Wednesday, 12 December 2018

The lists get longer.

I hope at the end of this day I feel that I want to dance home full of the joys of the day. I have a day of meetings to attend, one all afternoon and one that will take up most of my evening so a later bedtime and hopefully both meetings have gone well and I come home full of good thoughts and enjoy my rest.

All going well tomorrow I am going to take the bus to Edinburgh and have a walk along the banks of the river Leith and visit the Christmas market and see the Rembrandt exhibition at the Art Gallery, the cares of the week behind me. 

When I write this down I already feel selfish that I am filling my day with all the things I would like to do and want to do. I could add others but I am sure time and energy will say that is enough. 

I have a friend who at this time of year lets his beard, which he has all year, grow much longer and he plays the part of Santa Clause in one of the local shopping centres and at many parties. He tells me that what surprises him is when he askes children what they would like for Christmas the lists each year get longer and longer. Surprisingly, most of those lists will be fulfilled and many parents will spend the rest of the year paying off the debt. I suspect many of them will not feel at all like the Christmas Doll in my painting.

I am sure I have told the tale written by Leo Tolstoy before but it is one worthy of further thought at this time of year.

He told the tale of a successful peasant farmer who was never satisfied with his lot. He wanted more of everything. 

One day he received a novel offer. For 1000 rubles, he could buy all the land he could walk around in a day. The only catch in the deal was that he had to be back at his starting point by sundown. 

Early the next morning he started out walking at a fast pace. By midday, he was very tired, but he kept going, covering more and more ground. Well into the afternoon he realized that his greed had taken him far from the starting point. 

He quickened his pace and as the sun began to sink low in the sky, he began to run, knowing that if he did not make it back by sundown the opportunity to become an even bigger landholder would be lost. 

As the sun began to sink below the horizon he came within sight of the finish line. Gasping for breath, his heart pounding, he called upon every bit of strength left in his body and staggered across the line just before the sun disappeared. 

He did not have time to pay the meagre fee and enjoy the success he collapsed, blood streaming from his mouth. Within a few minutes, he was dead. 

His workers dug a grave on the very spot he had died.  

It measured not much over six feet long and three feet wide.  They might have considered carving on his gravestone the question, "How much land does a person need?" Six foot by three!

How long does a Christmas list need to be to make a great Christmas?  Not very long.

Have a great day. 

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

We are doing Division today.

On my path yesterday there comes a sharp bend and the path goes under the trees and you are immediately faced with a steep and often slippy hill. I always prepare myself for the sharp climb knowing that I will feel it in the calves of my legs. Yesterday I came out through the trees and there was the hill but there also was the beautiful dappled light running down through the division between the trees. 

I have been very aware of division very much these past few weeks when all we hear about is the ever increasing gaps between the know divided country I live in. The word division scared me at school I was never good at math or arithmetic and dreaded when told, "We are going to do division this morning."  But one thing I did know was that when you divided one thing with another you always ended up with less than you started. It seems to me that right now this is exactly where we are heading. 

But this is not the place for politics and I am taking no side here I merely reflect it will be a very long time before there is a coming together if we are not careful.

I was always very conscious of division when I was a minister, division between different factions of the religion I was part of and I found this very sad. Of course, when I moved into teaching and world religions and philosophy I became even more conscious of the divisions between religions. I have been left wondering why we seem so hell-bent on division?

Being aware of such and much concerned about the rise of denominations in the church and between religions a devote man tells of a dream he had. 

In the dream, he was ushered to the gates of Hell. 

There he asked, "Are there any Presbyterians here?" "Yes!", came the answer. 

Then he asked, "Are there any Baptists? Any Episcopalians? Any Methodists?" The answer was Yes! each time. 

In deep distress, he asked, "Are there any Muslims here, any Hindus?"  "Yes," came the answer.

Much distressed, he was then ushered to the gates of Heaven. 

There he asked the same question, and the answer was No! "No?" To this, he asked, "Who then is inside?" 

The answer came back, "There are only good people of faith here." 

Where there is division there can only ever be losers and never any winners.  Just a thought as we approach a time where we are all supposed to put aside differences and be of one. 

Have a great day.

