railway world in the playroom of my house…
  • where all the small toy people…can practise social distancing 
  • and enjoy a service that will run on time…

for…THAT WILL ALSO BE MY LEGACY…

TO PASS ON THE BELIEF

THAT…as HUMAN BEINGS

WE WERE CREATED TO BE PLAYFUL

  • to be playful
  • to be grateful
  • to be filled with a desire to find goodness in the midst of evil
  • and to be patient with each other
  • in our faithlessness

for creation is a work in progress

*****************************

My we have the grace to be able to return to the source of our faith

  • for the joy of good memories
  • for the ability to set the bad memories in a new perspective

May we trust

  • In our own capacity to change
  • To look at others more kindly
  • To react to the behaviour of others with forbearance

May we commit ourselves

  • to the healing of the world
  • In the small acts of responsible behaviour
  • For the sake of the most vulnerable among us
  • And…in all the new ways of interacting socially

And May we come to understand

  • that withdrawal from the crowds
  • Is not a loveless act
  • Because it gives us a fresh opportunity
  • To see the planet with the creator’s eyes
  • And to sense that compassion…
  • Is the nearest we can come…
  • To godliness

As all the mystics…

from all religions and none

 have taught us…

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