The Day I Met the Pope and the Dalai Lama

Optimized-Pope

Pope Francis – General Audience, 1 May, 2017

My Sisters and Brothers, it’s been way too long since I’ve written… but life has been super hectic lately. So please forgive me for being so silent. Silent in words, but present in thought!

I’m on night shift this week, so I’ve had practically no sleep. My upstairs neighbour has been renovating his flat, the gardeners have been out with chainsaws cutting back the trees, and sleep has been as elusive as the legendary Loch Ness Monster. But I managed to grab an hour or so here and there… and had the craziest dream! I dreamt that the Pope and the Dalai Lama came to visit me at work!

In the dream, there was so much chemistry between them. They kept on bumping into each other, and roaring with laughter each time! The Dalai Lama was calling Pope Francis “Mr Donkey Head”, and the Pope replied, “Si! Si! I am the donkey of Lord Jesus! The donkey He rode into Jerusalem on!” He patted the Dalai Lama on his bald head and told him that good grass doesn’t grow on bad soil, and the Dalai Lama roared with laughter, and poked the Pope in the ribs!

In the dream, I kept on running after them and telling them to act more holy, because people were staring at them. But they carried on laughing and playing the fool. Finally, the Dalai Lama turned to me and said. “We are being holy! Jesus laughed, and so did Han Shan and Shih Te!”

(For those who aren’t familiar, Han Shan and Shih Te were two famous Buddhist monks who are best remembered for always laughing. They would travel round the country writing poetry on rocks and trees and monastery walls. But they were always laughing! Always!)

I wish this wasn’t just a dream. I’ve seen Pope Francis twice, and both times he has inspired me more than I could have imagined. But I have never met him personally. Nor the Dalai Lama. But I would love to have a proper conversation with both men! And I would love to see them playing the fool and laughing like they did in my dream!

But it’s also got me thinking. Man has turned religion into something stale and boring… and very austere. It’s become something solemn and serious and ritualistic. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with ritual. I personally love it – incense, candles, chanting. But religion isn’t meant to be something we do. It’s something we live. It’s about falling madly and passionately in love with the God who has fallen madly and passionately in love with us!

If we realise that, we will see that there’s nothing wrong with laughing, or being a bit crazy! Yes, I believe Jesus laughed! I believe He laughed a lot! Children loved Him… and children love those who laugh, and whose eyes sparkle! They love the slightly mad ones who, like the Pope and Dalai Lama in my dream, roar with laughter, and poke each other, and joke with one another!

So yes, I believe Jesus laughed! And I believe we need to as well! Let us follow the example of the mystics, who discovered a God of Love, of Laughter, of Joy and Mercy and Peace!

May the God of all Joy bless you and keep you! Amen.

 

Lover’s Whisper

Optimized-LoversWhisper

I felt Your whisper on my skin

Your still, small voice in the breeze

I could smell Your scent in the fallen leaves

Your smile in the warmth of the sun

Adonai… El Shaddai

King of the Universe

“I love you,” I heard You say

And I whispered back, “I love You too.”

Soul Sparks

Optimized-Paintings

“Father, Son, Spirit” (left) and “Tree of Life” (right)

Shalom my Sisters and Brothers!

These photos are of two of my paintings. I have always loved art, and always desired to paint and sculpt… but it was only recently that I found the courage to actually do it. Despite my desire to make art, I always thought I wasn’t good enough.

But then one day I woke up, and the thought hit me – “So what!”

What does it matter if I’m good or not? Who decides what is good art and what is bad art? Art isn’t about being good or bad. It’s about discovering a spark in your soul that needs to be expressed in some manner – whether through painting, or sculpture, or writing, or music.

This is something that our ancient Celtic family knew on a very deep level. While the Roman church was codifying the religious experience, the Celtic church was revelling in the beauty of nature, and in expressing the sacred flame within them that burned with their zeal for God!

They lived with songs on their lips, and saw the fingerprint of God all around them – on a leaf, in the sand, within the clouds and the waters… and it caused the sparks in their souls to dance with the spiral orbit of the galaxies!

