Thursday, 26 April 2018

In the face of adversity.

In the face of adversity find strength. Now speaking about adversity I seem to have had more than my share of it in the last little period of life. 

It all began with the snow and the ice, I slipped while out walking one day and gave my shoulder a real bruising bang. The next day Moving it anyway at all was very painful. I was somewhat restricted in what I could do and kept forgetting until the pain shot up my arm to remind me. 

Just as it seemed to be improving I got the flu. Getting over that I was looking forward to some pain-free days if not longer only to find a way of jarring my arm once again.  

From bad to worse it went. I was out weeding my garden and bent down to grasp a dandelion only to bump my forehead onto the branch of a Buddleia that I had recently cut back. The branch burst open my forehead and left a painful bruise. 

Now if that was not enough I slipped two days ago bursting open my arm which had to be stitched and is now black from hand to elbow. The nurse who stitched and dressed it says that she is sure I have been living with a broken shoulder. 

The woes and toils of life. 

I will say this for adversity,  people seem to be able to stand it, and that's more than I can say for prosperity. 

But let us not get down and begin to feel morass. 

Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful with particular satisfaction. Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my 74 years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my experience, has been through affliction and not through happiness. 

The learning has brought me happiness but it was not the happiness that brought the learning. I am sure every artist knows that to create a half worthy artwork there has to be at least three or four that one is not happy with and the lessons of errors learned. 

So adversity we have but, and it is a fairly large but, there is a positive side to even this.

Problems often provide us with greater opportunities. 

Problems can promote our spiritual and physical maturity.
Problems prove our integrity.

Problems produce a sense of dependence
Problems prepare our hearts for a life with a sense of empathy for the troubles of others.

Have a wonderful day and mind how you go. 

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Cometh the Day.

I met up with a friend I had not seen in a number of years. I say a friend but in fact, she was my first official boss in the teaching profession. My boss yes, but still a very dear friend and it was wonderful to see her again. 

We had many a laugh over the memories shared and the chatter about the intervening years. There was one thing she had in common with so many others of my friends. Actually, she was the second person yesterday to tell me not to say the D, word.

On this blog, I have often said that we never know the day or the hour, so let us make the very best of what we have.

In reality, I hardly or ever speak about Death because I am far too busy talking about life.  So having been stopped from saying the word twice yesterday I say it today when nobody can stop me from saying it. 

So for those of you still reading let me mention some thoughts that put it in context.

When you're old as I am, there are all sorts of extremely pleasant things that happen to you. One of the most pleasant is that you wake up in the night and you find that you are half in and half out of your battered old carcass. 

It seems quite a tossup whether you go back and resume full occupancy of your mortal body, or make off toward the bright glow you see in your inner eye. 

A few days before his death, Dr. F. B. Meyer wrote a very dear friend these words, "I have just heard, to my great surprise, that I have but a few days to live. It may be that before this reaches you, I shall have entered that place. 

Don't trouble to write. We may meet in the morning." 

Somebody who learned a great lesson from being exposed to the reality of death was Alexander the Great.

Seeing Diogenes looking attentively at a parcel of human bones, asked the philosopher what he was looking for. 

Diogenes' reply, "That which I cannot find, the difference between your father's bones and those of his slaves." 

There is nothing morbid about the topic of one of life's greatest realities, in fact, for some, there may even be an opportunity.

"Here lies Jamie Smith, wife of Thomas Smith, marble cutter. This monument was erected by her husband as a tribute to her memory and a specimen of his work. 

Monuments of the same style 350 pounds sterling." 

Another way of saying the words I say fairly often are the words on this topic of Thomas a Kempis. I have paraphrased it.

You ought so to order yourself in all your thoughts and actions as if today you were about to die. Labour now to live so, that at the hour of death you might rather rejoice than fear. 

Rejoice indeed, if you are reading this you have the possibility of a wonderful day ahead.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

What a view.

When you look at the painting above in its simplicity you could very easily, if asked, list what you see in it. A man in a boat, a branch of a tree,  the moon, water, and two little birds.

I say this because I was remembering the day I took my son and his friend to visit a nature centre out in the wild country. It was not really, it was not far from where we were living in our caravan for a long weekend break.  It was, however, a nature reserve and boasted a great many animals and birdlife. 

