Live longer and prosper

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To lengthen our lives we might usually think of trying to increase our years, with good diet, exercise and so forth — all a bit hit-and-miss. A piece in The Book of Life reminds us that our experience of time is subjective. We should seek to "densify" our lives, to enrich our experience rather than trying to postpone death. Children experience a year as a very long time because their experience of everything is so intense and very much of it is new. It has to with novely, The Book of Life contends. "The more our days are filled with new, unpredictable and challenging experiences, the longer they will feel." … By middle age, things can be counted upon to have grown a lot more familiar. We may have flown around the world a few times. We no longer get excited by the idea of eating a pineapple, owning a car or flipping a lightswitch. We know about relationships, earning money and telling others what do. And as a result, time runs away from us without mercy."

The answer is not to try to cram in many expensive novelties, such as much travel to exotic places. Rather, let us take greater notice of things around us.

"We have probably taken a few cursory glances at the miracles of existence that lie to hand and assumed, quite unjustly, that we know all there is to know about them. We’ve imagined we understand the city we live in, the people we interact with and, more or less, the point of it all." In fact we have barely scratched the surface. Time races by because we have not paused to study properly.

Art especially "re-introduces us to ordinary things and reopens our eyes to a latent beauty and interest in precisely those areas we had ceased to bother with. It helps us to recover some of the manic sensitivity we had as newborns." We see Cezanne, "looking closely at apples, as if he had never seen one before," and Van Gogh, "mesmerised by some oranges". Or Albrecht Durer, "looking — as only children usually do — very closely at a clod of earth."

"We don’t need to make art in order to learn the most valuable lesson of artists, which is about noticing properly, living with our eyes open — and thereby, along the way, savouring time. Without any intention to create something that could be put in a gallery, we could — as part of a goal of living more deliberately — take a walk in an unfamiliar part of town, ask an old friend about a side of their life we’d never dared to probe at, lie on our back in the garden and look up at the stars or hold our partner in a way we never tried before. […]

"It is sensible enough to try to live longer lives. But we are working with a false notion of what long really means. We might live to be a thousand years old and still complain that it had all rushed by too fast. We should be aiming to lead lives that feel long because we have managed to imbue them with the right sort of open-hearted appreciation and unsnobbish receptivity, the kind that five-year-olds know naturally how to bring to bear. We need to pause and look at one another’s faces, study the evening sky, wonder at the eddies and colours of the river and dare to ask the kind of questions that open our souls. We don’t need to add years; we need to densify the time we have left by ensuring that every day is lived consciously — and we can do this via a manoeuvre as simple as it is momentous: by starting to notice all that we have as yet only seen."

Underneath the stars

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Beautiful music.

Underneath the Stars by Kate Rusby, sung by Voces 8 in 2017

Underneath the stars I’ll meet you.
Underneath the stars I’ll greet you.
There beneath the stars I’ll leave you,
before you go of your own free will.

Go gently, go gently

Underneath the stars you met me.
Underneath the stars you left me.
I wonder if the stars regret me.
At least you’ll go of your own free will.

Go gently, go gently

Here beneath the stars I’m landing.
Here beneath the stars not ending
Why on earth am I pretending?
I’m here again, the stars befriending.
They come and go of their own free will

Go gently, go gently.

Underneath the stars you met me.
Underneath the stars you left me.
I wonder if the stars regret me.
I’m sure they’d like me if they only met me.
They come and go of their own free will.

A past redeemed

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Father Michael Lapsley SSM (now leader of the Institute for Healing of Memories is a remarkable teacher. He was an anti-aparthied campaigner and chaplain to the ANC when his hands and one eye were destroyed in 1990 by a letter-bomb most likely in a covert operation of the apartheid regime. [He has prosthetic ‘hands’.) What follows is from a conversation he had with Rowan Williams at https://stethelburgas.org/”>St Ethelburga’s in London:

"In our Christian faith, we say, ‘By His wounds we are healed,’ and of course we often speak of the wounded healer. Let me tell a personal story which, while amusing, speaks to the issue of how we perceive woundedness and whether we see it as incapacitating or enlivening.

