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North American Native Spirituality   Leave a comment

I am currently living through a stressful time and causing stress for those who love me and live with me.  I am having to live with a number of complex health issues which have all got worse other the past month necessitating frequent visits to the doctors/nurses/ psychologists/psychiatrists.  Amid all this I am in the process of setting up a Social Enterprise called Technology for Disabled People (TDP), see: martyncooper.com

In all this stress and concern I  reached out to a friend, who has his own experience knows something of what I am going through, and after about an hour or so sent me this:

Walking, I am listening to a deeper way.
Suddenly all of my ancestors are behind me.
Be still they say.  Watch and Listen.
You are the result, of the love of thousands.

Linda Hogan (b. 1946)
Native American writer.

Such profundity in four short lines! I could, and probably will, reflect on that for months.

 

I will conclude two short quotes.  These illustrate to me a key pointa in trying to learn from cultures other than your own.  That is, that you need to be willing to not seek to change their culture but to change yourself. This time the quotes come from another great world culture that has been a huge influence on me since I was about 13 and took on the works of Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn (this was 1974 and he was often in the news), I did not study Classics at school, but met Classical thought through Solzhenitsyn (who like me as an engineer by training).  However, of prime relevance here, it  was that it was because Solzhenitsyn quoted from the Russian literary canon, he inspired me to work my way through it over the next 10 or so formative years.  These quotes are from one of Russia’s cultural and political giants: Leo Tolstoy (who also became a hero of mine).

“Freethinkers are those who are willing to use their minds without prejudice and without fearing to understand things that clash with their own customs, privileges, or beliefs. This state of mind is not common, but it is essential for right thinking…”

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

Leo Tolstoy
(b. 1828 – d. 1910)

 

 

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Reflections on why I found a little delight last night   Leave a comment

Last night I watched with delight a television documentary called “Photographing Africa“. It is a rare thing to experience that emotion in response to a TV programme and I want to examine why I felt that way and explore if that has any implications. The perennial desire to write something had also been rising and perhaps this gives a focus for a little exercise in that.

“Photographing Africa” followed Harry Hook, a white English film director and photographer, who grew up in the Sudan and Kenya, on a project of simple conception, if not execution.  In the 1980s he had taken a series of portraits of five young women then living in different traditional tribal contexts across East Africa.  The project was to see if he could go back and find these women and discover what had become of their lives 30 years on.

Africa has had a fascination for me since my childhood.  My Uncle and Aunt spent 4 years in Kenya teaching at a high-school with Voluntary Services Overseas and my cousins were born there.  Those were days of much slower communications; the 1960s. I have vivid memories of making and receiving reel-to-reel tapes as a key way the two young and growing families kept in touch.  Birthday and Christmas presents were exotic things from far away places, carved animals and models of tribal huts.  I still have a Maasai club (name in their language forgotten) which has a head carved from the root ball of a small tree and its shaft the stem of that tree.  This was always my most beloved item because it was authentic. It had been bought by my Uncle direct from the herdsman who had been using it to protect his cattle.  I used to tell school friends “look you can see the blood stains on it”.  However that is doubtless the romantic imaginings, and the desire to impress peers, of an 8 year-old.  Despite this childhood introduction to a little bit of Africa  I have not yet visited any of the continent.  The fact that the programme was about Africa was probably a factor in me deciding to watch it, I certainly had yet further vicarious experience of it in doing so, however this was not the source of my delight, only the context for it.

It is time that I identify and describe what it was I delighted in.  It was that across the programme a gentle, beautiful, respectful side of humanity was shown.  Harry Hook, was no “bwana” left over from colonial times but someone who was genuinely interested in the lives of others and did not set himself in any position of superiority.  He spoke with huge respect to the subjects of the film and those through who he sort to find them.  He had a gentleness of manner that stood in such marked contrast to the angst filled noise that seems to dominated the media, social and mainstream, over this past year.   Although the film was directed by him, it was not about him.  I am sure he was not trying to tell his story.  However, what it revealed about him made me think there was a man I would like to meet; to listen to.

This was not a film that idealised the experience of those still living in tribal or pastoral contexts.  It covered the devastating impact of drought and HIV/AIDS.  One of originally photographed young women had died of AIDS leaving a young son and the grief of her brother, brought to the fore by seeing her photograph, was palpable.  It covered the pull of the city and the increased urbanisation of Africa and touched a little on problems associated with that. Some living in a tribal  context reported a separation from the urban and indeed a fear that their throats would be slit if they went to the city.  However there were also examples of those living a modern city based life returning and valuing tribal custom.

