Thought for the Week – A New Saint Pat

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At one time our major export  in Ireland was people –  today our primary export is computer software. In the past, we exported spirituality, particularly Celtic Spirituality much of it inspired by Patrick. We all know how in the Dark Ages, Irish Missionaries left Ireland, spread through Europe  and ‘saved civilisation.’


We seem to be back in those Dark Ages -lost and in need of a new Patrick but not the Patrick I grew up with – that bearded patriarch standing on a bed of shamrock and wearing a huge mitre and wielding a crosier – a full Tridentine bishop, busy driving out snakes and annihilating pagans. He represented the church of that day…..

Today he is viewed more as a commercial opportunity  – Tourism Ireland tells us that ‘St Patrick’s Day is a unique and unrivalled opportunity to promote Ireland worldwide.’
And the Taj Mahal, Niagara Falls, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the EmpireStateBuilding, will all go green. In Chicago the river will be turned green. Dyeing the river green, came about by accident when plumbers used green dye to trace illegal substances polluting the river – it killed the fish too.  Today, you will be glad to hear, a vegetable dye is used to protect the gold fish that live in the river.
Maybe we should admit that we are in trouble, back in the Dark Ages and use this world wide day of publicity to advertise for a new Saint Pat – after all the original was a migrant from England.
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Thought for the Week – Our major false God – technology.

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Fasting is not just abstaining from food – it could be abstaining from bitching, bullying, name calling – it could be fasting from our most common addiction – our major false God – technology.

And we are all addicts – How hard is it for  you to resist the tug of the ping when the email or text lands in your inbox?

No one is saying we have to give up technology or go and live in a cave, free of wifi – technology is not the problem – it is our relationship with it that is the problem – how we use it – we have to find freedom in technology not from technology.

Lent is an opportunity to do something about our addictions – a ‘tech detox’ or even some more disciplined approach to technology and thereby create some space for the other – and begin again to experience life first hand.

This would create some down time, some silence, quieten our restless monkey minds, provide space and time to catch up with ourselves – to catch up with our spirits…..

A man set out to explore Africa and he was in a hurry so he hired four Africans to help him.

They set off at speed and raced on for three days.

The third day, the Africans sat down and refused to move.

He told them to get going as he had only two days left finish his journey.

They refused to move.

He couldn’t understand them.

He offered them more money but no good.

Finally he asked them what was going on?

The senior among spoke up,  ‘We have moved too quickly

– we have to sit down and give our spirits time to catch up with us.’

It was Blaise Pascal who said that:

“All of humanity’s problems stem from our inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” 

If he were writing today, he might have added, ‘and with all technology turned off!


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Thought for the Week – The number forty is symbolic

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The number 40 occurs something like 146 times in the Bible.  Moses and the Israelites spent 40 years in the desert preparing to enter the promised land. Elijah went without food or water for 40 days at Mount Horeb. And Jesus spent 40 days and nights fasting in the desert.  And from Wednesday we are invited to spend 40 days preparing for Easter.
When we come across a recurring number like this, we do well to remember something a friend of mine told me, ‘the point is not that the ancient authors gave us literal texts or numbers that we were intelligent enough to interpret symbolically but rather they gave us symbolic stories that we are often stupid enough to interpret literally .
The number forty is symbolic – it indicates a time of testing, of training. The training we need is to help us to escape from our own slavery in Egypt  or where ever our Egypt happens to be  – the discipline we need to help us break free of our addictions.
Addictions mean we live by proxy- they are the false gods we worship and they drain our energy. And we have an ever increasing number of them – nicotine, drugs, work, even exercise can become an addiction.  Lent is a time when we can try to confront our addictions.
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Thought for the Week – Perfectionism

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Perfectionism is rife today – our culture has commodified it -packaged it and sells it.
It tries to persuade us to conform to an established norm – the perfect woman (Miss World) – and channels all we do – it has become the story of our day – searching for the perfect partner, the perfect body, the perfect job, the perfect home,  the perfect kitchen, and reality is blocked out. The reality that life is difficult, and we are imperfect, is ignored.
And the internet has increased the problem – a hundred years ago if you were an eighteen year old man you only had a small number of men to compare yourself with. Today you measure yourself against the movie stars, athletes and supermodels you see all day on TV, Facebook and giant bill boards. Today you are a lot more likely to feel inadequate.
The most dangerous version of this perfectionism is when we impose it on our children – when we perfect our children – ‘look at my baby isn’t he/she perfect’  – ‘and I intend to keep her or him that way …make sure she is top of the class, makes the team and then on to University’.
Searching for perfection makes us ill at heart, takes us away our of ourselves, for the perfect human being does not exist – we are all unique.
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Thought for the Week -Creative thinking

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Today we know more about the workings of the brain than ever before but we still don’t know the answer to big questions about how creativity works and how to make it work better.
We know our minds wander especially when we are doing things on automatic pilot.  Our minds can lead us into pleasant thoughts, or it may lead into brooding over something unpleasant. Many would still regard mind wandering as a waste of time. It is synonymous with being distracted and lost time.
Some psychologists are of the view that mind wandering is more than mental lapse. The psychologist Benjamin Baird, claims that a little mind wandering, while engaged in a focused task, boosts creative thinking and should be encouraged.
Taking oneself away from a focussed task – going for a walk – can release the mind to wander and to arrive at a solution to the problem you are working on.
Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin both worked for relatively short periods and then went for a walk. Darwin would walk both in the morning and again in the afternoon to give his mind time to wander and relax.
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Thought for the Week – Mind Wandering