And this is something that we in the west need to recapture! We need to stop being afraid to express what is in our souls. We need to stop being afraid of others judging our art – whatever form it may take. Yes, some may hate what we do… but so what! There is a spark within our souls that needs to be expressed… and we need to express it not for the critics… but for the Beautiful, Creative God that lit the sparks within us!

I love what the mystic poet and artist, Kahlil Gibran, once said:

“Some believe that art is the imitation of nature; in fact, nature is so sublime that it cannot be imitated. However noble it may be, art cannot perform a single one of the miracles of nature. …

“Art consists, rather, of understanding nature and transmitting our understanding to those who are unaware of it. The mission of art is to communicate the spirit of the tree, not to draw a trunk, branches and leaves which look like a tree. The aim of art is to reveal the consciousness of the sea, not to paint foaming waves or azure water.”

So listen to the spark that is dancing in your soul. It has a message that only you can give to the world. Don’t hide it because you think you are not an artist. You are created in the image of the God whose very essence is creativity! Look at the trees around you, the oceans, even the sand at your feet! Have you ever looked closely at sand? Have you ever seen how beautiful a single grain of sand is? Its beauty is the same as that of our spiral galaxy! And the God who created this galaxy, and that sand, made you in His image!

Never, ever, ever, believe the critics who tell you that you aren’t good enough! Find your artistic medium, and let the spark within you dance for all the world to see! Show the world what you see – the mysticism of your own unique experience of life!!!

May the Artist who created the heavens and the earth bless you and keep you within His loving embrace! May His Spirit move within you, inspiring you to find your own unique artistic outlet! And may you always gift the world with your art! Amen.

 

Spiritual Vikings

Optimized-monks

Traigh Ban nam Manach (White Strand of the Monks), Iona Island

Shalom, my Sisters and Brothers!

This photo is of one of my favourite beaches on Iona – Traigh Ban nam Manach – the White Strand of the Monks). It’s at the far north of the island, so it’s quiet and peaceful. The sand is like talcum powder, and the water is usually crystal clear.

But these sands and waters hide a brutal past. It was here that a number of monks were slaughtered by Viking raiders on Christmas day in the year 986.

Every time I’ve been to this beach, I’ve thought about this – how terrifying it must have been for the monks seeing the Viking ships cut across the water, knowing that this was their last day on earth.

For some reason, this beach popped into my head this morning during my prayers. But the mental image I had was of us as the Vikings – Warriors, moving in the ship of the Church, under the protection of our heavenly Abba, guided by our King Jesus, and blown along by the wind of the Spirit!

I’ve said this before, and I will keep on saying it. We, as the Church, aren’t called to sit comfortably in a Sunday service every week. We’re called to be Warriors! Just as the Vikings left the comforts of their homes and countries in order to go on raids, so must we be willing to leave our comforts in order to attack Satan and his forces of darkness!

Just as the monks on Iona were terrified at the sight of the Viking ship, so too should the demons tremble at the sight of the ship of the Church! When they see this mighty ship slicing through the waters of life, they should be petrified, because they know that within that ship are brave, fearless Warriors who are filled with the Spirit! Warriors who are on a Divine mission to fight for King and kingdom!

This was the same spirit that moved men like Columba and Patrick to take to the open waters, and enter foreign hostile lands in order to spread the Gospel.

And now is the time that we regain that spirit! For too long the Church has been sitting lazily by while the forces of darkness have advanced over this earth. But I believe God is sounding the trumpet, and calling for His Church to wake up! I believe that mighty prayer warriors are being raised up, who will step up to the battle lines and shoot their prayers like fire to heaven!

Now is the time for Satan and his demons to tremble, for the Warriors of God are preparing for battle!

May the God of heaven and earth empower you to put on the full armour of God, and may His Spirit fill you so that you may stand firm against the enemy! Amen.

The Sacred Coffee Mug

Optimized-coffee

My Sisters and Brothers,

One of the things that drew me to the Celtic way of living my faith was the fact that this is precisely what it is about – Living!

