Sursum Corda*

(*Lift up your hearts)

I get up just before the sun to walk Lulu. My Dad called staying in bed after you wake up ‘scugging’, – I am not a scug.

The first few minutes are  mostly muzzy: where are my shoes? Fill the bird feeder or the bird shrieks until its fed, waking herself… why am I doing this thoughts begin seeping up….

Then Lulu woofs and I go to her room and she kisses me and bounces around making soft growly joyous sounds.

As we step outside the cool freshness is sublime.

Morning skies this week have been blue with high wispy wind clouds tinged pink by  early sunlight. This morning they were swollen, lowering grey with a hint of purple. Maybe it will rain.

stone curlewAt the end of the street, two stone curlews freeze and pretend invisibility. Lulu suspects something but is not sure.

We are heralded by the butcher birds who whistle and chortle from tree to tree. The kookaburra leads us across the park.

Under the big gum tree that is shedding its winter bark and displaying its new pastel green skin, two crows are examining something on the path. They shout squawk off  but flee as I approach. Their interest was not a blue tongued lizard as I had thought, but an Australian wonder: a squirrel glider.

squirrel-glider.jpg

Such a pretty little thing! It hopped towards me miaowchirping as if to say thank you, pleasecanIwalkwithyou. I said No and herded it to a tree waving away a persistent crow. It scrambled up  and was soon safely out of sight. A lovely little animal – I have not seen one before.

We walk on under a fig tree quivering with breakfast birds and past the water-dragon.jpgsilly ducks that think I am a feeder. I am not.

Two water dragons stretch their necks, frozen to bathe in the morning sun.

magpie goose

Three magpie geese waddle away from us as we walk down to the bridge.

purple swamphenLulu tries to ignore the purple swamp hens (pukeko in New Zealand) who gallump across the path on tbush turkeyheir long feet and the bush turkey scuffling on its mound of leaves which it uses to keep its eggs warm.

Back up the path, we meet Harry a big grinning chocolate Labrador for a sniff and a smile. Then home again.

Let us give thanks and praise.

Dignum et justum est. It is right and just

 

 

 

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If you are right … I am wrong (or vice versa)

The origin of this thought was  my ongoing despair when I consider religions.

What finally shook me out of the tree is the fundamental rule of most religions: If you do not believe, you will be denied Heaven. You have got to pay your dues to be able to get the benefits. Sorry for you if you haven’t actually heard about Him/Her or just think that there may be better explanations out there

You may be thinking that is a bit tough for pygmies, headhunters and Amazon Indians? I shouldn’t worry because humans are amazingly adaptable and flexible: they make their own gods, who make their own rules which will let you into Heaven by another door. The Dalai Lama had it right.

roman greek godsBut the gods are jealous and they protect their interests by excluding non-believers, some more radically than others.

I yearn to believe, because that would make the world easier to understand, accept and depart from – knowing there is a happy landing on the other side. But I am sceptical: I believe that man has manipulated the yearning for God and produced evidence that his version is right, so I must do what he says.

stone age warrior

Way back in time, people realised that they could hunt and defend themselves better and more easily find mates if they worked and lived together. If the strongest man kept on taking all the meat for himself, others would leave seeking safer and more co-operative groups.

So he gave some of the kill to others; if somebody took too much or too soon, they got whacked. The old and weak drank from rivers first to ascertain if there were crocodiles, women carried the food and walked behind, children could be seen but not heard… rules were born.

indian shamanWith rules came priests… they became the recorders of the rules, distinguished between right/good and wrong/evil and in due course became the explainers of the origin of the rules, the guardians of the Light.NagaSadhu

The easiest explanation was that God made the rules, but he was invisible and only spoke to his priests. The forte of the strong was brawn not brain, so warrior kings believed the priests…who anointed kings as gods…

bishop

In due course, the magic of rituals and symbols was developed, by the priests, who jealously guarded their access to God.

So we saw the Crusades and the rise of Islam and the Inquisition and the Reformation and pogroms and all the terrible rituals and punishments that we were led to believe were sanctified by God.

This continued for millennia, until priests became too greedy. Learning uncovered the sources and mysteries of faith, which allowed the freedom of choice, in turn allowing the common man to accept or reject or even offer a better explanation. And so religions proliferated as the advantages of power over the minds of people became apparent and commercially viable. Christianity alone has seen an increase in denominations from 1600 in 1910 to 43,000 in 2012.

Too many are saying: listen to me, my interpretation is better than yours; my Bible is better than your Koran or her Baghavad Gita. If you do not then you are wrong and I may not love you.

What that means to me is that religion causes division, not unity. I fear the magical powers of pastors ordained by their own gods or their own vanity or cupidity.

I fear that religion becomes more divisive despite the many good works performed in its name by the billions of believers.

However, for your peace of mind: China has made re-incarnation without government permission illegal.

 

Would Jesus have escaped his fate in 2017?

