August 30, 2017

Paradise Lost, or Active Redemption

As I write, hurricane Harvey is preparing for another onslaught on Houston and the surrounding areas. There has never before been a storm like it.

More than 50” of rain has fallen in 3 days, sea surges of 15ft are expected, displacement of humans and wildlife is such that if it was a war zone people would still be shocked.

This lonely blue planet is the nearest thing we have to paradise. We are hunting through the universe for similar life supporting zones, so far nothing even slightly resembling this blue dot has been found. We are sending out messages in the hope that somewhere, somehow, they will be picked up by other life forms. Maybe they should have been Mayday messages, for knowing, as we do, that this blue paradise is all we have, we cannot bring ourselves to respect it, enhance it, protect it.

The events in Houston were predictable – warming seas, more moisture in the atmosphere, a slowing jet stream, polar ice melt… the list is very long. We have known much of what we know now since the 1970’s. Many individuals have declared intellectual independence and fought the tide of consumerism and waste with great success. It is entirely possible to live as a one planet person. But these cherished individuals do not make up a world population – itself rising faster than the waters of Texas.

Instead of hearing the voices of science and reason, the inhabitants of this one habitable planet have chosen to block their ears. Seduced by the god of money they have chosen to pollute, spend, waste. They have turned flood land into concrete deserts, poisoned the air we breathe, turned the seas into plastic soup and built nuclear weapons to protect us from ourselves.

And the media reports the cost to the economy, the cost of insurance, the cost to GDP, that 2 million barrels of oil are lost a day… and so we fall.

The rains in Houston are so bad that the weather forecasting service had to invent new colours to describe the deluge. It will stop of course, for a while. And the desertification of other areas will inexorably march steadily onwards. And the nuclear waste from Fukushima will seep ever more poison into the ocean, and the cars will keep driving on fossil fuels…. and we fall further.

The tipping point has been a long time coming. Between the water and the desert there will be places to live safely, to grow crops and live a good life. But there will be a lot less room, and self-preservation will not bring out the best in humans.

After he had written Paradise Lost, Milton wrote Paradise Regained. It is an altogether more simple work, emphasising the possibility of reversal.

We have been bombarded with the ridiculousness of a debt-based money supply in order to keep the economy going, bewildered by political sleight-of-hand from short sighted careerists, muzzled by an explosion of conflicting information, and malnourished ourselves on a diet of GM crops, pesticides, herbicides, growth hormones and antibiotics. We may need a spiritual redemption, but more than that, we need a practical redemption.

Humans are both God and Satan. The possibility of reversal is in our hands. The path of no change is clear, but the path of reversing our impoverished way of life has never been clearer. Complexity has led us to an existential crisis. The clarity of simplicity can lead to something richer.

Redemption is a revolution in thought. Our food supplies, our monetary system, our energy, building practices, our education, they can all be rethought and simplified. Collaborative human thought and action can rise above the tribulations of neo-liberal market capitalism and return us to the values we all share and the ways in which we would rather live our lives.

Blood does not have to be spilt in this revolution, sweat does. Tears are being shed daily, now. The shadow of Katrina is long. The shadow of Harvey will be longer. How long will the shadows have to be before we change to a healthier, more inclusive society.

Paradise can be regained. The possibility of reversal will always be with us, but the law of diminishing returns ensures that acting now is more fruitful than acting later. A telescope looking at us from another world would ask, ‘What is taking them so long?’

August 05, 2017

A Liturgy For World Peace

The Peace Mala Liturgy for World Peace held in Llandaff Cathedral on 20th July 2017 was more uplifting than anyone attending could possibly have expected.

The capabilities of Pam Evans, who devised the Peace Mala project, are considerable, and I had a fairly good understanding of what the day would bring, but in many ways I was unprepared for the effect it would have, not just on me, but on all who were gathered.

Immediately I could feel that the company would be good, but as the service started, and the heartrending melody of Karl Jenkins’ Benedictus (from The Armed Man) swelled through the lofty cathedral stones, there drifted in through the open doors, as if on a fledgling tide of universal harmony, the human emblems of every domination known to this lonely blue planet.

They passed under the statue of Christ designed by Jacob Epstein, himself the child of Jewish refugees, a welcoming Christ, serene, androgynous, a Christ for all people, and a fitting symbol for the momentous events quietly passing below.

If the rock from which these stones were hewn could move, the procession in all its colour, reaching out beyond these walls to an older consciousness, it’s resplendent robes of red and purple, sky blue, gold and orange, would have moved them.

Slowly they walked through the cathedral, and those gathered upon the seats turned, and watched, silently, and there was awe. It was like a dream as these visions proceeded as one in perfect harmony. It was a dream of what could be, what should be, and how we all can be the very best, compassionate, humans every one of us has the capacity to be.

I was not alone in experiencing a sudden, tear-jerking, sense of love. For a moment we were all one, encircled by a peculiar spirituality which drew us all closer. A feeling which lingers still, and that is the real point.

The Peace Mala Interfaith Community brought more than the earthly representatives of all the major religions, from Buddist to Jewish, Zoroastrian to Earth; it told of suffering, and pain, but above all it brought hope and the reinvigoration of a subtle wisdom rising from ancient spiritual practices buried under a broken world of empty celebrity, fast-food farming and rampant consumerism.

It was an unparalleled experience to watch the Sufi dervish whirling in perfect concentration in the centre of this great cathedral. As the dervish spun on the axis of his heart, he was accompanied by the soft singing voice of Sheikh Ahmad Dede which soared gently and surely into the highest places of the building, touching us all with his mystical entreaty to greater love.

Many children were present, themselves in receipt of the Peace Mala teachings and the colourful bracelets of 14 bright beads representing the 14 major religions. They sang and rejoiced, recited their poems and thoughts, and brought us the message of the peace mala bracelet. We witnessed their drawings of the journey of the Peace Mala dove across the world, stopping at the centres of religion in every country. The children, too, felt the awe.
Spiritual and organic human survival face the combined challenges of climate change, debt based monetarism and the wholesale promotion of fear. Yet this day of unity showed that if we can empty our minds of the clamour of misunderstanding, and just for one moment – even for just one moment – embrace the unity of all things living, new possibilities can arise.

I am an atheist, and have been all my adult life. I feel no need to shout about it because but I know every one of us seeks connection in one form or another in this chaotic world. Peace Mala bravely strikes out to embody those connections. The courage of the Dean of Llandaff to enable this event is remarkable, and I honour every single person who took part in this shared celebration of glorious unity.