The attraction for young people was that it also had a treetop walk, one of the first.  Once up among the treetops, it was possible to see for miles, if you could lift your head from looking down to make sure you were safe. 

Having got up there I looked out and was amazed by what I was seeing and how far. I exclaimed to the young lad friend of my son, "Is that not marvellous, what a wonderful view." He looked at me and responded, "it is just a few trees and mountains.

I suppose we see what we want to see and frequently skim and see very little.

The person who described the painting above like the list I gave was correct, that is what you see. But there is more if you take the time to look.

I often ask myself when I am looking at something, "Would that description stand up in court?"

There is a moon with darker shaded areas that could easily be the continent of America North and South. The branch of a tree reaching down towards the water. It is very much like a winter branch having no buds or leaves. It has two sets of two branches out from the main which in turn thin to further stems. Sitting on one of those are two small birds purple in colour with orange beaks and sparkling white eyes.

There is a boat with a man dressed in a red tunic standing at the stern of the boat it has a mast with a little red pennant flag and a rolled up white sail. The man is holding two oars which are reflected in the see. There are some hints of ripples in the water and the signature of the artist.

I could go on to tell you about the owner of the signature but I think I have made my point if not laboured it. 

It all depends on what we see and how we look and in that hangs a great deal.

Let me tell you a true tale.

When the 1960s ended, and the hippy period was put to bed in San Francisco's the district reverted to high rent, and many hippies moved down the coast to Santa Cruz. They had children and got married, too, though in no particular sequence. 

They didn't name their children Melissa or Brett. People in the mountains around Santa Cruz grew accustomed to their children playing Frisbee with little Time Warp or Spring Fever. And eventually, Moonbeam, Earth, Love and Precious Promise all ended up in public school. Seems we are moving back to such names in some circles.

That's when the kindergarten teachers first met Fruit Stand. Every fall, according to tradition, parents bravely apply name tags to their children, kiss them goodbye and send them off to school on the bus.

So it was for Fruit Stand. The teachers thought the boy's name was odd, but they tried to make the best of it.

"Would you like to play with the blocks, Fruit Stand?" they offered. And later, "Fruit Stand, how about a snack?" He accepted hesitantly. By the end of the day, his name didn't seem much odder than Heather's or Sun Ray's.
At dismissal time, the teachers led the children out to the buses. "Fruit Stand, do you know which one is your bus?"

He didn't answer. That wasn't strange. He hadn't answered them all day. Lots of children are shy on the first day of school. It didn't matter. The teachers had instructed the parents to write the names of their children's bus stops on the reverse side of their name tags. 

The teacher simply turned over the tag. There, neatly printed, was the word "Anthony."

Had the person who read Fruit Stand been more aware she would have noticed that was the name of the bus stand and the boys name was on the other side.

Look see and learn. Day by day a myriad of beauty opens up before us, take a look experience and enjoy. Stop and make sure you are in fact enjoying it to its full and not just seeing a boat in the water.

Have a sightful day.

Monday, 23 April 2018

I need to accept.

There is a prayer that that goes thus:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change.
courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time,
enjoying one moment at a time,
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace.

These words have helped many in grave difficulty to face the morrow with courage. It is never simple to accept that there are things in life that we cannot ever change We often have ambitions to move in a certain direction but something just stops us from acheiving that ambition. We make plans for the future to find that the things of life mean that those plans need to be put aside.

Often this leads to anger and frustration. The wise sage tells us to remain silent in such situations and continue to go about the preparations for the next moment of living.

Accepting that we are not in control of everything does not mean we have surrendered to fatalism. it does not mean giving in to some sort of sense that we have no hand in what will happen next.

It does not mean accepting that we are helpless beings For example in times of drought the wise prepare by storing whatever water is available. Sensible actions for difficult times. On the other hand, such people will not plant flowers that require much water. That is ignorance and big headedness.

Acceptance of reality is not doing nothing it is seeking to learn what is needed and acting accordingly.

A young man had achieved much in his life that had been recognised by many. He was proud of what he had managed to accomplish and began to live in the glory of his accomplishments. He gloried in the many tributes that came his way. 

