Sunday, 17 April 2011

A sermon in ten tweets

Stephen Lingwood, Minister at Bank Street Unitarian Chapel, Bolton, describes his experience

Anyone who cares about getting a spiritual message out to the general public cannot afford to ignore the Internet. That’s why at Bank Street Unitarian Chapel Bolton we have been seeking new ways to increase our web presence.

We have a website, and since 2009 have uploaded videos of reflections onto YouTube and to date have had over 2,000 views.

Then, in early 2011, we created a page on Facebook and a profile on Twitter. But the question remained of how we could use these new media outlets to get our message across.

The answer was perhaps one that a preacher like me would easily come to: I could “preach.” So I set myself the challenge of preaching five “Ten-Tweet” reflections/ sermons every day for one week. The local press responded well to the idea and wrote an article that appeared the Saturday before I started.

From Monday to Friday I posted a reflection each day in fewer than ten tweets. The subjects were: the banking industry, wealth and materialism, grasping and letting go, busyness, and gay rights. It was a challenge to make reflections that short, but I’ve always believed that profound things can be said in simple ways, so it was a valuable discipline to say things as succinctly as possible.

What was the outcome? It’s always difficult to say with these things. However we can say that within a few weeks we had over 100 followers from all over the world.

One American Tweeter said they thought what we were doing was great, and that they wanted to get their own church to do it. More locally the press coverage led to me being invited to appear on the local community radio station where I was able to talk about Twitter and about our community.

Someone was led from Twitter to our website where they left a message on the guestbook saying they liked the sound of what we stood for and would come along to a service to find out more soon.

You never know the seeds you are planting when you do things like that, but it’s felt like a worthwhile activity to use Twitter to get our message out there. It’s always worth trying something new.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Third Annual Pagan Values Blogging Month

Pax of the Pagan Values Blogject has just announced the third annual Pagan Values Blogging Month.

You can sign up for it on Facebook.

Pax writes:
We must not be afraid to discuss the values and virtues and ethics we have discovered in our contemporary Pagan faiths. There are enough books on rituals and spells and prayers to last us a few generations… let's start writing works on confronting poverty and hunger from Pagan perspectives. Let us set aside the fear of prejudice, and the once glamorous but now tattered and worn mantle of the outsider and the rebel, and take pride in ourselves and our faiths, in our works and lives and worship and in our Pagan communities and our larger communities.

Learn more about the event.

When you get your contribution written/recorded and posted in June put a link to it in the comments stream on the Facebook page. Tags such as "PVE2011" and "Pagan Values" are also encouraged.

Pagan Values Blogging Month 2010 and 2009 produced some excellent reflections on Pagan values and virtues - it was popular theology in the making.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Embracing the shadow

The human capacity for compassion and wisdom is in stark contrast to our capacity for cruelty and destruction. It is difficult to maintain an optimistic view of human nature in the face of the Holocaust, Cambodia, Rwanda, Abu Ghreib, torture, murder and rape. The only explanation that I find helpful for the human capacity for evil is the Jungian idea that we project our shadow selves onto others, and seek to destroy the shadow side by destroying the other. If we accepted our shadow side and sought to integrate it into consciousness, we would not persecute others, regard them as less human, and seek to destroy them.

But where did the shadow come from? Initially it may have emerged as a defence mechanism, or a by-product of the emergence of consciousness. This is suggested by the myth of the Garden of Eden, when the serpent reveals the distinction between good and evil to Adam and Eve, and then Yahweh says that the woman shall crush the serpent beneath her heel. If the knowledge of good and evil is equated with consciousness, and what is allowed into the light of consciousness is regarded as good, then the serpent (which represents the shadow and the unconscious) must be crushed in order to retain a sense of the self as good.

We can break out of this vicious circle by embracing the shadow, and taming the beast rather than seeking to destroy it.

A helpful myth in this respect is the original story of St George and the Dragon, where the saint did not kill the beast, but used the princess's girdle to make a halter for it. The princess represents the Anima (the inner feminine aspect of the hero), and her girdle, which represents her power, allows the hero to subdue the dragon (his lower nature).

Thursday, 7 April 2011

UK Spirituality forum

Our forum now has distinct areas for discussing spirituality, introducing yourself, showcasing products and services and creative projects, and meeting like-minded people in your area.

