Monthly Archives: November 2015

Advent: “a winter training camp for those who desire peace…”

It is Advent. I can scarcely believe the speed with which this year has flown past. Neither can I quite believe – despite all the dimensions of our world which are still positive, creative and hopeful – the quantum leap which our troubled planet seems to have taken this year: into a frightening level of  population displacement with its attendant human misery, and of mindless violence for the continuation of which, it appears, we have to steel ourselves for the foreseeable future until our political lords and masters can come up with some kind of solution. As I write, that solution is not at all obvious.

Advent's Light

Advent’s Light

What can we do about this at an individual level, to help our feelings of pain for the suffering of our fellow human beings, and to make us feel less helpless?  At a practical, outgoing level, we can send donations of food, clothing, money to help ease the plight of  those millions of refugees displaced by violent upheaval.

Advent, however, invites us to pause, be still, go within…The great psychologist and mystic Carl Jung observed that if there is something wrong with the world, then there is something wrong with us.  We can start the process of possible change for the better by looking unflinchingly into our own hearts  – and amending our own behaviour. Writer Edward Hays puts this challenge beautifully:

   “Advent is the perfect time to clear and prepare… Advent is a winter training camp for those who desire peace. By reflection and prayer, by reading and meditation, we can make our hearts a place where a blessing of peace would desire to abide…

   “Daily we can make an Advent examination. Are there any feelings of discrimination toward race, sex, or religion? Is there a lingering resentment, an unforgiven injury living in our hearts? Do we look down upon others of lesser social standing or educational achievement? Are we generous with the gifts that have been given to us, seeing ourselves as their stewards and not their owners? Are we reverent of others, their ideas and needs, and of creation? These and other questions become Advent lights by which we may search the deep, dark corners of our hearts.

An Advent Examination
Edward Hays, A Pilgrim’s Almanac, p. 196

Readers, do you have a favourite Advent reflection, meditation or poem which has inspired and comforted you? If so, do share it in a comment. 

Advent's Light

Advent’s Light

400 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

“…to deal more kindly with one another…” A Big Picture perspective from the late Carl Sagan

Like everyone else, I have been feeling crushed and deeply dispirited by the dreadful events in France last Friday, and now Mali today. I’ve also been feeling the need to post something on my blog by way of response. Thanks to Robert Bruce over at 101 Books, I found a wonderful quote from the late scientist Carl Sagan which offers a large enough perspective to encompass the horrors currently happening across our beautiful planet.  It was inspired by an image of Earth taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft on February 14, 1990 from a distance of more than 6 billion kilometres. In it, our Earth appears as a tiny dot against a background of  muted slanting bands of colour. I have taken the liberty here, though,  of illustrating the quotation with the most famous picture of the Earth ever taken:

Our beautiful planet

Our beautiful planet

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

— Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994

I took some comfort from this wise statement. What do you think of what Sagan says here? Do you have favourite quotes to which you turn in dark times?

************************

500 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

 

‘If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?’ An upbeat ‘take’ on Descent into the dark…

Having just returned from our annual visit to the misty, melancholy beauty of the Scottish Borders in late autumn, I am in reflective mood today. Despite the pattern of intermittent mildness and cold which has heralded the descent into winter over the last few years here, so that one never knows what to wear from one day to another, the autumn is losing its hold now. Light is fading, leaf fall nearing completion. In the vivid words of the poet Shelley ‘…the leaves dead Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing…’

Late leaf fall, by the River Tweed

Late leaf fall, by the River Tweed

photo: Anne Whitaker

The first of the early winter storms will soon be limbering up. How clearly I still recall childhood nights in Scotland’s Outer Isles, tucked up cosy in late November, whilst the wind did its best to tear the world apart outside my bedroom window. I loved that wildness – used to wonder what Power  lay behind it…

We need winter. We may not like it much, especially in the frequently wet, grey dreariness of the West of Scotland at this time of year! But we need it, and the darkness that goes with it. A long rest refreshes the earth, revitalises it; new life quietly germinates in the dark, bursting forth in the miraculous renewal of Spring.

We need the dark. Within the year’s natural cycle, the diurnal alternation of light and dark brings restful silence at night and the restorative power of sleep, without which all creatures including us would burn out and die before their time. We are in danger of forgetting this – at our peril – as an increasingly technology-driven culture sweeps the world, creating the illusion that we can live sustainably and healthily in defiance of the ancient rhythms set by the great cycles of nature.

So, this winter, let’s all try and be mindful of the deep wisdom of Nature which brings us this season of  Descent into the dark – the earth needs it, and so do we. I promise to try and remember my own advice, as I trudge miserably through frequent rain, wind, cold, and dark in the weeks and months ahead.

As that great poet Shelley optimistically observed in his Ode to the West WindIf Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?’

Melrose Abbey: eerie autumn twilight

Melrose Abbey, Scottish Borders: eerie autumn twilight

photo: Anne Whitaker

400 words, and images, copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page