In the western church, there seems to be a distinction and separation between the sacred and the ordinary. But this is a distinction that the ancient Celts couldn’t see or understand. For them, their spirituality infused every aspect of their lives… whether it was mucking out the barn, or cleaning the house, or tilling the field… or even something as simple as drinking a cup of coffee (they probably didn’t have coffee, but I’m putting it into modern terms!)

For the ancient Celts, blessings permeated everything that they did. There were blessings for waking up, blessings for going to sleep, blessings for washing, blessings for eating, blessings for walking, blessings for resting. In fact, there was pretty much a blessing for everything.

The thread of the Sacred was woven into the fabric of every aspect of their lives!

God wasn’t some distant deity who had to be worshipped in a specific building. To the ancient Celts, He was closer than their own breath, more real than physical reality! His presence could be seen in everything, and everything existed within Him!

In his book, Listening For the Heartbeat of God, J. Philip Newell writes the following:

“The Christ who is above them in the brightness of the morning sun is the Christ who is beneath them in the dark fertility of the earth. … The Christ who is within, at the very centre of their soul, is the Christ who is to be looked for in friend and stranger, Christ at the heart of all life.”

Christ is, after all, God made flesh. When He came to earth, He sanctified the ordinary things of life. By becoming human, He made sacred all the commonplace things that we do – eating, drinking, socialising, working.

But for some reason, the western church lost this permeation of the sacred through all of life. The sacred became something that priests did at an altar, following carefully prescribed rules & rituals. And the separation between the sacred & the ordinary acts of life became bigger and bigger.

This is why so many young people travel to places like India. Over there, they still see what the ancient Celts saw. Everywhere you go, there are shrines and temples, incense and chanting. The air itself seems to pulse with spirituality.

And this, I think, is what we need to get back here in the west. Like our ancient Celtic Sisters and Brothers, let us learn to look at life – ALL of life – through the eyes of the spirit. When you wake up in the morning, and make your mug of coffee, say a blessing before you drink it. This isn’t just a mug of coffee… this is a SACRED mug of coffee! God breathed His breath into the soil from which the beans came forth. He breathed His breath into the beans themselves… and the rivers, streams, or lakes where the water came from from. His breath is in the clay of your mug, the metal of your spoon, the milk and sugar!

His breath is everywhere! His heart beats in the soil beneath our feet, and His voice whispers in the wind! His hands are constantly caressing us, and the earth, holding all of Creation together!

May our God, the Creator of everything seen and unseen, open your eyes to the sacredness of the ordinary. And may your lips utter blessings, and your heart sing songs, from the moment of waking to the moment of sleep… and even within sleep, may your soul be ever in His presence! Amen.

Fire From Heaven

My Sisters and Brothers,

Two thousand years ago, a rushing wind tore through Jerusalem, converging on one small house where a handful of peasants were gathered. The people who witnessed this incredible thing reported that they saw tongues of fire fall upon the small group, resting on each person’s head!

For the thousands of Israelites that were gathered in Jerusalem at that time, it was a very portent sign. The day was Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks. But it was also the day that they remembered another mighty event that had happened a thousand years earlier. Their ancestors had been gathered in the desert, much like this motley group of Believers had been gathered in the house in Jerusalem. Back then, Mount Sinai had shook and trembled as El Shaddai, the Almighty God, descended in the form of fire! And in the midst of thunder and lightning, He spoke to the people, giving them His Torah – His Law.

Every person gathered in Jerusalem would have seen the significance of the tongues of fire coming upon the Believers! To those people, steeped in the traditions of their faith, the symbol of fire hearkening back to the fire on Sinai would have been unmistakeable! The same God who descended in fire on Sinai to deliver His Law had just descended again…

… but differently!

At Sinai, God gave His Law. At Pentecost, He gave Himself!

Just a few hundred years earlier, He had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.” (Jeremiah 31:33)

That day had finally come!

And this is the day that we celebrated last Sunday. Every year, the Church gathers at Pentecost in order to remember this momentous occasion, when the Holy Spirit descended to earth to live within every Believer! He is the Comforter that Jesus promised, the One who is always present in us, deep down within our souls. He is the One who guides us, convicts us, ministers to us, prays for us, and illuminates the mysteries of God for us within our hearts.