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In recent weeks I have come across different views on mind wandering.
Unlike other animals, we have the ability to spend time  thinking about something other than what we are doing – either caught up in the past or wondering about the future.
Research carried out by the psychologists Matthew A Killingworth and Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University, suggest we spend up to 46.9 percent of our time mind-wandering and that this mind-wandering makes us unhappy. They claim that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind – our mental lives are pervaded, to a remarkable degree, by the non-present and this makes us unhappy.
Killingsworth and Gilbert write. “The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost”. They go on to say that, “Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people’s happiness,” Killingsworth says. “In fact, how often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged.”
As we know, many traditions teach us to live in the now and to resist mind wandering.  Killingsworth and Gilbert note in the journal Science. “These traditions suggest that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.” Their research suggests that these traditions are right.
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Thought for the Week – tyranny of time

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In his book, Full Catastrophe Living , Jon Kabat Zin outlines four ways to free ourselves from the ‘tyranny of time’ which I find helpful.
1. Remember time is a product of thought – minutes and hours are conventions so we can meet, communicate and work together. How we think about time can make all the difference as to whether we feel we have enough time, too much time or not enough time.
2. Live in the present – stop musing about the past and worrying about the future.  Be present and time will disappear. If you want to reminisce about the past or plan for the future then do that with awareness as well. Remember in the present and plan in the present.
3.   Take some time each day to step out of the flow of time – sit still or meditate – preserve some time each day for just being.
4. Simplify your life – what are you doing with your time? If you fill all your time you won’t have any and you probably won’t even be aware of why you don’t. A useful way to simply your life is to prioritise the things that you have to do, want to do and choose to do. It may also mean having to learn to say no sometimes.
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Thought for the Week – simple gesture

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Where you put your phone makes a difference.
Studies show that just the appearance of a smart phone on the table during a meal or conversation,makes a difference to the quality of meeting and the level of intimacy. If a phone is left on the table (it doesn’t have to ring!) people report that the conversation is less close, and they feel less nourished by it.
This simple gesture – placing a phone on the table between you – subtly suggests that something more important may happen  – something else might come in which is more interesting than us, something about us is not enough.
Magical things can happen when two people show up and are not distracted – the presence of a phone and the possibility of interruption means it is harder for this to happen. The moment, is to some extent, being controlled by the device sitting there promising  something else.
Let us agree to turn off our phones or at least put them out of sight when we are with someone.
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Thought for the Week – Tech addict

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Perhaps it is not yet too late for a  new Year’s resolution – one that suggests itself is to examine how I relate to technology. If the truth be told, this probably needs constant monitoring.
Nancy Colier, in her book, ‘The Power of Off, suggests that most of us are addicts at this point.  Some time ago people checked their smart phones every six minutes or 150 times a day – recent research suggests that the average person now checks their phone every five  minutes or 190 times a day. She notes, that in a survey, one in three people would give up sex with their partner rather than be separated from their smart phone and fifty percent of people would give up their sense of smell rather than their phone.
It is an addiction with a difference – other addictions make you an ‘outsider’ technological addiction makes you an insider – the more you can discuss your apps the more acceptable you are.
It is also true that we are not giving up technology any time soon – it is too useful and anyway technology is not the issue, it is how we relate to it is the issue and Colier suggests,  “we have to find freedom in technology not from technology”.
A first step in this process is to assess our level of addiction. Colier offers us some helpful questions:
Is your reliance on technology increasing?
Do you experience withdrawal symptoms when not able to use.
Are you continuing to use it despite knowing it is causing you problems at work, at home and in your social life.
Is your life revolving round technology?
Have you given up activities you used to enjoy to use technology?
Are you lying about the amount of time you spend on technology? 
If one of these is true she says it is of concern; if two then you are probably an addict if three then you are definitely an addict.
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Thought for the Week – Natility

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The message I got, especially when I was younger was that death, my mortality, was the defining moment of my life. This life was of little significance but simply a prelude to the next and it this next life that should be my focus
This preoccupation with death and the next life worked against any sense of connection with the web of life and promoted a sense of homelessness in the world. Each of us, rugged individuals, quarrying away at our own salvation…..
uncoupled from the web of life…..and the environment suffered and we suffered.
Birth is the other end of life.  Theology and philosophy have ignored it for the most part. This time of year gives us an opportunity to redress the balance and focus on birth  – birth as the defining moment of life….. to consider our natality as well as our mortality.
Our natality gives us the possibility of beginning again. It is because we are beginnings, are natals – that we can make a fresh start, be free to do things new…
Ellie Wiesel states that, ‘What God gave Adam was not forgiveness from sin; what God gave Adam was the chance to begin again’.
Natality wants us to recognise the interconnectedness of all things, wants us to recover our kinship with the earth and become people of wonder and excitement rather then of gloom and suspicion. Celebrate our lives rather then spend them all the time preparing for the next life.
Let us celebrate our birth, the actuality of living as well as recognising the inevitability of death…….recognise our natality……our capacity to be reborn…
and know that we always have this chance to ‘begin again’ in the kindness and
loving mercy of our God.
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