Thought for the Week – MINISTRY OF LISTENING

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Psychotherapy taught me the power of listening.’ I was at my first session, (it had taken me six weeks to work up the courage to talk to him!) and I became aware of a new sensation – a feeling of safety – this person was present in a way that I had never experienced – present in a way that made me feel safe and secure. He held a space for me where healing could begin –  he was exercising what I now know as ‘the ministry of listening’.
The difference was that he was really present – he reflected what I said, sat forward, focussed on me. And I knew he was listening and not just hearing – and there is a difference – hearing is something passive – our ears are always on – we can’t switch them off. Listening on the other hand is active, requiring effort – it is powerful in its transforming ability.
Listening is a ministry we can all engage in no matter what age and there is no need for further study or ordination, though training makes a difference my mother and I both agree!
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Thought for the Week – DIGITAL sabbath

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If we don’t get our attention under control there are plenty of people who will. The church has always understood that directing our attention toward what is holy is important. That is why medieval Christendom was filled with prayers, rituals, fasts and feasts: to keep life, both public and private ordered around divine things.

If we are to regain control of our attention, the first step is to create a space of silence in which you can think. To still the mind is hard but by doing it you open up a beach-head in which the holy spirit can work to calm the stormy waters within.

There is a Jewish organisation called ‘Reboot’ which promotes what they call the ‘DIGITAL sabbath’ – a day of rest in which people disconnect from technology especially computers, iPads and smartphones – in order that they can reconnect with the real world..

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Thought for the week – to live in reality

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After a recent school trip to Kenya one of the boys was asked what was the most important lesson he learnt – he said, “To be kind and respectful to everyone and to spend less time using technology.” This reminded me of Andrew Sullivan, one of the world’s most prolific and influential bloggers – in 2015 at the height of his success he suddenly dropped off the radar…

He wrote a year later in the New Yorker Magazine about his awakening …”Every minute I was engrossed in a virtual interaction I was not involved in a human encounter. Every second absorbed in some trivia was a second less for any form of reflection or calm or spirituality. “Multitasking” was a mirage. This was a zero-sum question. I either lived as a voice online or I lived as a human being in the world that humans had lived in since the beginning of time. And so I decided after 15 years, to live in reality.”

 

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Thought for the week – Grief

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We defend ourselves against grief. Our culture carries subtle and not so subtle messages to stop us expressing our grief. We are told ‘the pain will go away if we ignore it’, or ‘overcome it or simply push beyond it’. We are given ways to deal with it – ‘buy something’ or ‘talk ourselves out of grief by being positive’ and there are even spiritual suggestions where we are told it is ‘God’s will’, or ‘they’re better off now’.

And many of our rituals for dealing with grief, such as wearing black or not going to social events have all but disappeared.

We need to be creative about honouring grief. It is recognised that we go through stages of grief; shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. We don’t have to go through these in order or within any timeframe. It is normal to go back and forth, to get stuck in one stage for a while or to bypass another.

We need to accept grief as part of life’s path – that every embrace has a goodbye, every togetherness a loneliness and every beautiful memory a tinge of sadness; ‘there will always be a corner of our hearts where it is autumn, that part of us that aches with searching and loneliness with restlessness and dissatisfaction’.

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Thought for the Week – Everything changes.

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Everything changes. The weather changes, fashions change, our body changes, our ideas, our moods change, our loves and friendships change. Our finances and life plans change.

So much in the world reflects change and adaptability – the eye of an insect, the wing of a butterfly, the ear of an elephant, the functions of the human brain are all testimonies to adaptation to a life in continual change.

It was Cardinal Newman who said that ‘to live is to change, and to live well is to have changed often’. The only way we can survive is to be prepared to change. In the midst of changing conditions if you try to stay the same, static, fixed, you will suffer greatly.

Those who do not change or adapt are likely to end up like the dinosaurs!

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Thought for the Week – The Lonely Man of Faith

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In 1965 Rabbi Joseph B Soltoveitchik wrote an essay called, ‘The Lonely Man of Faith’. In it he examines two images of Adam based on the first two chapters of Genesis – he suggests that these reflect two sides of our nature.
Adam One is found in chapter one of Genesis-  he is the,  “majestic man” commissioned by God to master the world. He is the pragmatic one ambitious with his motto of success.
Adam Two emerges in chapter two of Genesis. He is a different, ‘the keeper of the garden who tills and preserves it’ , the ‘contractual or religious man’ who surrenders himself to the will of God.  He is the humble side of our nature and his motto is love.
These two sides of our nature operate different logics.  Adam1 has an external logic – an economic logic – input leads to output, risk leads to reward. Adam 2 has an internal logic – a moral logic and often an inverse logic – ‘you have to give to receive’, ‘to find yourself you have to lose yourself’.
Soloveitchik is not suggesting that either Adam is better than the other, but that they represent the struggle we undergo between these sides – the  spiritual and material, the mystical and scientific. We have to integrate both sides.
In Western culture we tend to adopt Adam 1 – we spend a lot of our time and energy focussing on values such as ambition and success – mastering or trying to master our universe.
We need Adam 2 for balance – to listen to him, integrate his compassion, kindness and honesty – befriend this inner reality. Our sense of alienation is due to our over emphasizing one side of our nature to the detriment of the other – we need to integrate both.
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BOREDOM and CREATIVITY