Yet with all his accomplishments, he has missed out on something crucially important to him, his father's acceptance and recognition that what he has accomplished is valuable. he just could not understand why his father had not joined in the praise of his good fortune. 

He went to his father one day and had a candid discussion with him. he asked, "Father I have achieved so much in my life. What more do you want ?"

His father looked at him and in deep thought said, "Someday you will look back and say, "I could have done more."

His father had indeed been proud but saw that his sone had not learned the difference between what could be changed and what could not. His father saw that he could have gone on to even greater things had he had the wisdom just to reflect for a moment and know.

The sage says So long as one's deeds are in accord with the time and one does not leave sloppy traces, the actions are right.

 The above painting is my third attempt to paint Lao Tzu. I find while listening to his words having some face before me helps my understanding of his teachings.  Maybe I need to learn to accept the things I cannot do and change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

Have a wonderful day.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Music the harmony of life.

I was given a years subscription to the digital concerts of the Berlin Philharmonic, one of the best gifts I have ever been given and thank my family for the pleasure it has brought.  I have access to live streams of all the concerts as they happen and if I miss I can catch up through the archives.

I told somebody about this and they said to me, "Not as good as the Beatles."  A matter of opinion and taste and not a value judgement I would venture to make. You cannot compare a Monet to a Van Gogh, but again that is just an opinion.

There are so many things in my life that have over the years brought me a deep sense of joy and meaning. Which is the greater? I would struggle to say or to explain.

The joy of watching the peacefulness of fish swimming the comfort of the serene look on the face of a Buddha. The stirring melody of music. Each in its own way brings a sense of wonder and harmony.

The strange thing is this, as a boy, I had no love for classical music, I dreaded the two periods of art lessons every week, and the very thought of anything of a spiritual nature was a large NO.

I was inspired to try painting later in life and thank with all my heart the person who suggested it. I remember listening for the first time to a classical record and give thanks to the person who suggested that particular piece to listen to on my own in the quiet. I will never forget the person who suggested that there was more to life than what we see and hear with the eye and ear. That there was a whole new world that could only be experienced with the inner being.

My first classical record purchase was Beethovens 3rd Symphony an expensive gesture on my part but it has paid me back one thousand fold.

By the age of 5, Beethoven was playing the violin under the tutelage of his father, also an accomplished musician. By the time he was 13, he was a concert organist. In his 20s he was already studying under the very watchful eyes of Haydn and Mozart. In fact, Mozart spoke prophetic words when he declared that Beethoven would give the world something worth listening to by the time his life ended. 

As he began to develop his skills, he became a prolific composer. During his lifetime, he wrote nine majestic symphonies and five concertos for piano, not to mention numerous pieces of chamber music. Ludwig van Beethoven also wrote sonatas and pieces for violin and piano. 

He has thrilled us with the masterful works of unique harmony that broke with the traditions of his times. The man was a genius. 

Beethoven was not, however, a stranger to difficulties. During his twenties, he began to lose his hearing. His fingers "became thick," he said on one occasion. He couldn't feel the music as he once had. His hearing problem haunted him in the middle years of his life, but he kept it a well-guarded secret. 

When he reached his fifties, he was stone deaf. Three years later he made a tragic attempt to conduct an orchestra and failed miserably. 

Approximately five years later, he died during a fierce thunderstorm. He was deaf, yet a magnificent musician. On one occasion, he was overheard shouting at the top of his voice as he slammed both fists on the keyboard, "I will take life by the throat!" 

Have you ever said that you did not like something you had never tasted? have you ever said you would not like some music you had never listened to? 

Then maybe it is time to grab life by the throat and give something new a try. Who knows how long we have to do so?

Have a marvellous day.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

An old fashioned being.

Nobody has time anymore for things that do not seem to bring instant pleasure, or so it would seem. I overheard a couple of people speaking thinking that I was well out of earshot. They had just discovered that I had been a minister for a large part of my life.

They thought this was old fashioned and such a waste of time. So many much more important things to take up the valuable moments of youth.

I remember as a youth wondering what it was that took so many people to a church on a Sunday morning. Not being one of them, I only had the little things I learned from speaking with others. 