Monday, 10 December 2018


I mentioned the other day there that I did not like surprises and have been asked why this is the case. It might at first seem obvious why somebody does not like surprises it being because they do not like being disappointed and that is to some extent understandable.  This, however, is not my reasoning though it may well have started out this way.

I was brought up in a very poor household and especially at this time of the year my mother found it very difficult. She began from an important standpoint and this was that the most important of all expenditures was to make sure that there was always food on the table and my brother and I did not go off to school hungry. For the same reason, we had to walk home from school at lunchtime to have a bowl of soup which was cheaper to produce than paying for a school meal.

So Christmas very quickly became part of the whole family way of life of compromise. There would be no big surprises at Christmas because then there would be no disappointments my mother would find out what we wanted and then tell us what we could expect that would be as near as possible to the request, but often not quite there.

On the whole, this worked and Christmas was plain and simple but there was always a meal of our favourites.

What I did not learn from this exercise was that art of knowing how to react when a surprise came my way. Try as I might I have never cultivated the art of making the giver feel that I am feeling as I deep down always am overwhelmed and my inner emotions remain mine alone. 

I have on the other hand learned as a giver not to expect a great deal and so I am never disappointed at the reaction of the receiver.  I have learned to take life as it comes.

But frequently I come around a bend on my walk and am confronted with a scene like this one above that leaves me standing open-mouthed in joy. Where on a cold morning with a low sun the needles on the ground show such a profusion of colour. 

Enjoy the unexpected and be grateful for what we never expected. I am sure this season of giving and receiving would be so much better if this was our starting point. 

Have a surprising day of happiness and feast on the simple things of life.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

The thoughts of a horse.

I can hardly ever go walking in the village without seeing horses. Between where I live and the local Inn one of the first buildings in the village I have to pass two fields and there is seldom a time when there are no horses in one or other of them.

As I passed and watched them the words, "Do they know its Christmas?" crossed my mind. No, they did not and had not a thought about it. Their one concern was the next mouthful of tasty grass or possibly an apple that somebody had thrown into the field for them. Yet they seemed content and sauntered over towards the fence whenever anybody passed, just in the hope.

Not so for us at this time of year. We are so caught up in the future that the now does not seem of much importance.

We are so caught up in the future date that we do not rest satisfied with the present. 

We anticipate that future as too slow in coming, as if in order to hasten its course. Or we recall the past, to stop its too rapid flight. So imprudent are we that we dream of those times which are no more, and thoughtlessly overlook that which alone exists, now. 

For the present is generally lost to us, we conceal it from our sight because we are so caught up in the future.  We try to sustain it by the future and think of rearranging matters which are not in our power, for a time which we have no certainty of reaching. 

Let each one examine his/her thoughts, and he will find them all occupied with the past and the future. We scarcely ever think of the present and if we think of it, it is only to take light from it to arrange the future. 

The present is never our end. So we never fully live,  we are so busy preparing to live. We are so busy preparing to be happy, that much happiness slips by.

One of the greatest dangers of this time is we all spend too much time living in the future or the past, feeling regret for lost joys or shame for things badly done and hoping this year it might be better. 
Even when our minds turn to the future, we spend an inordinate amount of time longing for it or dreading it. 

The only way to live said the sage, "is to accept each minute as an unrepeatable miracle.  Work at your work. Play at your play. Shed your tears. Enjoy your laughter. Now is the time of your life."

Or for today be like the horse enjoy the grass before you and not that on the other side of the hour.

Have a great day in the midst of all the busyness.

Saturday, 8 December 2018


I have to be open and honest about something I have to do, as do we all from time to time, going shopping. This is one thing that comes far down my lists of things I have to or want to do. To me, it seems like one of the necessary evils of life. Strange, because I really do enjoy cooking and baking bread and soup and all sorts of things. But the spices for a making a curry do not just appear in the kitchen they have to be shopped for. Yesterday I spent a fair bit of my time doing just that.

The older we get the fewer presents we have to buy and my family knowing that more than me do not like surprises talk openly about what we would like to receive. Last year my family persuaded me to have a years subscription of the Digital Concert of the Berlin Philharmoniker. So this year, after a year of sheer joy watching and listening to all of their concerts, it was simply a years renewal.

All of that said we do have family and friends we purchase gifts for and it takes a great deal of thought and consideration as to not just what they might like but what would they really appreciate?

