Let the Spirit guide you!

Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord Almighty.  Zechariah 4:6

For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.  2 Timothy 1:7

More than ever the world needs people who are inspired, guided, and empowered by the spirit of the one God who is wise and compassionate.

In response to terrorist attacks, whether in London, Manchester, Berlin or Kabul, we need to concentrate on spreading compassion for those who are injured, for the families and friends of those who are killed, and – most importantly – for those, mostly young men, who are suffering so much that they may be driven to commit barbarous acts of violence.

It is of course tempting to succumb to and spread hatred of the perpetrators of terrorist killings and of the people whom they purport to represent. Spreading hatred will only make matters worse, hastening the descent into a spiral of violence. Hatred is blind and stupid. One person’s response to the latest terrorist outrage in London has been to appeal for Britain to leave the EU altogether as soon as possible. Where’s the connection between Islamist terrorism and Britain’s membership of the EU?

Hatred drives people apart when what we need is an inclusive and cohesive society – within Britain, throughout Europe, and ultimately throughout the world, though that could be a long time in coming.

There seem to be two objects of hatred amongst many British people at this time: Muslims and the EU. Individual Muslims cannot be held responsible for Islamist terrorism any more than individual Christians can be held responsible for the crusades. Islam and Christianity, along with most of the world’s faiths, share commitment to the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would they should do unto you. Or: “Do as you would be done by.”

I believe we are also guided at a deep level by the same spirit, the spirit of the God of Abraham, the fearless spirit of love and compassion. This is a spirit of power – not of military power or power over other people, but of the power of love, power which is shared with other people. It is the power of active nonviolence, for which my friend Martin Arnold has coined the term “Gütekraft”, i.e. goodness-force or goodness-power. Mohandas Gandhi called it Satyagraha.

This fearless spirit of love and compassion is neither blind nor stupid, but of a sound mind. It does not imagine that Jews are responsible for infectious diseases, that Muslims are responsible for Islamist terrorism, or that the EU can be blamed for all the ills of British society. It sees that many people are excluded from society by poverty. It sees that, whilst the EU is a deeply flawed institution, it has in many ways been a force for peace, within its borders at least. The problem is not the EU as such, but rather austerity and other economic policies which have widened the gap between rich and poor. This gap is much more obvious in Britain than in Germany. The existence of food banks is a major indictment of British society. I’m not aware of any in Germany.

I’m praying for a miracle next Thursday. I find it hard to understand how anyone in their right mind, who seeks peace and justice for all, would vote Tory. Only a Labour government would seriously tackle inequality, negotiate a “soft” Brexit, and work together with other governments worldwide to build peace and combat climate change.

Given the electoral system in Britain, this doesn’t mean that you should necessarily vote Labour. You should use your vote to ensure, if possible, that your next MP is not a Tory. This means voting for the candidate of whichever party has the best chance of beating the Tory candidate. He/she may be Labour, Lib Dem, Green or SNP. The Guardian has published a tactical voting guide for those who live in constituencies where tactical voting could make all the difference. You may want to look at it.

But whatever you do, let the Spirit guide you!

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What sustains you?

Man must not depend on bread alone to sustain him, but on everything that the Lord says.

Deuteronomy 8:3

There is a power, a force for good – a “higher power”, if you like – which I choose to call God or the Spirit. This is what sustains me.

I encounter this power as the “fire within” or a “still, small voice” during a gathered Quaker meeting for worship, whenever I turn to God in prayer, during a walk in the countryside, whilst circle dancing, or during a deep and “meaningful” conversation with friends.

Two Quaker friends came to visit a few days ago. Neithard gave the annual Richard Cary Lecture at the German Quaker yearly meeting a couple of years ago. I missed hearing the lecture because I wasn’t at the yearly meeting. And I haven’t got around to reading it. I should do so, if I can lay my hands on a copy. Neithard reminded my wife and me of two stories which he told during the lecture.

I have heard one of the stories before. It goes something like this: A native American elder tells his grandson that it sometimes feels to him as if there were two wolves fighting inside him. One wolf is good and loving and the other is evil and hateful. His grandson anxiously asks which wolf wins. The elder tells him that the wolf whom he feeds wins the battle.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote: “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart.” We can each of us choose to feed the greedy, fearful and hateful wolf within us by dwelling on bitter and resentful thoughts. Or we can let go of those thoughts and feed the loving and caring wolf within us instead.

The other “story” was related to the question as to whether a glass is half-full or half-empty. I believe Neithard actually gave a demonstration during his lecture of what happens when the same amount of water is poured into three glasses: a large glass, a glass half the size and an even smaller glass. When the water is poured into the large glass, the glass is half-full (or half-empty). The same amount of water just about fills the medium sized glass. When poured into the smallest glass, the glass overflows.

It seems to me that our Western consumerist culture (which worships Mammon rather than the God of Abraham) encourages us to focus on what we are lacking, as if our lives were half-empty. I am more inclined to give thanks that my cup overflows!

It is all a question of perspective. People let us down all the time (usually unintentionally, I believe). We can choose to focus on their failure to be as loving towards us as we might have reason to expect. This is likely to lead us to the conclusion that the friends or colleagues who let us down don’t really like us. Or we can accept the human failings of our friends and colleagues without jumping to such conclusions.

