Archive for the ‘spirituality’ Tag

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:

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)




Thursday 22 December 2011 – “Turning the world upside down”   Leave a comment

The Bible passages set for today were 1 Samuel 1: 24-28; Luke 1: 46-56.

We are back with pregnancy and the huge potentiality of every new birth. Any child may be used to “turn the world upside down.” Today in Samuel we read of Hannah’s dedication of the young Samuel, who she had prayed for so long, to the Lord and bringing him to Eli to be brought up in the house of the Lord. Then in Luke we have the Magnificat, Mary’s beautiful song of praise uttered while she was pregnant with Jesus and when staying with her older cousin Elizabeth, pregnant with John the Baptist. That is 3 babies that went on to change their worlds and in different ways many later and geographically spread parts of the world.

I have always loved the story of Samuel since I was a child. I wanted to be able to hear that voice of God and respond ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’ [1 Samuel 3: 10]. In my 20s I had the opportunity to learn yachting and longed to have a small yacht of my own. It was a period when I still made such prayer requests to God and I prayed for one, resolving to call it Samuel if I ever got one. Samuel went on to be a wise Judge of the people of Israel. There is a story in I Samuel 6 that provoked an insight that is important to me on my faith journey – but I’ll save the telling of that for another blog post. 

It was Samuel who anoints the first kings of Israel (Saul and David). The beginning of this story in 1 Samuel 8 for me is one of those points in history that to my view things would have gone better for God’s work on earth if different decisions were taken. Samuel counsels against having a king but in the end he (and apparently God) relents because of the people’s demands. From what I can tell at this historical distance and the biblical accounts the wise Judges and the tribal elders seems a lot more wholesome form of Government than an autocratic king. I also think that the subsequent images of God based on kingship give a distorted image of Him/Her that was particularly negative in influence through the medieval period of church history. 

There are two instances of Church history in particular that I wish had gone a different way. Firstly, when Constantine adopted Christianity as a state religion of the Roman empire (c. 313). This embroiled the church  in political power games that were to show many unChristlike attributes down the subsequent centuries. Christianity became Christendom. More nationalistically I am saddened that at the Synod of Whitby in 664 the indigenous Celtic church put itself under Roman authority. We would have had a very different national spirituality if that had not been the case. However here we are back at the point of Monday’s reflection. God takes risks with the unfolding of history by entrusting much of it to the decisions of His/Her conscious  creation.

How are we influencing the world in which we live?

4th Sunday of Advent – “Expectation and preparation”   Leave a comment

The Bible passages set for today were: 2 Samuel 7: 1-5, 8-12, 14, 16; Romans 16: 25-27; and Luke 1: 26-38.

The story in Samuel is one of the numerous stories in the Old Testament where the people of Israel have to be persuaded to repent of worshipping false gods and to turn again the The Lord. Then after God gives them victory in battle over the Philistines (always something that challenges my view of God’s interaction with history); it ends with an image that was much repeated throughout my youth and one I can gladly own for myself.  They set up a stone and called it Ebenezer – “Hitherto the Lord has helped us”.  I have always loved the reference to this in my favourite hymn, the one I have said since my teens I want at my funeral, “A sovereign protector I have” by Au­gus­tus M. Top­la­dy. To my view this must be sung to the wonderful Welsh tune Trew­en (both my Grandfathers were Welsh and Welsh spirituality touches me easily). I was going to just quote the last verse that refers to the Ebenezer but the hymn is such a complete summary of things that are important in my own faith I quote the whole:

A sovereign protector I have,
Unseen, yet forever at hand,
Unchangeably faithful to save,
Almighty to rule and command.
He smiles, and my comforts abound;
His grace as the dew shall descend;
And walls of salvation surround
The soul He delights to defend.

Inspirer and hearer of prayer,
Thou shepherd and guardian of Thine,
My all to Thy covenant care
I sleeping and waking resign.
If Thou art my shield and my sun,
The night is no darkness to me;
And fast as my moments roll on,
They bring me but nearer to Thee.