My greatest sense of delight in the programme was reserved for the encounters with the 3 original subjects of his photos from the 1980s that were located.  They were all shy. One denied that is was her and had to be convinced by relatives. Another was mocked joyfully by her children seeing for the first time  photo of their mother as a girl.  Harry Hook asked each of them the same question. I thought this was very probing and I wondered about the social etiquette of asking it.  However he asked “when were you most happy in your life”.  All three of them answered the same “now”.  This stood out for me firstly as a sign of hope but also as a challenge to myself who finds that question difficult to answer in the same way.  So the stimulation for reflection was in asking what they were finding their happiness in, which from the brief interchanges seemed to be family, and why that was not so for me.

A trailer to the documentary is available on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBODpBlaySw

To those who have access to BBC iPlayer, and within its time constrains, the whole programme can be viewed there: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b03xsjb9/photographing-africa

I commended it to all to watch and maybe share in some of the delight I experienced watching it.  Some might be upset by brief scenes of hunting and butchery but if that is likely to be you I hope you can get past that.

Posted November 22, 2016 by Martyn Cooper in Uncategorized

Sunday at Glasshampton   1 comment

Today is the last full day of this retreat and is a Sunday.  I can’t remember ever having been at Glasshampton on a Sunday before because for family reasons in the past I have retreated mid-week.  Sunday is a more relaxed day, not that the atmosphere here is ever tense or intense.  There are no scheduled work periods for the brothers, although some have preaching commitments etc. elsewhere from time to time, and someone has to do the cooking and make things ready for the services.  The day though follows its normal rhythm around the 5 services: Morning Prayer; the Eucharist; Mid-Day Prayer; Evening Prayer and my favourite Night Prayer.  The Eucharist is slightly more grand (they get the incense out, as they do on major Saints days) and the liturgy is slightly extended.  Then we had a full roast beef lunch today.  I have entered into this more relaxed atmosphere which seemed appropriate after yesterday’s time in solitude.  I have not done any heavy reading today, I have allowed myself to make a few Facebook posts and engaged in brief conversations with some of the brothers and fellow guests.  The rest of the time while on retreat I have remained mostly in silence only speaking when necessary to ask for something or when meeting with my retreat guide.  I should not give the impression that I have been as noisy and chatty as I would be at home.  I have still spent most of the day on my own and in silence.  Those that know me as a gregarious chatterbox might think I would find that hard, but I don’t, instead I find it refreshing. And even at home I spend a lot of time in just my own company but there I would normally have the radio or TV on neither of which I have here (some of the brothers have a radio and keep up with the news

Those not used to monastic retreat might think that the life of a monk (or monastic friar as at Glasshampton) is one shut away from the world but for most this is not the case.  They are deeply interested in world affairs and will pray intelligently and in an informed way about them.  I remember when Br. Ramon was being a hermit, isolated in a caravan in West Wales he later told me that a thing he prayed about a lot was nuclear weapons and for world peace.  This coincided with a period in recent history when disarmament treaties were being signed and tension between the major powers was being reduced.  Who am I to say that the prayers of a ‘mad’ Welsh friar, living as a hermit did not have a role in that?  I will save it for another blog post to set forward how I have come to an understanding of how intercessionary prayer works.

I return to this blog after we have said and sung Night Prayer.  As I said above it is my favourite service; its liturgy is just right for the ending of the day.  So, as it approaches 10pm I feel very tired but content. I will be soon in bed, at least two hours before I would normally do at home.

It has been a good Sunday at Glasshampton with a healthy balance between rest, prayer and worship.

Posted July 26, 2015 by Martyn Cooper in Uncategorized

Morning Prayer Friday 24th July 2015 at Glasshampton   Leave a comment

Today is the first full day of my retreat at Glasshampton Monastery.  Having arrived about 3:30pm yesterday, I have now settled into the rhythm of the place.  This morning, as every morning, the first service of the Daily Office was Morning Prayer.  It was a service that was familiar both in its pattern (I have retreated here many times before) and in the Psalms and other pieces of scripture and liturgy (many of which I have known since my youth) that constituted it.  I want to record some of them here and do so with a warm glow and smile of familiarity.  Not a familiarity that breeds contempt; rather one that reminds me of God’s promises and love. The Psalms were Ps 17 and Ps 19; read in the Franciscan way.  That is in antiphon (one side of the chapel reads one verse the other the next, and so on) and with a pause not between verses but midway through each verse.  It is a very contemplative way of reading.  The standout verses for me were:

Ps 17 v 8 – Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me under the shadow of your wings

And

Ps 19 v 7 – The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure and gives wisdom to the simple

Later in the service we said the Benedictus which contains one of my all time favourite liturgical phrases:

In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us,

And then goes on:

To shine on those that dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

I don’t want to spell out my thoughts provoked by these pieces of scripture in this blog post.  It was more a feeling than an internal monologue in words anyway.  However, I am sure if I return to this blog post in the future I will be readily able to recall how the service spoke to me and met me where I am.  Maybe it will touch others who read this post too.