I realise that it’s easy for me to say this, having been blessed with loving friends throughout most of my life. In the world of work – even within church organisations – colleagues can indeed be intentionally malicious. So I guess one has to be realistic and not wear rose-tinted spectacles too much of the time.

There is evil in the world. And we need to take up spiritual weapons to overcome it. So we need the sustenance which we gain from every encounter with the loving God, who will rule our hearts, if that is what we choose.

Loving our Enemies

Have you tried loving your enemies? It isn’t easy. An enemy is someone who hates you, makes you suffer, hurts you callously.

My natural reaction to someone who’s hurting me is to fight back or to run away – fight or flight. And my natural reaction to someone who hates me is to hate them back.

I’m usually – not always – able to curb my tendency to fight back. I am, after all, a pacifist, supposedly committed to nonviolence. It becomes difficult to live with myself, when I hurt someone deliberately. I also believe that when I hurt someone deliberately I do more damage to my own soul than I do to them.

The alternative is to flee, to run away – or walk away, to leave the room, to leave the relationship. But that is invariably also a form of violence.

There is another alternative, another way: to stand one’s ground as lovingly as one possibly can. We can only truly do this, if we are grounded in love. Otherwise, standing one’s ground can easily become another way of fighting back. If we are to stand our ground lovingly, we must love our enemies.

And the first step towards loving an enemy, is to refuse to hate them – even when they hate us – or seem to. In response to hatred we choose to love. We choose to do what seems to be impossible: to love an enemy and to do good to someone who’s hurting us.

Jesus did this, and if we’re serious about following Jesus we should do this too. Never mind how difficult or even impossible it may seem.

Love comes with practice.

Jean Goss had to practise love in a prisoner of war camp near Lübeck during the Second World War. He had killed a great many German soldiers when he and his comrades were holding the German army back whilst allied soldiers were being evacuated from Dunkirk. After he had been fighting non-stop for five days and nights, in the early hours of Easter Day, Jean experienced an epiphany. He saw that all the soldiers, Germans as well as French, had been created by God and were loved by God, and that God just wanted all these human beings to love each other and to be happy. That night Jean learnt that his mission was to pass this message on to all the human beings who were fighting each other.

Soon after this exhilarating encounter with God, Jean – along with many others – was captured. He spent more than three years in the POW camp near Lübeck. There he tried to love not only his fellow prisoners of war but also the German officers who ran the camp. He asked his fellow prisoners to tell him, whenever they observed that he wasn’t being loving. His loving actions in difficult situations got him into serious trouble more than once. In a POW camp, serious trouble meant that you could easily be killed.

In one of these difficult situations, after some discussion with a Marxist fellow prisoner, Jean decided to go to the camp commandant and tell him that he would take the blame for what was going wrong. The commandant cried out, “No, not you! Go away! You can’t do that!” and chose to take the responsibility upon himself. He was taken away by military police two days later.

Seven or eight other prisoners joined Jean in what he was doing – asking others to challenge them, if they weren’t being loving in a certain situation. This transformed the camp to such an extent that prisoners from other camps asked what was going on. Jean’s reply was: “We try to love, as Christ has loved us.”

Just staying out of things and doing nothing to alleviate suffering or put an end to injustice is not loving. Intervention is necessary. Jean took the risk of intervening in a serious conflict and very nearly lost his life. He was beaten, tortured, and sentenced to death. When he was about to be executed, Jean told the camp commandant that he felt joy at the prospect of being united with the God of love, and that this God also loved the camp commandant. As he was speaking to the commandant, Jean was able to love him with all his strength and from the bottom of his heart. The officer clearly sensed this. He laid his revolver aside and refused to carry out the execution.

Many years later, in 1985, Jean wrote to his wife, Hildegard (Goss-Mayr), about this episode:

“You know, before that I had tried to love the Germans, the officers who were running the camp. But it wasn’t until I was being beaten and tortured that I really began to love them. That released within me an incredible, a most extraordinary love. And, look! It was at that moment that I understood that it isn’t me who loves. It is HE, Jesus Christ, who loves in me!

“If this love is so strong that it can convert even a Nazi, an enemy, then, I said to myself, it is the truly revolutionary power which can make people and the world new again.”

Footnote: Jean Goss’ experiences as a soldier and prisoner of war are recounted by Hildegard Goss-Mayr in her book, “Wie Feinde Freunde Werden: Mein Leben mit Jean Goss für Gewaltlosigkeit, Gerechtigkeit und Versöhnung”, published by Verlag Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau, in 1996.

Who are we?

Does the picture which we paint of ourselves as Quakers actually reflect reality? I suspect that we often think more highly of ourselves than we have reason to. In reality we fall short both as individuals and as a faith community – just like everyone else. Reality is somewhat different from the rhetoric.

But let’s not beat ourselves up about that. We need to recognise our failings – as individuals and as meetings or worship groups, take care of those who have been hurt so that their wounds can heal, forgive ourselves and each other, learn whatever lessons need to be learned (i.e. repent), and do better (i.e. behave more lovingly) in the future.

