Live to eat or eat to live?

Dear Friends,

Do you live to eat… or do you eat to live?

These two questions invite us into a reflection on what is it which gives us impetus and meaning. In order to do the bit which drives us we need to do something to enable this to happen. So for some of us we live, we get out of bed, in order to eat, eat, and eat some more. The sausage sandwich, with the red, brown or no sauce, is just too good to puto one side. For others, the eating is not the end product but rather the means to give me the required energy to breathe, run, and enjoy this amazing world.

In the harvest season we give thanks for what we reap in order to sustain us. In our paradoxical world this can be somewhat uncomfortable, as we give thanks for the ‘harvest safely gathered in’ knowing full well that for millions of people the harvest is bare. This disparity is a chilling indictment on the way we order and direct the economic mechanisms of the world community. The rich really do seem to get richer, while the poor get poorer.

Yet, when Jesus tells us that it is more difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, we need to take note – especially as we are apparently privileged to live in the wealthy part of the world community. The rich man has few needs – everything is in place, the larder is full, the table laden with what is required… but still something is lacking. Something really important.

The quality of gratitude is a quality which money cannot buy. Indeed, the more money you have it seems the harder it is to appreciate the simple necessities. For St. Paul, the practice of ‘giving thanks in all things’ was an essential element in living life well. The expression of thanks stretches and shapes our perceptions of life in a remarkably tangible way. By learning to say ‘thank you’ from our hearts in the course of ‘ordinary’ life, we learn to see the stuff of life as a gift. Rather than being a ‘right’ life becomes something more, something which can surprise and never taken for granted. For many years we have become accustomed to the language of ‘rights’ – in many instances it has been highly appropriate, but in other ways it has entrapped us in a limited and soulless existence, a million miles from the vibrant original intention for life. Learning gratitude from the heart pulls us into a much more fluid, dynamic and spontaneous mode of living – whatever the hum-drum nature of our daily lives might be.

This frees us up from the chains of having to ‘possess’, ‘own’ and ‘control’ everything that happens. And because we are free in this way, we can then allow our hearts to feel, sense and be aware of others – our natural state.

If it is our intention to say ‘thank you’ from our hearts we are genuinely on the journey of faith to living life well. And it is then we begin to understand what it is which gets me out of bed each morning – whether the sun shines or the rain pours.

Connections

image of the beach

Dear Friends,

The sea waves roll into the gently, shelving beaches :the breaking waters lapping the virgin sands. Summer is the time for sand castles, stones skimming the waters, and ice creams consumed aplenty… yes -summer is the time for the beach – even in England!

Yet as we enter the summer season, rather than being connected with the rhythms of the natural world, we find ourselves adrift and isolated in a world which travels without us. Within our public national life, we face an uncertain future – a parliament looking for partners to be trusted, a nation searching for friends and allies to do business with, a menacing rise in violence which alienates and divides…

This sense of being disconnected is one which can leave us despairing of the future, or it can be a wake-up call to a way of living which unites rather than separates.

As we move into the future there is an urgent requirement, now more than ever, to re-find the possibilities of communion in a diverse and often chaotic existence. The natural world maintains its own identity of coherence and sense – with the rising and setting of the sun, the movement of the stars, the tides ebbing and flowing… there is a communion here sophisticated and fragile, yet glorious and sustaining. In developing a simple appreciation of the natural world in the places we live, we catch an aspect of communion which enlarges the heart. So it’s essential, at this time when much is diminished, to learn to say thank you for the earth and sky, for food and drink, for whatever is before us. In learning to express gratitude like this, we make steps into the wisdom and resilience of the natural order.

And for each of us there are people also. People we live with, people we are friends with and people we bump into or brush past in the course of each day – with all these people we too can find connections. By learning to say ‘thank you’ for each personal encounter we discover ‘communion.’ It’s not easy to say ‘thank you’ as sometimes this gratitude takes us into a new territory (a place of inter-dependence rather than splendid isolation). Being ‘thankful’ for the people we live with, makes ‘communion’ tangible and real. When we forget gratitude, or take it for granted, we cut ourselves off and so cause harm.

And finally we can learn to say ‘thank you’ to God for simply the gift of life. Just saying the ‘thank you’ words stretches our hearts into a more healthy place… we don’t even need a reason for the ‘thank you’ – we simply say it despite everything that is around us. Gratitude then has a chance to become something of the heart… which means it becomes real.

Wave after wave, the oceans move… season after season the years slide by… day by day we are invited to enter a communion which some have called ‘holy’. A communion we need now more than ever.