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02/01/2015

A Time For Everything

'Father Time reaps the fairies' - from German folklore
Source: www.oneletterwords.com

The Quakers have historically held a belief against holy times and seasons, including not celebrating Christmas, putting forth the very reasonable case that all time given to us is precious, is to be treated as holy.

My understanding is this Quaker position emerged out of the wider radical protestant trend within the 17th century, a puritanical reaction against the perceived pagan and Roman Catholic roots of key Christian festivals - and the critique that during such times there was a tendency to engage in wasteful merriment on the one hand, and very public yet superficial acts of worship on the other. The commonly held narrative is Oliver Cromwell singlehandedly cancelled Christmas in the 1640s but it was in fact a much more collective act than that, involving parliament and the predominant churches of the time. The re-emergence of public Christmas festivities came largely with the restoration of the monarchy.

The reason I want to make note of this now, as we leave Christmas behind us and look ahead to the New Year, is largely due to my encounter a few days ago with the following post to a Unitarian group on Facebook:

"I lost my 5-year-old granddaughter in a car accident on Christmas Eve. She was a joyful little girl, full of wonder and mischief. She was the one I had to keep away from some of my stuff because she would dissect it. She was the one that would tell you just how things needed to be, in her 5-year-old wisdom. And I will miss her dearly. My life won't ever be quite the same without her in it. But I'm thankful she was here for the time she was.

I do believe that she has somehow gone into the mysterious reality that I call God - the source, sustainer, and retainer of life. But while I appreciate all the condolences that my friends and relatives are offering at this time, I don't believe she is floating around in heaven, wearing wings, or sitting in Jesus' lap. Wherever she is, all I can hope for is that her consciousness does rest in peace. I hope that for everyone. 

This has been a good, but painful, test in my loss of the Christian paradigm. I don't know if she ever accepted Jesus as her personal Lord and Savior or not. I don't know if she was ever baptized to wash away her Original Sin. I don't care. I don't think God does either. I don't believe God is "in control" and caused the car accident that took her life. And none of the prayers that people offer lessen my own pain and loss. They just don't. Nothing will "fix" this. That is, to me, what makes Moriah's life so precious. I do hope that somehow, someway, somewhere I will meet her again. I don't limit what our Creator can do. For now, I will carry her memory in my heart. And I'm so glad that I got to know her. I believe she is with God, but that is because God is love, not because she was a Christian."

My friend in faith also shared a picture of the granddaughter lost on Christmas Eve - she was a truly beautiful, joyful looking little girl. My heart goes out to her family - I am leading a service at Oldham Unitarian Chapel this coming Sunday and have included them in our collective act of prayer.

As it happens, whilst this family across the world were entering hell on Christmas Eve, I was out busily getting some last-minute gifts and bumped into a close friend, walking tearfully in the pouring rain. They too were encountering a hell under different circumstances - made all the worse by the time of year.

It seems to me that we all need to be mindful of the kind of tyranny that Christmas continues to have upon us all. We all live under an expectation that this time of year is unfailingly much more joyful, much more holy, than other times. Yet for so many people life is marching on regardless, in the same relentless manner as it did for the previous twelve months - with all its mix of human events and experiences, good and bad.

I have often tried to be mindful of this, mainly as a result of my experience working with those young people in schools who are going through hellish times, whilst the rest of the community are singing carols, rehearsing nativity plays and gossiping about all the presents they are due to get (often exaggerated). 

The same goes for times like Mother's Day and Father's Day - just this past year I sat at a dinner table as the discussion sleepwalked into what various people did to treat their mother or grandmother for Mother's Day at the weekend just gone. I sat casually listening in, suddenly becoming aware one of the members of the group was quite visibly wilting. As we all should have known, our friend had given no gifts, having come from an abusive background and having had to live separately from their family from a young age - spending most of their childhood in state care homes.

I am not certainly advocating a return to 17th century puritanism. I happen to think, as much as we can say every single day should be treated as holy, we humans simply can't live up to that standard - we get caught up in the drudgery too easily. And because of this, we need our festivals and feast days, our sabbaths, to find moments of rest and reflection, to rekindle our sense of holiness and to practise living more appreciatively.

I suppose all I am really saying is, as we look to the days ahead in 2015 - as we ready ourselves to conform to another calendar of pre-ordained ordinary days interspersed by designated special days - that we do at least try to be more awake, more responsive, to the ongoing holiness and the ongoing hardship always around us. 

Let us travel hopefully, together.

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