The manner of Jesus’ death was not unusual for the times, in a conquered country ruled by powerful Roman overlords, who would have required Hebrew authorities to maintain a peaceful and calm populace.

Pilate washHowever, the attempts to evade responsibility for the decision to execute Jesus, suggest some uneasiness.

Jesus preached radical views and evicted the moneylenders from the Temple in Jerusalem and defied the Pharisees and Sadducees. He gathered crowds around him and had clearly attracted quite a following. He also defied the Sanhedrin – these were the power brokers of the times.

There would have been some who recalled the 12 year old boy Jesus,
who had displayed advanced scriptural knowledge in discussion with the elders in the Temple and who even then said he was about his Father’s business.

As a man, in accordance with custom, he read the scripture of Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth, and claimed to be the fulfillment of that scripture. No doubt there were reports about miraculous cures and the wonderful feeding of thousands and other miracles. Certainly 1000’s gathered to follow him and listen to what he said.

The Pharisees and Saducees were obviously sceptical and disbelieving and examined him. He remained obdurate and popular – a clear threat to the hegemony of the local government of the times, who had also caused the execution of John the Baptist who had announced the coming of the Messiah.

PalmSundayIn the book of Zachariah it was written: “The Coming of Zion’s King – See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey”. It suggests that Jesus was declaring he was the King of Israel to the anger of the Sanhedrin when he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, to great popular acclaim.

revol doctrineNow these are acts which are of a political consequence. Here was a potential challenge to existing authority. The claim to be the Son of God was surely false.

coming of christ

Surely, God would inform his priests and give heavenly indication of His Son’s arrival,  by attending Him with Archangels, Seraphim and Cherubim?
So a political decision was made to remove the radical upstart who had attracted a large following and threatened their autonomy. The execution was conducted, comparatively humanely for the times, as his legs were not broken to hasten his demise, but he was stabbed in the side with a spear.

In modern times, rumours of poisoning of citizens in Syria, have attracted swift retribution from powerful military overlords. Yet the decimation of rural population with murdered citizens being thrown down old mine shaafrican-tyrantsfts by an African tyrant, did not even attract condemnation from the same military overlord who had installed the tyrant in years gone by.

Politics is a dirty game, in which compassion and tolerance are hindrances, not given any countenance.

Not much has changed. Even now, I wouldn’t be surprised at the same thing happening again to Jesus – save that His miracles would have gone viral. Mind you they would probably be written off as fake news !

Good Friday Feelings

I must confess to a great sadness that hangs around me as the week nears Good Friday. My mind echoes with the sad hymns of Easter which describe the jesus crowntorment, mockery and suffering that Jesus endured; learned during the torturous (for young boys) service of Stations of the Cross.

There is a green hill far away

I am almost mystified by the full moon and the still, chill Autumn Easter season heralding winter.

This is the influence of a Catholic upbringing in which Good Friday was a sombre day for repentance and sorrow; icons were covered, the altar was bare and the bells replaced by wooden clappers.

The joy of Easter Sunday is a marked contrast which puzzled my schoolboy mind. Vestments are white and candles and Easter Eggs abounded, representing the new life of the risen God.

easter joy

The Easter Bunny too played its part:  “originating among German
Lutherans, the “Easter Hare” originally played the role of
a judge, evaluating whether children were good or disobedient in  at the start of the season of Eastertide.”easter rabbit

The holyday weekend usually sees an exodus to the pleasure domes and sultry sea, so the churches should not suffer for space, like at Christmas. But in fact they do – as Christians celebrate the new life and re-commit themselves to spiritual focus and fleshly discipline. Not a bad thing, for we are a decadent bunch.hallelujah chorus stand

And here is a wonder to uplift you!

Hallelujah Chorus

Ash Wednesday

This day marks the beginning of Lent, the Christian tradition of fasting andustd renewed contemplation of spiritual life. It endures for 40 days in commemoration of the time Jesus spent fasting in the desert, during which he endured temptation by Satan. Adherents focus on prayer, doing penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement and self-denial.

All very commendable and worthy practices.

I recall the tiny Catholic Church in Mbabane, overflowing with serious and devout Swazis lining up to be marked on the forehead with an ash cross. Incense and sweat and lovely singing. I couldn’t wait to get out and surreptitiously wipe my brow before any of our friends could see me – they were all Protestants.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” – a sobering thought.

Dad gave up his Gordons pink gin and water (ugh!) before lunch and his John Jameson’s whisky before supper. I think Mum gave up smoking? My brother alent-birthdaynd I had to forgo sweets, which was really heavy!

The fast was for 40 days but Sundays were excluded and so were birthdays in our house.

I have for some years maintained a fast by giving up beer, which is quite a sacrifice for me.

sacrificesHowever, this year I have decided to give up meat. I must confess that my motivation is not that pure: I have been working on reducing my girth by eating healthier and less food and I am conscious that like many colonials, I eat too much meat. So a wee bit of vanity sneaks in there, but discipline and self-improvement trump them.