"I was bombed in Zimbabwe and then was moved to a hospital in Australia. Before I left for Australia, my bishop came to visit me and prayed for my recovery. Seven months later and now recovered, I returned to his office in Zimbabwe and said, ‘Here I am, Father.’ The bishop looked startled. At first I imagined perhaps he wasn’t used to God answering his prayers, but then he said, ‘But you are disabled now. What can you do?’ So I said, ‘Well, Bishop, I can drive a car.’ Then he looked frightened. I think he thought he might be on the same road with me. So I said, ‘Father, I think I can be more of a priest with no hands than I ever was with two hands.’ When I inquired of Archbishop Tutu, I got quite a different response. He said, ‘Come and work in Cape Town. I have one priest who is deaf and one who is blind, and now one with no hands.’

"Wow! So, for one bishop I was a liability but for the other I was an asset. The first bishop wasn’t a bad person, but his vision was narrow. Archbishop Tutu, on the other hand, had a different pair of spectacles and he was able to see that my woundedness could help others to heal. So it is fitting that Archbishop Tutu has written the foreword for my recent memoir Redeeming the Past, for he saw immediately that what happened to me was also an opportunity.

"Of course, none of that means that what happened to me was right. Sometimes people say, ‘It was God’s will that you were bombed.’ Now what kind of nonsense is that? Does that mean that God makes letter bombs? I am not interested in that kind of God. Rather, I believe in a God that gives us the strength to bring good out of evil, so that I can sit here today and say that in the bombing I lost a lot and that I have gained a lot.

"I know that I’m a better human being because of the journey I have travelled. For me, God’s grace worked through the prayers and support of people around the globe who also saw the possibilities of healing and continued to believe that I had a life ahead of me. That didn’t happen solely by my own efforts but through the collective power of love."
—Rowan Williams and Michael Lapsley, "The Journey toward Forgiveness: A Dialogue," The Ecumenical Review 66, no. 2 (July 2014): 191–213.

Parish prayers for the same-sex marriage debate

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Acknowledgement: Professor Peter Sherlock #postalsurveyprayers

Matthew 22.23–33.

Gracious Lord, we give thanks for marriage and the great blessing it is to so many. We thank you for faithful married couples who bless us so richly.

Gracious Lord, long ago, lawyers and teachers used a problem about marriage to try and trick Jesus. How familiar this seems to us, as people of faith stumble over a question of marriage in the crude form of a postal survey.

We pray that all Australians may be prepared for whatever happens about marriage in the next few months. May Christians reflect and act on the teaching and model of Jesus. Should any fear for freedom, we ask reassurance should there be nothing to fear, and courage if there is.

May what remains of the campaigning be honest and constructive. We ask for a civil society, that we may learn to disagree passionately without violence or intimidation. May religious leaders inspire faith, hope, and love in a weary and angry nation. May both the opponents and the supporters of marriage equality be gracious and generous, as together we find good news to share in your love. Cause those who argue for argument’s sake to be silent, to listen and to learn.

May people feeling alone, unnoticed or unloved—especially young people—know that your love encompasses and holds them. May those who find only condemnation in the Bible come to know the gospel of grace. Uphold mental health staff and service providers that they have resources to help all in need.

Help our leaders to be prepared when the result is announced, that our democracy may be strengthened, not harmed. Help public servants who draft legislation to be patient and thorough. Guide religious and civil marriage celebrants to respond well to change and marriage counsellors that they may help people live fruitfully.

We ask courage for same-sex couples as the nation sits in judgment, and for couples whose legitimate marriages are not recognised in Australia, that their commitment may be respected. Watch over children of same-sex couples, that they may be cherished and kept free from fear or harm.

May gay and lesbian refugees in find their trust in Australia as a place of safety not to be misplaced.

We pray for celibate Australians, that their joy and fruitfulness will be recognised and nurtured.

We pray for those who for whom thoughts of marriage bring sadness and fear:
— people trapped in abusive relationships;
— those for marriage is a distant dream as the struggle to find the simple necessities of food, clothing and shelter;
— those forced or compelled to marry: may they find freedom.

We pray for those who grieve the loss of a partner and for those who mourn for what might have been—and for those whose partners have never been acknowledged, even in death, because of fear, prejudice and ignorance.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.