Why not register as a member and introduce yourself?

Friday, 1 April 2011

Walking the labyrinth

Walking the labyrinth is a very ancient form of meditation, very relaxing, and it’s well worth giving it a try. It’s very personal and inwardly focussed, and yet shared with your fellow-travellers in a wordless communion.

Each person’s journey into the labyrinth is unique, although the labyrinth has a single pathway to the centre. We all travel on the same pathway, but each person goes at a different speed, travelling in a different way. Rather like life, the path twists and turns, in and out, and you never know how close to the centre you are. When the path appears to take you furthest away from the centre, you are nearer, and when you appear to be closest, you are actually further away.

The centre – the goal of the journey – can mean different things to different people. For me, it is a metaphor for the Divine: always present, always hidden. In Pagan labyrinths, the centre symbolises the underworld, the inner realm; in Christian labyrinths, it represents the goal of the pilgrim, Jerusalem, with Christ at the centre.

The centre is a place to meditate and reflect on the journey, connect with the Divine, or just look into yourself. The space at the centre is shaped like a flower, or like the rose window of a cathedral. Each of its petals represents one of six kingdoms: mineral, vegetable, animal, human, angelic and the unknown.

The journey back from the centre depicts bringing back the blessing and insight from the other realm to share with your community. As you cross the threshold once more into the outer world, it is a good idea to meditate on the experience, and only gradually ease back into normal conversation.

Pagan labyrinths generally have the path winding through one quadrant at a time, possibly so the walker can meditate on each of the four elements in turn. Christian labyrinths have the path winding back and forth between the quadrants, so that you never know where you are. This is in many ways a more powerful experience, because you never know how close you are to the goal of the journey, so it is a revelation when you reach it. One such labyrinth is the one in Chartres Cathedral, which was constructed around 1200.

The oldest labyrinth design is the Cretan labyrinth, which is a very simple design and can be drawn quite quickly; it is easy to make out of pebbles in your garden or at a camp.

A brief history of mazes and labyrinths

Mazes are recorded in Egypt, Rome, Scandinavia, England, India, and the American Southwest. They are generally believed to symbolise the soul’s journey through life, or the journey of the dead to the underworld.

There are two types of maze: the unicursal (single path) maze and the puzzle maze. Both of these are referred to as both a labyrinth and a maze. However, in the myth of the Minotaur, the labyrinth in which the Minotaur dwells is clearly a puzzle maze (i.e. having dead ends), as Theseus needs a thread to find his way through to the centre. Apparently the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur refers to the maze-like palace at Knossos, which burned to the ground in the 15th century BCE.

The Classical Maze comes in four types, the Serpentine, Spiral, Simple Meander, and Complex Meander. The Roman ones were usually square, but these designs work as circular mazes too.

The principle of the maze was probably discovered in the Neolithic. The earliest recorded mazes were in Crete, 4000 years ago. In Egypt, there was a huge palace complex on the shores of a lake seven days journey up the Nile from the pyramids in form of a labyrinth. This was built by pharaoh Amenemhet III in the 19th century BCE. It consisted of thousands of rooms and twelve large maze-like courtyards, which were probably intended to keep out unwelcome visitors. Amenemhet also created a maze inside his nearby pyramid to thwart tomb robbers. Most Roman labyrinths, on the other hand, were too small to have been walked, and are typically found on the floor near the entrances to houses and villas; many have small city walls (perhaps indicating the walls of Troy) drawn around them. This suggests they served a protective function, and were perhaps believed to have warded off evil influences or intruders — a common function of the labyrinth in many other cultures as well. The tomb of Lars Porsenna (an Etruscan king) at Chiusi in Italy was said to be surrounded by a labyrinth.

The turf mazes of Britain and Scandinavia may have served a similar purpose, but in the Middle Ages they acquired an additional association with May games; hence the name “Robin Hood’s Race” or “Julian’s Bower”. The Celtic name for a maze was Caer Droia, the place of turning, and this was transliterated into English as Troy Town. It was widely believed that England was founded by Brutus fleeing Troy, and the mazes were believed to represent Troy. Mazes in Finland were often called Jericho, referring to the legend that it was destroyed by the Israelite army marching around it seven times. A maze called ‘the walls of Jericho’ also appears in a Hebrew manuscript.

Yvonne Aburrow