Welcome to Life in 361˚. This blog is an 'open journal' - a space where I keep notes on bits & pieces I come across day-to-day - including books and articles I've read that I feel are worth sharing, interesting pictures and photos (I'm a visual learner, you see), random musings - and anything else that happens to catch my eye or ear. It also acts as a kind of 'open experiment' in terms of developing my views and writing skills - and networking with other people of a like-mind.

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The Road Ahead

This morning I gave ministry at Meeting for Worship. As with other Sundays, I had no real intention of speaking today - yes, I inevitably gave thought on my journey up there of what I might speak about should I feel moved and what others might speak about, but what I came to speak about surprised me. 

Put simply, standing up and breaking the silence at a Quaker meeting does not come easy for me, in fact I try to avoid it, but there comes an unsettling shaking and a 'whooshing up' which I feel I cannot resist. A Friend once commented on the Quaker process, "it's weird but it works" and another Friend today commented how she was agnostic about what brought Quakers to speak. If I am honest, as much as I believe in a notion of God and as much as I am finding the Quaker path to be 'home', I share much of these views - I have doubts and I have a level of self-consciousness, and embarrassment, about taking a lead (albeit momentarily) at a church gathering. 

Having said this, I'll now put to print my thoughts shared this morning, obviously not like-for-like but continuing on the same theme.

I didn't know Alan Greaves nor his wife, but my wife and I were in Sheffield on Christmas Eve. We stay in a hotel over there every two years to be near one half of the family, alternating between Manchester and Sheffield, and very much look forward to seeing out Christmas Eve together by having a 'posh meal' and a few drinks in my home city. Before heading out that evening, our concerns were ordinary - discussing what we might eat and whether we would be able to stay awake long enough for the Midnight Mass at Sheffield Cathedral. As it happened, we went out to eat and returned home at around 10pm to have a few drinks overlooking Victoria Quays, before heading for an early night filled with excitement at the day ahead.

Unbeknown to us, Alan Greaves - a church organist from High Green - also headed out that night to help lead the Midnight Mass at his local church, St Saviour's. He would have probably also have been mulling over similarly ordinary concerns, perhaps thinking of his wife or his four grandchildren, hoping the service would go to plan etc. Shockingly, he was assaulted on his journey to the church and died later in hospital leaving behind a family and community who dearly loved him - the Bishop of Sheffield has since described him as a 'shining light'. There was no clear reason for the events that occurred, it's been declared by various people as 'evil', 'random' and 'senseless'.

I was reading an article about Alan Greaves this morning, amongst the many other deep troubles being talked about in the papers, when the following comments from his wife Maureen Greaves really struck home to me:

“Every Christmas Eve he would bring me a huge bunch of flowers and they are still inside. He put on his coat and hat and said ‘bye love’ as he always did and they were the last words we spoke together."

“Life sometimes produces things like this. It’s a shame but you have to look for the good.”

These words were remarkable really given the level of sudden and total devastation this lady faces. There is a faith in her that many of us can only aspire to.

Reflecting on this also brought me to a conversation I had with my grandmother yesterday. She was due to come visit our home yesterday, as part of a Christmas family gathering, but was taken ill with a virus and didn't want to pass it on. Sat in the house alone had given her time to dwell on my beloved grandfather's absence, following his very difficult passing to lung cancer in February 2010 and her third Christmas spent without him. As we talked, she broke down in tears and expressed a fear that she would not see out the year ahead - and would not get to see the three newborns who are due in Spring (adding to her collection of sixteen grandchildren and six great-grandchildren).

It seems to me that there is much to be sad and fearful about from this conversation but in relaying this to my mother yesterday, I commented that hope could be drawn in that amongst the darkness she continues to see there is still much to live for. My grandmother often says, "As one passes, another one comes..." - again in this there is a hope expressed in the face of destruction.

From there a somewhat odd thought had come to mind during the meeting; Jesus was 33 years old when he died, I wonder how he felt looking ahead at the age of 32 years old, as I look ahead now at the same point age-wise. Did he see only uncertainty and possible desolation ahead or did he in fact continue to walk with faith in the Greater Good? And if we can say this is how the Master Teacher & Great Exemplar approached things during troubled times, then can we not be re-assured and resolved to keep walking forward with faith through each of our lesser but nonetheless potentially consuming troubled times?

In many ways this season and the coming days are only more important because we human beings have placed great expectations and values on the 25th Day of the Twelfth Month and 31st Day of the Twelfth Month as religio-cultural events. And when I see people hurting because these expectations aren't met, I have a growing empathy with earlier Quakers who rejected the notion of holy days and seasons for this reason. But as an event that our majority culture participates in, it is nonetheless hard to ignore. 

There will be many of us, in varying circumstances, looking to the road ahead in 2013 with a mix of contentment, sadness and regret for what has passed - and fear and hope for what is to come. In thinking about the coming year, we must try to follow the examples of our Christian tradition and of our present day living, and cling on to the lights of our lives.

And as the news of his terrible passing no longer makes the headlines, we must also keep a special place in our prayers for the loved ones of Alan Greaves - particularly his wife Maureen Greaves - in the coming year.

The fight for peace and justice is not yet won.

Following the meeting there was a discussion amongst Friends touching upon both our own particular, everyday difficulties and the great tragedies we see. Thought was given to the Amish school shooting in 2006 and the manner in which the families of those shot showed love and care towards the shooter's wife. I added to this my memory of the grace shown by many of the families of the young victims of stabbings in London over the past few years. 

The belief in forgiveness as necessary in the process of being able to continue to live hopefully was expressed. We talked about how events occur beyond our control but we can each shape our perception and understanding of them, that this is a battle we must each undertake within. In this sense, although we cannot protect ourselves from troubled times - what will be will ultimately be - we have influence over the narratives and meanings we attach to things.

Later, having returned home, I sat with my wife watching a DVD of the Luther television series -  a detective drama set amongst a dark London underworld. One of the protagonists quotes John Milton's Paradise Lost, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”

2013 will come and we have to accept some of us will face great trials as others will experience great joy, but we must each continue to walk together with hearts and minds of faith.

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