Thought for the Week – Control must always be partial and temporary

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Giving up control, even just a tiny bit, would still be an admirable gesture even in this late stage of Lent. I use control to order and structure my life. I like to be in control of my life and feel more comfortable when this is the case.

But too much control is unhelpful as I become trapped in the protective program that I build around myself.  As John O’Donohue suggests, “this can put you outside many of the blessings destined for you. Control must always be partial and temporary.”

When I am in pain or at the time of death, I will have to relinquish control so it is best to start practicing now. When you do begin to let go, even just a little, it is amazing how enriched your life becomes.

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Thought for the Week – Birdwatching

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Prayer as birdwatching.

I love the image of prayer used by Rowan Williams – prayer as birdwatching. Anyone who has spent time trying to watch birds knows how patient you have to be – but you also need to be still and alert, ready for the unexpected – not too tense but on your toes, poised and ready to receive the extra- ordinary.

And you may have to wait for hours and see nothing at all and then suddenly you may be surprised. But you must be attentive and full of expectancy. Prayer is living with this sort of intensity and  also nurturing that delicate instinct that responds to the slightest movement of God’s love in our lives –  to the nudge from the spirit.

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Thought for the Week – Can we recover this vision?

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What outstanding characteristics would a person require to become the new Saint Patrick?
First – he will have to be a person of deep prayer. Karl Rahner has repeatedly warned , “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist at all.”  People don’t want to know more about God – they want an experience of God.  He will need to understand that the churches emphasis on the world and social needs must  be complemented by the cultivation of the inner mystical life.
Patrick was a mystic – a man of profound prayer – he knew his God.  He prayed about anything and everything . He prayed everywhere and nowhere and no activity was devoid of the sacred.   “In a single day I prayed as often as a hundred times and by night almost as frequently, even while I was in the woods or on the mountain.”
Second – he would need to have courage, persistence and be a good listener  -courage because the problem he faces is not the ferocity of the pagan Druids of Patrick’s day but the apathy of a people whose spiritual faculties have been dulled by the false gods of consumerism and technology.
Persistent because he will be dealing with the disillusioned – those who struggle to locate spiritual feelings in the rituals and theological forms on offer.  Many of these have already headed East, or committed themselves to environmental and social concerns because they feel that the living spirit is not present in established churches.
But the good news for our new recruit is that the spirit hasn’t gone away, and is present in our world  – something new is emerging from the chaos. He will need to be a good listener to hear what the spirit and indeed what Patrick is saying to the churches.
Third his theology, if it is to have an impact, will have to be embodied, physical and centred on creation.
For Patrick “the universe was ablaze with God’s glory, suffused with his presence that calls, nods and beckons us – a creation personally united with its Creator in every atom and fibre.”
There’s no plant in the ground
But is full of his blessing.
There’s no thing in the sea
But is full of his life…
There is nought in the sky
But proclaims his goodness.
Jesu! O Jesu! it’s good to praise thee! – (Carmina Gadelica)
Can we recover this vision? This is a big challenge for any new recruit as we are the first generation to have forgotten that we live on a planet – forgotten that we are creatures, part of creation and ‘every bush a burning bush’ – nature our teacher and all times and places are potentially sacred and not just church designated times and spaces.
We live beneath a sacred canopy and there are sparks of  holiness in everything and everywhere and the old heroic manner of pitting ourselves against nature must give way to one which fosters receptivity, care and openness to the mystery of creation.

So our new Patrick has much to do. He or maybe she, will recognise that the changes needed require a conversion of Pauline dimensions  and much prayer and patience.

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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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