Thought for the Week – Nelson Mandela

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When Nelson Mandela was released after twenty seven years in prison he went into the bush, into nature to readjust, to recuperate and prepare for his life in the public arena.

It is said that Saint Bernard, the great reformer, lured the learned cleric of York, Henry Murdach, into the woods, “where the beeches and elms taught the monks wisdom”.

We were taught to be suspicious of nature, both our own nature and the world around us. Nature was dangerous and not to be trusted. Use it by all means but don’t trust it. We are were encouraged to live in the ‘super-natural world far removed from the dangers of raw nature.

We have much to learn from the natural world. If you spend any time in nature you realise there is a pace and a rhythm in the natural world. Animals don’t become workaholics and get anxious if they are not being productive, achieving something. Nature is productive when it needs to be and quiet when it needs to be.

For example, lions can spend eighteen hours in deep rest and then out of that rest comes a different rhythm, an intensity of movement as they hunt. They hunt efficiently and with total focus.

They don’t spend their rest thinking about being efficient or being really efficient wishing they were resting – they are always just where they are – this is the essence of wisdom – to be where you are and to allow action to arise out of that being when the moment comes.

We are still hard wired to nature. Our ancestral instinctive tendencies are alive and well despite being neglected and denied by our culture. It would be strange if our ancestral world was completely erased from our genes. Our mental and physical well being is deeply affected by nature. A view of a parkland leads to a decline in fear and anger and promotes a feeling of peace. Walking a beach has a deeply calming effect. While sitting in our refectory, I am drawn  unconsciously to the window and beyond to the trees, shrubs.

Patients recovering from surgery who can look at trees recover quicker and need less medication for pain or anxiety then those with a view of buildings. Dental patients able to look at natural scenery register lower blood pressure and reduced levels of anxiety.

While these are only fragments of evidence they do suggest that human nature is still genetically encoded from the time we lived intimately as part of the natural world. Nelson Mandela knew this connection and knew where he could best prepare himself for the gruelling public life ahead of him.

 

SimonThought for the Week – Nelson Mandela
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Thought for the Week – The feast of the Assumption

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Last week we celebrated one of the great Marian feasts – the feast of the Assumption.  Father Bernard, a monk of Glenstal, used to say to me when I was having difficulties, “Mary”, ‘She’s the man for you”.  I don’t know why this phrase has stuck with me for so long ( he died year ago ) but it has and it plays back regularly.
Pope Francis has a great devotion to Mary and especially to Mary the Untier of Knots’.  This devotion goes back to the second century when St Irenaeus wrote that,  ‘the knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by the obedience of Mary’.  In parts of Germany it has been common for centuries.
While studying in Germany, Jorge Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis, saw a painting hanging in a church in Augsburg called  ‘Mary Untier of Knots.  He liked it and brought postcards of the image back to Argentina. He enclosed copies in every letter he sent out. An artist-friend of his painted a miniature version which was hung in the chapel of Colegio del Salvador in Buenos Aires where he was posted.
The painting shows  Mary suspended between heaven and earth, dressed in crimson, and a deep blue mantle. She is surrounded by angels. In her hands is a knotted white ribbon, which she is untying. Assisting her at the task are two angels: one presents the knots of our lives to her, while another angel presents the ribbon, freed from knots, to us.

Now I pray that the Mary will intercede for us, extend her merciful hand to us and untie the knots that suffocate our lives  – so that we may be purified and move ever closer to each other and to God.
SimonThought for the Week – The feast of the Assumption
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Thought for the Week – Importance of touch

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Without a sense of touch, it is impossible to make our way in the world – we wouldn’t feel our feet walking on the earth; we wouldn’t sense when something hit, stung or cut us; we wouldn’t feel the sun warming us.

The multitude of tiny nerve endings in the skin give us a constant run-down about everything we connect with physically: slimy, sticky, furry, alive, dead, putrid.
Positive touch is essential for healthy development. Despite the presence of all other life requirements, without positive touch infants do not thrive. Doctors throughout the first half of the twentieth century were puzzled by a phenomenon called ‘failure to thrive syndrome’. In hospitals and orphanages the majority of infants did not develop normally, despite being given proper medical care, good food, and a clean environment. Lack of affectionate touch was the main cause and it has also been has been found to cause depression, violence, memory deficits, and illness.
Today we are so bombarded with stories of abuse that our world has developed a fear of touch and direct contact between human beings. But we are a tactile species, and must be careful not to create a generation of isolated individuals who don’t know how to reach out to each other.
SimonThought for the Week – Importance of touch
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Thought for the Week – Sense of Touch