So on the basis of my experience, yesterday here are some tips on making purchases for a member of the opposite sex.  As a male, I can only speak about purchasing for female loved ones. So here goes! 

Do not buy anything that plugs in. Anything that requires electricity is seen as utilitarian.

Do not buy clothing that involves sizes. The chances are one in seven thousand that you will get her size right, and your wife will be offended the other 6999 times. "Do I look like a size 16?" she'll say. Too small a size doesn't cut it either: "I haven't worn a size 8 in 20 years!"

Avoid all things useful. The new polish advertised to save hundreds of hours is not going to win you any brownie points.

Do not purchase anything that involves weight loss or self-improvement.  A six-month membership to a diet centre will be seen as a suggestion that's she is overweight.

Purchasing jewellery is fraught with danger. The jewellery your wife wants, you cannot afford, and the jewellery you can afford will seldom be what will be loved.

Finally, do not spend too much. "How do you think we're going to afford that?" she'll ask. But do not spend too little. She will not say anything, but she will think, "Is that all I'm worth?"

So to all going out shopping,  remember it is and can be a real minefield at this time of year. 

The art of giving and receiving is probably one of the hardest lessons of life to learn and after almost 75 years I have still much to learn.

Have a great time and a great day. 

Friday, 7 December 2018


There lies behind this painting a story. This is an early painting that I did on a canvas and I have a friends who own some of my paintings already and I have told these friends that I would like them to have this one but because of some restrictions in getting art into the country without much expense on their part I still have the canvas in a safe place.  This may look like the same painting but it is not it is a version of it done on my Ipad and so it can go anywhere in the world in a digital format, like so many of my recent paintings, at no cost. All I need is an email address to make it possible.

While completing this and me thinking about giving it to friends there was much bustle out in the street as Santa went around on the back of a lorry, his reindeer must have been tired. A knock came to the door and there were young people with collecting cans gathering for charity. My first reaction was to go to my Buddha purse and empty the contents into the tin. My Buddha purse is a little leather pouch I have with a wooden Buddha head on the cords which I use for all my loose change.

At the last moment, I thought again and reached for my wallet where I carry my notes and though I have been saving very hard to cover the outlay of my new IPad I reached in and placed a note into the can and not the change.

This reminded me of the tale of the little girl.

A mother wanted to teach her daughter a moral lesson. She gave the little girl a fifty pence and a £1 coin for the church.

"Put whichever one you want in the collection plate and keep the other for yourself," she told the girl.

When they were coming out of the church, the mother asked her daughter which amount she had given. "Well," said the little girl, "I was going to give the pound, but just before the collection, the man in the pulpit said that we should all be cheerful givers. I knew I'd be a lot more cheerful if I gave the fifty pence, so I did."

There is much said about giving at this time of year C.S. Lewis said this, "I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. "

To finish I quote one of my ancient heroes who said, "Where your pleasure is, there is your treasure; where your treasure is, there is your heart; where your heart is, there is your happiness.

Have a marvellous day and just a thought on the other side of giving is receiving and there is much to be said about being a good receiver. 

Thursday, 6 December 2018


Now here is a word that we hear frequently at this time of the year. It is something that we do not hear very frequently at any other time which often makes me suspect that it is a word we change for the rest of the year to, " fun." It seems that they are so often used in much the same way. 

Yesterday somebody said to me in a very friendly and meaningful way that I should relax and get some joy into my life that I take things a bit too seriously at times.

I gave this much thought and to some extent, I agreed and to some extent, I did not.

What do we mean when we send joy to another? Because it seems to me that joy is something that can only be experienced when it is a shared experience.

It was C. S. Lewis who said, "We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. 

We are far too easily pleased.

There is some truth in the notion that we have become a people who seem to find pleasure at a shallow level.

A man was anticipating death,  penned these last words to a friend. 

"It's a bad world, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They have found a joy which is a thousand times better than any pleasure of our sinful life. 

They are so often ignored and unheard, but they care not. They are masters of their being. They have overcome the world. 

These people have discovered the simple things of life and are joyful people.  These last few years I have discovered this and glad to say that I am one of them."

It seems that happiness and joy can be found on many levels and we can share it in a deep and meaningful way with others. It is so much better than fun.

I give you my decorative abstract ball with a little gift to you. 

Have a joyful day.