Giving up meat is not as simple as just forgoing beer; it is a major disruption to household habits, which affect not only me, but also my wife.

She does not like most fish. She has always done the catering including evening meal preparation. You may discern the tension. So I must prepare my own evening meals.

My research into Lent indicates that some fasts only included animal meat, so fish and fowl are acceptable. So tonight it will be tuna fishcakes; tomorrow sardines on toast, Friday could be salt and pepper squid, Saturday maybe crumbed whiting and Sunday will be braaivleis!prawn-salad

Monday boiled eggs, Tuesday tuna salad, Wednesday spaghetti marinara … I am getting into the swing of this! Suggestions are welcome.

I also intend to read up on meditation and perhaps practice it and attempt to complete the book I am writing, which is a major challenge as I have reached a stale block.

Finding a poor person to provide a meal to is difficult in the relative prosperity of a social welfare state. Some local homeless people demand money instead as they get too many meals!! I shall seek an alternate charitable cause.

I suppose I am an agnostic, but I believe in some of the traditions and practices and need self-discipline and spiritual renewal.

Give it a go! It’s a far more achievable challenge than New Year resolutions!

The love of Christmas

angel-goldI could see the high treble voice soar up to the vaulted cathedral roof, so agonisingly sweet the tears stung my eyes and I looked around for my brother or my Dad, knowing their voices would have caught in their throats too…

In the bleak mid-winter, frosty wind made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone…

Of course, they are not here, one in Heaven and the other in the Swaziland bushveld, (which is near there). But they sent a butterfly angel which floated by as if listening…

Hark the herald angels sing…

More angelic trebles. I think I will be alright; so long as someone doesn’t sing Danny Boy – fortunately, it’s not quite the season. That maudlin, sentimental ditty catches me every time: such a simple declaration of love.

Just to top it off, here is a recording of Away in a manger, which really seized me up and dampened my cheeks. Somehow this child’s prayer has always signified much of God’s love to me.

Away in a manger
No crib for His bed
The little Lord Jesus
Laid down His sweet head

The stars in the bright sky
Looked down where He lay
The little Lord Jesus
Asleep on the hay

The cattle are lowingaway-in-a-manger
The Baby awakes
A little Lord Jesus
No crying He makes

I love Thee, Lord Jesus
Look down from the sky
And stay by my side,
‘Til morning is nigh.

Be near me, Lord Jesus,
I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever
And love me I pray

Bless all the dear children
In Thy tender care
And take us to heaven
To live with Thee there

Then there was the saintly King Wenceslas and his devoted page:

page-afterSire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger,

Fails my heart I know not how, I can go no longer…

Mark my footsteps good my page, treads’t thou in them boldly

Thee shall find the winter’s rage freeze thy blood less coldly

There’s a message there.

 

May you all be blessed by the love of loved ones and happy memories of Christmastime.

A Stairway to Heaven

stairway.jpgYesterday I re-posted a blog which ended in a quote from the Dalai Lama:  “People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they’re not on your road doesn’t mean they got lost.”

That raised thoughts about the pursuit of happiness and whether such a seemingly hedonistic, self-indulgent goal is virtuous and whether it is compatible with a ‘good life’ in the religious sense.daily-choice

Aristotle enshrines happiness as a central purpose of human life and a goal in itself. His conclusion is that happiness depends on the cultivation of virtue

You have got to choose to be good to be happy and good is not that easy, sometimes.

bee happy.jpeg

 

 

 

  • Happiness is the ultimate end and purpose of human existence
  • Happiness is not pleasure, nor is it virtue. It is the exercise of virtue.
  • Happiness cannot be achieved until the end of one’s life. Hence it is a goal and not a temporary state.
  • Happiness is the perfection of human nature. Since man is a rational animal, human happiness depends on the exercise of his reason.
  • Happiness depends on acquiring a moral character, where one displays the virtues of courage, generosity, justice, friendship, and citizenship in one’s life. These virtues involve striking a balance or “mean” between an excess and a deficiency.
  • Happiness requires intellectual contemplation, for this is the ultimate realization of our rational capacities.

In keeping with the Stephen Covey model, 7 habits of happy people are identified:

  • Express your heart – People who have one or more close friendships are happier.
  • Cultivate kindness – Reach out
  • Keep moving and eat well – “sound body, sound mind” 
  • Find your flow – do what you’re doing  because you like what you’re doing
  • Discover Meaning – a close link exists between spiritual and religious practice and happiness
  • Discover and use your strengths – the happiest people are those that have discovered their unique strengths  and virtues and use those strengths and virtues for a purpose that is greater than their own personal goalspiglets-heart
  • Treasure gratitude, mindfulness, and hope – gratitude is one of the greatest virtues. It defeats pride which is the sneakiest of vices.

Most of the above comes from http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org

do-i-make-you-happyThis website has wonderful and good stuff on positive psychology and the pursuit of happiness. Check it out and start looking for your own stairways, y’all.