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As we fill every moment of our lives with activity boredom is becoming extinct.  Cell phones have become Swiss army knife-like appliances – we use them as a dictionary, a weather forecaster, a calculator, a calendar, as a torch, for messaging – they feed our mania for cramming every minute and leaving no downtime – waiting in a queue I check my messages – lying on the couch I am texting or catching up on the latest podcast.
The spaces, which once populated our day, moments when we may have felt nothing was happening, moments when we felt bored, have value.
Neuroscientists now know that during this  ‘downtime’ when the brain is not focused on a specific activity, it switches to its default mode – a network of neurons switches on – and in this default mode it gathers disparate ideas and makes new connections – it begins to think creatively – it has a chance to solve that problem that has been nagging you for ages.  – While you walk to work, or fold laundry, or wait in a queue – in other words when we are on ‘autopilot – our brain has a chance to work ‘off line’ – and think beyond the conscious.
If we are always on our devices – this default mode is blocked and there is no time for new connections to be forged and you are less creative.
So we need to re-educate ourselves and our children about the value of ‘boring time’-  as a time to be creative – rather than as a time to be fixed or filled with activity.
We need to change our relationship with our phone – change it from it being our task master to being a useful tool when it is needed. Learn to use technology to improve our lives rather than dampen our creative capacity. And we need the next generation to be creative – they have huge problems to solve – climate change, over population etc.
This in no easy task – the competition for our attention is stiff – there are numerous technology companies employing thousands of clever engineers to keep our attention – working to keep us hooked to our devices – they want our attention 24/7. These people refer to us, their customers, as ‘users’ which should give us a clue about their priorities. They want you to have that itchy feeling, that hunger to stay connected and they build their technology to trigger this. The CEO of Netflix commented that their main competitors for your attention are Google, Facebook and sleep.
So turn off your device, take back control and then stare out the window..take a break…and know that by doing nothing you are actually being your most creative –  it might feel strange at first but “boredom can lead to brilliance”.
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Thought for the Week – Silence to hear the deepest needs of our heart

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We have a natural bias towards the visual  – image pervades our culture -when we visit somewhere

new, especially where the scenery is dramatic, it is the landscape that gets our attention – we stop,

we look, we photograph it. This bias is not surprising given that sight takes up to one third of our

brain and uses about two thirds of its processing capacity – but it does mean we can miss out on

other aspects of our surroundings especially the soundscape which is often more varied an

interesting.

 

A meagre 3% of our brain is dedicated to hearing – that may explain why we find

listening difficult. But listening is also challenged by our noisy world. We pump sound into

every available space  – supermarkets, lifts , city streets, waiting  rooms, our homes – the TV is on,

and music is mobile now – we can take it with us – constant static  drowning one thing out with

another until we are left with  no perspective at all – swamped by noise.

 

In his ‘The Screwtape Letters’, C.S. Lewis, discusses ways the devil has for winning souls away

from God. In one of these letters, Screwtape, the senior devil, is advising Wormwood, his young

nephew, and a trainee devil, on the most effective way to win souls from God.

 

Wormwood is trying all sorts of elaborate techniques to win the person assigned to him

and getting nowhere. Screwtape eventually loses patience and explains to Wormwood that they

have a well established method to seduce  people from God. “All you have to do is create

enough noise so the person can no longer hear the voice of God and he is yours.”

 

So Wormwood reverts to this tried and tested technique and soon has his  man. In a

later letter, Screwtape announces, “ we will make the whole world a noise in the

end.”

And it doesn’t help that our stone-age brain was never designed for the bombardment

of noise and data it gets today – data – feeding the mind’s hunger for information and diversion –

24/7 – and squeezing out important alternatives…time for silence, peace, thinking,

playing, for  doing things that are real rather than two dimensional…

 

Our relationship with God, (as are all our relationships) is premised on our capacity to listen

– prayer is above all an act of listening and it takes work- it is not just hearing which is passive

– and the anatomy of listening reveals three things we can do to free up the 3% of our brain set aside

for listening:

 

We need to be humble – put ourselves aside (de-centre)- get off your high horse,

shelve ones pre-occupations and create a space for the other- be hospitable.

 

We need to pay ATTENTION/ to focus, “absolute attention is prayer” according to Simone Weil.

And our frenetic lifestyle is reducing our ability to pay attention – the average attention span

of a goldfish is nine seconds, and according to a new study from the Microsoft Corporation ours is

now down to eight seconds….work to do…

 

We need SILENCE: silence to hear the voice of the other and our own internal tappings

– silence to hear the deepest needs of our heart and the promptings of the spirit – areas and moments

of silence – time and space to hear the voice of the other. Take a technology detox

– dare to switch off our gadgets.

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Thought for the Week – A simple gesture

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In Africa, the Kikuyu tribe use a hand made bag to bring a gift when visiting another home – the bag is returned when they are leaving.  But it is always returned with something small inside – a simple gesture of gratitude and appreciation.
They also use a gourd to carry porridge or beer as an offering and whoever receives the gourd polishes it with castor oil before returning it. Over time the gourd becomes highly varnished. The deeper the colour of your gourd the more generous you have been and the more connected you are to the world around you.
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Thought for the Week – Furoshiki

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A furoshiki is a piece of cloth, often brightly coloured, which the Japanese use to wrap gifts. In Japan, as in many cultures, it is traditional to bring a gift when you visit someone.

Once your host receives the gift, he or she removes the furoshiki and returns it to you for future use. The giving of a present is a ritual of exchange with the formal handing over of a gift balanced by the receiver’s returning of the wrapping.

It made me think of the packaging and wrapping we throw away after a present is opened the made me aware of the genius and simplicity of the furoshiki.

Not only can the packaging be reused but the giver and receiver both recognise that their friendship is not only contained between them but it is part of a longer chain of givers and receivers who have, over time, been handed the furoshiki and returned it.

I wonder if there could be an Irish equivalent?

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