What’s fascinating about the Torah – the Law that God gave on Sinai – is that it was originally written without vowels. This can make interpretation very difficult. For example, take this sentence:

TH SHP SLD.

Does this read, “The ship sailed”? Or is it maybe, “The shop sold”?

Without the vowels, we can never know completely. We can infer meaning by looking at the context… but when everything else within that context is written without vowels, can we ever really know the context? This is how God gave the Law at Sinai. Part of it remained a mystery. But when He came down at Pentecost, He started filling in those blank spaces. The Holy Spirit is the One who gives context to that Torah. He is the One who illuminates its meaning. And that is because it is no longer words written on tablets of stone, but rather words engraved on our hearts!

May the Spirit of Truth illuminate your heart and mind with His Light! May He fill you to overflowing with discernment, and understanding, and clarity! And may the Word of God Almighty continue to be engraved on your heart, deeper and deeper within you, so that you will always have that Word to be a lamp unto your feet (Psalm 119:105)! Amen.

The Womb of God

Optimized-orans

Caibeal Odhrain (St Oran’s Chapel), Iona Island

My Sisters and Brothers,

I’m tired. I’m on the early shift this week at work, which means I’ve been waking up at 3am. And right now, my eyes are feeling heavy, and my body is weary.

But this tiredness is making me think of Iona – that magical, mystical island that I love so much! There were many times when all the walking tired my body out, and I would rest myself for a bit in my favourite building on the island – Caibeal Odhrain (St Oran’s Chapel).

It’s a small building, next to the abbey, consisting of just one room. When you walk inside, your footsteps echo on the stone floor, and the smell of dust and candle wax fills your nose. A few birds live in the roof rafters, and their tweets are the only sounds that break the silence.

When you are alone in this little space, it almost feels like you’ve entered a quiet, comforting womb (as strange as that may sound).

I remember sitting in this chapel a few months ago. It was winter, very early in the morning, and it was pitch dark. A wild Hebridean wind was blowing outside… but inside, I felt safe and cocooned within its stone walls.

As I sat there, with a couple of candles illuminating the darkness, I thought of one of my favourite Hebrew names of God – ha-Rachaman (the Merciful or Compassionate One). The root of this name is rechem, which means “womb”.

The Mercy and Compassion of God for us is that of a mother for the child within her womb!

It was a very comforting thought on that cold, dark, and windy morning. And it has been a comforting thought ever since. Whenever I feel lonely, or weary, or sad, this memory fills my heart. And I know that no matter what I’m going through, I am always safe and protected in His womb!

May our Merciful and Compassionate Father enclose you within the safety of His womb! And may you always feel His heartbeat echoing in your ears as He protects you and nourishes you in the deepest part of Himself! Amen.

Optimized-orans2

The Forgotten Art of Listening

My Sisters and Brothers,

Dom Helder Camara was a little Brazilian priest who is probably most famous for his statement: “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”

But to those who knew him, he was a man who lived entirely for God, and for others.

In the book A Thousand Reasons for Living (a collection of his nightly vigil meditations), the following was written in the introduction:

“The way Dom Helder spends his days is no mystery. They are completely available to others, to all and sundry, great and small, by appointment or unannounced. He listens, he advises. He listens, he gives a decision. He listens, he helps. Unfailingly present, available, attentive.”

I like that – he listens… he listens… he listens!

This reminds me of something I read about Pope John Paul II. It was written by a former member of the Swiss Guard in a book called The Pope and the CEO:

“Whenever I encountered the pope, it unfailingly felt as if I was the reason he got up in the morning. He was always fully present, keenly aware of what was going on in the heart and mind of the person to whom he spoke and far more interested in what you had to say to him than what he had to say to you. No matter what other pressing concerns awaited him at the end of your conversation, those concerns were seemingly absent from his mind while he was with you.

How different are these attitudes of listening to what most of us are used to? I think of myself – how I’m always talking. And even when I’m listening, I often catch myself thinking of what my reply will be.

But if we are to really connect with people, and be there for them, we need to learn to listen! We need to relearn this ancient lost art of TRULY LISTENING! With every part of ourselves.