Kind author, and ground of my hope,
Thee, Thee, for my God I avow;
My glad Ebenezer set up,
And own Thou hast helped me till now.
I muse on the years that are past,
Wherein my defense Thou hast proved;
Nor wilt Thou relinquish at last
A sinner so signally loved!

[Augustus Toplady, December 1774]

I had a few other thoughts coming out of today’s readings but compared to those well crafted and deeply felt words by Rev. Toplady which I claim for myself they are just noise, so I will leave today’s reflections there.

Saturday 17 December 2011 – “Part of the Story”   Leave a comment

The Bible passages set for today were:  Genesis 49: 2, 8-10, and Matthew 1: 1-17.

Matthew begins his Gospel with a genealogy of Jesus, in the 42 generations recorded there are some names very familiar from the Old Testament stories. Genealogies have been very important in many human cultures. It seems likely that Matthew included it here to show God’s purposes throughout history and to emphasis Jesus’ importance.

I don’t know my own genealogy back further than a few generations but I am aware that part of my own spirituality builds on that of my ancestors.

After a tiring day that’s as far as my thoughts have gone for this reflection.

Posted December 17, 2011 by Martyn Cooper in Advent 2011 Reflections

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Meditation (my personal practice)   1 comment

I value meditation highly, and have been practising it, on and off, for about 20 years.  However I am very poor at integrating it as a regular practice in my daily life.  I mostly associate it with when I am Monastic Retreat.  Place and that sense of being set aside seems important to me.  I have led meditations in small groups and even whole church congregations and have been using the basic approaches to still myself before undertaking the readings for the Advent meditations this blog was originally created for.  I have learnt my meditation practice in a Christian tradition but I see huge similarity with practices that I have read about from Buddhist, Hindu, and secular approaches.  It seems to me a practice available to all of whatever religion or none.

In outline my practice consists of finding a place of quiet, a relaxed and for some reason symmetrical posture. I like to have a visual focus available and my preference is for a simple candle.  I may systematically relax my muscles by working from foot to head through the main muscle groups, tensing them, releasing them, then releasing them again.  That’s the preparation done then begins the process of stilling myself and becoming mindful.  I listen to my breathing and note it.  I might simple say in my head “in” with the in breath and “out” with the out breath.  However I commonly use the Jesus Prayer from the Eastern Orthodox Church as a mantra; saying each line with each phase of my breathing:

  • Lord Jesus Christ, … (while breathing in)
  • Son of God, … (while breathing out)
  • have mercy on me, … (while breathing in)
  • a sinner.  … (while breathing out)

Once stillness and mindfulness has been achieved, (and it may often be lost and have to be regained during a meditation), it depends on my intent what I do with it.  I might use an imaginative spiritual exercise (e.g. one of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises); slowly, contemplatively, read a passage from the Bible; or probably my favourite “just sit in the presence of God”. In all of these, but particularly the last the emphasis is on “being” rather than “doing”.

There then is a reverse process of coming back to normal awareness of your surroundings and on with the day. Like the preparation this too is best done slowly, however I do not have a method as such, I just allow it to happen when the meditation is ended, sometimes noting what catches my attention from my surroundings.

Posted December 5, 2011 by Martyn Cooper in Christian spirituality, Random notes

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Hello again Anthony de Mello   1 comment

When writing my Reflection on Advent Sunday I had cause to look for a web link to Anthony de Mello.  His book Sadhana, and commentaries on it, were a key resource in my early explorations in contemplative prayer.  So I discovered for the first time the online resources of the DeMello Spirituality Center.  I didn’t explore extensively but this quote in their scrolling banner stood out for me:

The master made it his task to systematically destroy every doctrine, every belief, every concept of the divine, for these things, which were originally intended as pointers, were now taken as descriptions.

He loved to quote the Eastern saying: “When the sage points at the moon, all that the idiot sees is the finger.” access 28 November 2011]

I characterise my own spiritual journey over the last 25 years or so – possibly longer – as going through, past, beyond, even around doctrine and dogma to the sublime truth behind.  I am not claiming to have travelled very far but that is the nature of the journey.

I take heart in the fact that it seems to be a journey made by many before me.  I find it too in Fowler’s Faith Development Theory.  This is an academic study of the stages of faith observed in people of different religions/denominations and none.