Those were the days when it was expected that people had time for such. In some places in the world, this is still the case. For this group of people, I was from the dark ages. 

Over the next two or so days I wondered if all was lost and we had become a people with no sense of the other only ourselves and our feelings.

I wondered what is worship? Was it indeed a thing of the past? 

My own understanding is that to feel in your heart and express in some appropriate manner a humbling but delightful sense of admiring awe and astonished wonder and overpowering love in the presence of something that inspires within you such a feeling is, in fact, a sense of worship.  That we all at some time or other have such feelings, we may not give it a name but it is something other than the ordinary. Without such moments life would be so much less so I hope that I am correct in thinking we all at some time have such experience.

Neil Marten, a member of the British Parliament, was once giving a group of his constituents a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament. During the course of the visit, the group happened to meet Lord Hailsham, then lord chancellor, wearing all the regalia of his office. 

Hailsham recognized Marten among the group and cried, "Neil!" 

Not daring to question or disobey the "command," the entire band of visitors promptly fell to their knees! 

I am not talking about such forms of worship.

I may indeed be a relic of the past but I rejoice in those moments when without thinking something overtakes my inner being and hold me in astonishment. The flight of a bird soaring above in full song does not bring me to my knees but it still fills me with that sense of awe that there is more to life than me

I no longer try to explain or name this feeling because we all express this in different ways but I do so hope that we all are conscious of such moments.  Cherishing such moments fills the inner being with a sense of calm and joy which is there to be tapped into in times of trouble or grief.

I start my day in the quiet thought of just such moments and then find the day brings even more. I really hope we have not reached that time when all that matters in life is oneself.

Have a day full of moments of wonder. 

Friday, 20 April 2018


There is nothing worse than living in a state of constant pain I have a number of friends who like myself are beginning to feel the oncoming of, "Youth Deficiency," a terrible affliction. Along with this comes the ageing of limbs and every aches and pain.

I have a friend who is finding walking more difficult by the day from the pain in his back. I can speak personally having had to have a new ankle fitted because of dreaded arthritis and feeling the day long pain in the other as it deteriorates. 

Worse I can see its progress in my fingers and feel the stiffness and see them slowly but surely becoming more and more misshapen. Wondering when or if the day will come when I will no longer be able to manipulate and use a brush or pencil. I ask myself how long will my hand allow me to hold my digital pencil knowing that it takes even more precision than a normal pencil? 

How easy it would be to just accept and sit back and no longer try. I know many who have done just that. Why inflict pain on oneself unnecessarily? 

On the other side of the coin are those who are a living example who inspire me to keep on going.

Imagine that you are a world-class concert pianist at the peak of your career, someone who has spent years studying and practising to develop your art. 

Your fingers respond instantly to your mental commands, flitting along the keyboard with grace and speed. Then one day you feel a stiffness that wasn't there before. You go to a doctor, tests are done, and the diagnosis comes back: Arthritis. 

Your fingers are destined to become wooden and crippled. From the heights of success and acclaim, you will plunge into oblivion. 

It happened to Byron Janis. 

Within a short time, this concert pianist saw arthritis quickly spread to all his fingers, and the joints of nine of them fused. Some people would have never recovered from such a blow, but Janis decided to fight back. 

He kept his ailment a secret from all but his wife and two close friends. He worked long hours to change his technique. He learned how to use what strengths he had instead of concentrating on his weaknesses. 

He also used a regimen of medications, acupuncture, ultrasound, and even hypnosis to deal with the pain. His wife learned how to give him therapeutic massages to loosen his stiff joints. Through hard work and sheer determination, Janis was able to continue his career. He maintained a full concert schedule for 12 years without anyone suspecting. 

Finally, he told the world at a concert he was performing. These days, he is active in fund-raising for the Arthritis Foundation and still plays the piano. 

He credits faith, and hope, and will for his success and says, "I have arthritis, but it doesn't have me."

What a wonderful example and role model. Carpe Diem, grasp the day. I will never again run the London marathon but all going well I will watch those who on Sunday do then go and do whatever I can manage and rejoice.  

As my father used to say, "There are loads of folks along in the graveyard would love to have your troubles."

Have a great day.