The Day I Met the Pope and the Dalai Lama

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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.

 

The Womb of God

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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.

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