I think about Jesus. The Gospels are a record of many things that Jesus said. But I also think He was a listener. When people came to Him, He listened deeply to what they had to say… so deep that He would often hear what their hearts were saying, even if their mouths couldn’t say it!

And that’s how we need to be!

I spoke about most of this in yesterday’s post. But I think it is worth repeating. If we want to be followers of Christ, we have to learn to listen as He listened. We need to devote ourselves entirely to listening deeply to what others are speaking to us – both verbally and non-verbally. Giving ourselves to them, wholly and completely, even for a few seconds, and let them know that they are worthy to be listened to! That as children of God, their presence means something!

May the Lord Jesus Christ fill you with His Mercy, and Love, and Compassion! And may He give us the grace to be true listeners, as He was, is, and always will be! Amen.

Being Present In the Great Loneliness

Optimized-loneliness

Sliabh Meadhonach – the Great Loneliness, Iona Island

My Sisters and Brothers,

There’s a place on Iona known simply as Sliabh Meadhonach – the Great Loneliness. It is an actual place located towards the wild western side of the island… and yet it has no definable boundaries. You can’t look to any particular point and say, this is where the Great Loneliness starts, or this is where it ends.

But when you enter it, you know you’re in it!

It is a wild place of bog, and large rugged rock formations. But its most striking feature is its silence. All you hear is the north wind blowing, and maybe a bird singing far in the distance.

Right in the middle of this desert place is a small circle of stones, that once formed the base layer of an ancient hermit’s cell.

Every time I’ve visited this cell, I’ve wondered what it must have been like back in the time when the hermit lived there. Was it a completely isolated place suspended in the silence of the Great Loneliness? Or was there a steady stream of pilgrims that wound its way through the bog to visit, to confess their sins, to talk, to listen?

I think it may have been a bit of both. There were definitely times of complete isolation. But I also think this hermit had a total open-door policy… much like what existed with the desert monks of the east, or the Russian poustinikki.

In her book Poustinia (which means “desert”), Catherine Doherty describes these Russian desert dwellers:

“They were people who craved in their hearts to be alone with God and his immense silence. Why did they crave that silence, that solitude? For themselves? No. A hermit of this type, according to the Eastern spirituality, went into the poustinia for others.”

She goes on to describe what it was like to visit one of these “hermits”:

“There was a gracious hospitality about him, as if he were never disturbed by anyone who came to visit him. On the contrary, his face was a ‘welcome’ face. His eyes seemed to sparkle with the joy of receiving a guest. He seemed to be a listening person. A person of few words, but his listening was deep, and there was a feeling that he understood. In him St. Francis’ prayer seemed to become incarnate: he consoled, he understood, and he loved.”

This, I believe, is the model that the ancient Celtic hermits followed too. They withdrew from the world a bit… but they did so in order to become more available to the world!

In my last post, Beyond Time and Space, I wrote about us entering the spiritual realm, and going throughout the earth and the universe in prayer. But as we do that, let us never forget to keep our feet on the ground!

Like the Celtic saints of old, or the Russian poustinikki, let us live in the spiritual realm… but let us never forget to be totally present in the physical realm too! May we never get so caught up in being “spiritual” that we forget to be available to our neighbour!

One of the foundation stones of Celtic spirituality is hospitality. And if we desire to live as our Celtic Sisters and Brothers did, we need to embody this spirit of hospitality that so characterised them!

An old Celtic saying describes a Christian as one whose door is closed to no one, and whose food is offered to everyone!

If we desire to be like these Celts – if we desire to be Christian! – we must connect with our fellow man. Yes, we can withdraw from time to time – even Jesus did that! But let us always – ALWAYS! – be available! Let us connect and develop deep relationships with everyone whom God places upon our path! And let us never walk past another human without noticing them. Sometimes hospitality can be as simple as smiling at someone!

May the God who became flesh fill you with the desire to be wholly present to everyone! May His Light and Love fill you to overflowing so that you may take that Light and Love to all the corners of the world! Amen.

Optimized-hermitcell

Hermit Cell, Iona Island