Posted July 24, 2015 by Martyn Cooper in Uncategorized

On route to my retreat at Glasshampton   Leave a comment

I am travelling to what is about my favourite place in the whole world: Glasshampton Monastery, Shrawley just north of Worcester.  I try and go on retreat about once per year and have done since the mid 1980s with a few breaks when in spiritual deserts (spelling? – I never get the difference between a sweet and a dry barren place the right way round!).  For the first time I intend to blog about this retreat, although I might not post the blogs until I return home.

The journey is part of making a retreat, it is like a mini-prilgrimage.  This morning I packed my bags which was also part of the experience as I gathered together the things I would want while staying in the monastery.  So as well as the essentials of clothes, wash kit and tablets I have packed a selection of books, my camera and a sketch pad and pencils.  I am planning to fill the time between services with reflective activity and rest.  This is the first time I have brought my camera on retreat but I love photography and it is something I learned from my Dad who died a few weeks ago so it seemed appropriate.

So, this short blog post is the first of a series I plan to make, say one per day, over the four days of my retreat.  The main reason for blogging is as a self reflection tool but if others read them and draw benefit from them that is a bonus.

Posted July 23, 2015 by Martyn Cooper in Uncategorized

Monday 19 December – “Nothing is impossible”   1 comment

The Bible passages for today were Judges 13: 2-7, 24-25, and Luke 1: 5-25.

Two stories today of elderly couples seemingly sadly resigned to being childless who were unexpectedly promised children who were to have significant roles in the stories that have come down to us about God’s interaction with humanity.  These were Manoah and his wife who became the parents of Samson and Zechariah and Elizabeth who became the parents of John the Baptist.

The title for today’s reflection “Nothing is impossible (with God)” comes from later in the first Chapter in Luke (v. 37)  when the angel promising the birth of Jesus to Mary tells her that Elizabeth in old age is expecting.  I don’t actually literally believe in nothing being impossible for God although I accept from the human perspective he is seemingly all-powerful. I believe the God in His/Her interactions with physical world constrains himself by the laws which He/She proscribed, even defined, the universe. However within that at any place in time there are a near infinite number of futures possible. In some miraculous way I can only wonder at and not explain, the God of possibilities, the great creative force, takes the risk of leaving some of the things that influence that future to the conscious parts of his creation.

Some people from what they claim as a scientific perspective argue the biological imperative to the extent that it seems to remove any moral influence from the individual or humanity collectively.  Some from a theological perspective argue that God’s purposes will happen whatever we as individuals think we decide.  My own perspective is that God, in enabling the biology to develop to the point of consciousness and moral agency has created the possibility for loving relationship between created and creator.  However this comes at great risk.  If God was a power mad autocrat he would not have chosen to enable this path.

Now this perspective turned onto the minutiae of our lives highlights our role in being willing to accept even expect the seemingly impossible in our lives as we seek to unfold them with God.  In different words this theme was brought out in the notes for today’s reflection and I close with the prayer from there that seems to fit it well:

O God, give me the courage today to set aside limitation and see differently, so that the “impossible” becomes possible through my trust and cooperation.
Amen.
[Your Journey to Christmas, Redemptorist Publications, p. 32]

Friday 9 December 2011 – “Calculation and Conscience”   Leave a comment

The Bible passages for today were Isaiah 48: 17-19 and Matthew 11: 16-19.

Only short readings today and really two verses stood out for me:

This is what the LORD says— your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.
[Isaiah 48:17 NIV]

And

But wisdom is proved right by her actions.
[Matthew 11:19 NIV]

The same account is in Luke and I find the rendering more poetic there:

But wisdom is proved right by all her children.
[Luke 7:35 NIV]

I have always craved wisdom. I have prayed for it based on the words in The Letter of  James since my teens.

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.
James 1:5 NIV]

I have done my fair share of foolish things in my life; but how do I know when I have acted wisely? Jesus is suggesting here that it is by what it gives rise to, “by all her children”; and Isaiah says if only we had listened to God’s teaching “our peace would have been like a river”.

The notes to today’s reflections talks of our conscience directing us towards what is good and true.

Turning one of Paul’s blessings [Philippians 4:7] into a prayer:

  • And may the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds, Amen

Posted December 9, 2011 by Martyn Cooper in Uncategorized