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Last week during a retreat here much was made of the sense of touch. The suggestion was that truth is accessed through touch. Truth is something we touch.
Jesus touched people and healed them – the woman with the bleeding problem touched the hem of his garment and was cured. Jesus touched the blind man and he saw.
Are we losing our sense of touch in a technological age – an age where the touch screen replaces touch itself?
Ever since Plato, touch has been the poor relation of the senses – for him sight and hearing were the intellectual senses while touch and taste were the animal senses. Touch was the lowest of the senses because it is too immediate and lacks objectivity. Sight gave us objectivity and control.

Aristotle, on the other hand, believed touch was the most universal and intelligent of the senses – it allowed us to detect difference and works long after other senses fail in old age.

Plato’s won the argument and sight has dominated the hierarchy of the senses in Western thinking for over  2,000 years. The eye continues to rule in our “civilisation of the image.”

We need to find our way back into the tactile world. We need to return from head to foot, from brain to fingertip, from iCloud to earth so that we can, once again, ‘touch truth’.

SimonThought for the Week – Sense of Touch
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Thought for the Week – Focus and perspective

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Saint Benedict recommends that monks keep death daily before their eyes. Focused on the end encourages us not to waste time and to pay attention to each moment of life that we are granted. Oliver Sachs knew he was dying and wrote:

Over the last few days I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life. On the contrary I feel intensely alive and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.

This will involve audacity, clarity and plain speaking trying to straighten my accounts with the world  But there will be time, too for some fun and even a little silliness as well.

I feel clear focus and perspective . There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at the news every night.

SimonThought for the Week – Focus and perspective
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Thought for the Week – St Benedict, Patron of Europe

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The 11th July, 2016, was the feast day of St Benedict, Patron of Europe. This feast was inaugurated by Pope Paul VI in 1964 and made official by Pope Saint John Paul II in 1999. This is an extract from a homily given by Abbot Patrick last week on the Feast of St.Benedict.

We do well, at this time of anxiety in the European community, to ponder the meaning of his privileged patronage. Shortly after the establishment of the European Community, Jacques Delors, one of its principal architects, met with some of the Benedictine abbots of Europe. He asked them, as descendants of some of the first pioneers of  European identity, to help inject a socio-spiritual dimension into a reality based on economic principles, mostly concerning the coal and steel industries in Belgium, France and Germany.

Monks, from the fall of the Roman Empire, were participators in the creation of the first European community.

Montalembert, the nineteenth-century historian, suggests that monks were the technical advisers to Europe after the invasion of the barbarians, which made it effectively the third world of that time.

Benedictine monasteries acted as agricultural colleges for the regions in which they were located. Through their efforts, modern day Germany, for instance, was transformed from wilderness to prosperity. Monks stored water from springs, taught whole regions the art of irrigation. They introduced crops, industries, production methods: in Sweden the corn trade; in Parma cheese making; here in Ireland, salmon fisheries — all over Europe, vineyards. ‘The night they invented champagne’ has been traced to Dom Perignon, bursar of St. Peter’s Abbey, Hautvilliers-sur-Marne, in 1688. His ingenuity still governs the production of champagne today.  Most of the renowned cuisine of la Bourgogne derived from menus devised at the Abbey of Cluny, a centre of European culture and civilisation for over 1,000 years, from 945 to the French Revolution.

So, just as St. Benedict and his monks rescued Europe during a time of general collapse after the fall of the Roman Empire, so too might Benedict have some interesting advice for the European Union at this time of  upheaval.

SimonThought for the Week – St Benedict, Patron of Europe
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Thought for the Week – Paying Honour

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There is nothing like the buzz one gets from recognition and acknowledgement. And we know that people who feel appreciated and honoured are more effective in community and feel better about themselves. They are not afraid to use their talents.
An article in the Economist in 2007 reported research that suggests – that barring physical accidents or the sudden onset of fatal illness – Nobel Prize winners and top executives live longer and healthier than their less honoured peers. It seems to be more stressful at the bottom than at the top! People who don’t get the affirmation that comes with honour often live in a “state of chronic vulnerability especially when the withholding of due recognition is spiteful or envious.”
Let us commit to paying honour to someone we meet today!
SimonThought for the Week – Paying Honour
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