But the question remains: Who are we?

Last Sunday evening, as three of us were travelling back from a regional meeting north of Duisburg, I asked myself, “Wer sind wir?” (Who are we?). It occurred to me that we might be tempted to exclaim, “Wir sind wer!” (We are Somebody!). Apart from the danger of over-estimating our own importance, we need to know who we are before we can start telling people about ourselves.

At this point I think it is significant to note that George Fox did not go about telling people how wonderful the Religious Society of Friends was. He encouraged/admonished people to turn to their Inward Teacher, the Inward Light of Christ within, to be patterns and examples, and that they would then “come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one”. And he encouraged people to meet together to open themselves to the Light within.

At the end of a blogpost entitled “Joy” posted on 21 June 2014 I reproduced a letter from another early Quaker, Isaac Pennington, to Friends in Amersham. We (Quakers) are fond of quoting the first couple of lines of this letter: “Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand”. I’ve heard Friends quote this because it has been their experience of the life of their meeting, for which they are thankful. On other occasions, when there has been conflict in a meeting, it has been quoted to remind Friends of the need to be tender with each other. Sadly, it is sometimes quoted to point out the lack of tenderness and a forgiving spirit in a meeting.

In his letter Isaac Pennington encouraged Friends in Amersham: “Oh! wait to feel this spirit, and to be guided to walk in this spirit, that ye may enjoy the Lord in sweetness, and walk sweetly, meekly, tenderly, peaceably, and lovingly one with another.” When I feel this spirit, I know that I myself am forgiven. And, knowing this, I’m able to forgive anyone who hurts me. Even when I don’t feel this spirit, I try to avoid laying accusations against anyone, however hurt I may be, because of the likelihood that I’m failing to see the beam in my own eye (Matthew 7.1-5). This needn’t stop me from letting it be known that I’ve been hurt – I find Nonviolent Communication (NVC) as taught by Marshall Rosenberg helpful in this respect. But I do try to avoid making hurtful accusations and to bear in mind that any accusation is likely to be hurtful.

When we are able to walk in the spirit of love and tenderness, the Religious Society of Friends becomes what it is meant to be: a faith community. The New Testament word is “koinonia”, often translated as “fellowship”. The Religious Society of Friends is (or should be, I believe) a very particular kind of faith community, i.e. a peace church, “ekklesia” in Greek. A true Christian church or ekklesia is necessarily a peace church, i.e. a faith community or koinonia which engages in peacemaking both internally and in the wider world. There are other criteria (debatable and debated amongst theologians) which need to be met for a faith community to be a true church or “ekklesia”, but active engagement in peacemaking seems to me to be crucial.

Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, describes what a peace church should be like:

“If then our common life in Christ (“koinonia”) yields anything to stir the heart, any loving consolation, any sharing of the Spirit, any warmth of affection or compassion, fill up my cup of happiness by thinking and feeling alike, with the same love for one another, the same turn of mind, and a common care for unity. There must be no room for rivalry and personal vanity among you, but you must humbly reckon others better than yourselves. Look to each other’s interest and not merely to your own.

Let your bearing towards one another arise out of your Life in Christ Jesus.”

(Philippians 2.1-5)

This is what I think we should aspire to.

We need, however, to beware of expecting too much from others in our faith community. Whilst we most certainly need to practise loving kindness towards each other in the spirit of love and tenderness, it is a mistake to attempt to do or expect others to do what only the Spirit can do for us. Isaac Pennington writes: “… watch one over another, in that which is gentle and tender, and knows it can neither preserve itself, nor help another out of the snare; but the Lord must be waited upon, to do this in and for us all.”

There are times when I fail to watch over my “brothers” and “sisters” as I should (for I am my brothers’ and my sisters’ keeper). I have to wait upon the Lord to preserve me and others from harm. And we all need to wait upon the Lord to help us out of the snare. When we wait upon the Lord and live in the spirit of love and tenderness, the Spirit will guide and strengthen us as we keep going on our spiritual journeys.

Hadewijch

As we were leaving our flat this morning, my wife and I stopped to admire our marriage certificate which is hanging in a frame just inside the door to the apartment. We were married in a Quaker meeting, so we have a custom-designed marriage certificate which was signed by all those who were present and witnessed our marriage. The certificate was created by Hadewijch Touwen who, from time to time, had sent us cards which she had made herself with colourful collages.

We recently received the very sad news that Hadewijch had died from heart failure. Today we attended a memorial meeting in Deventer in the Netherlands. This was a moving occasion with more than 300 people present. The large room at the crematorium was not big enough to hold us all. Many of us were standing and others had to watch and listen to the worship via a video link in a neighbouring room.

Fortunately the speeches which had been prepared by members of her family and by one of the Dutch Quakers were translated into English. And, although I understood little of what was said during the unprogrammed worship, my wife told me about it afterwards.

One of the Quakers recounted a dream which they had had about Hadewijch. They saw Hadewijch being welcomed at the gates of Heaven. Although she was invited in, she stopped and asked whether she could go to Hell instead, because she would be able to do more to help people there.

Her son, Ide, told us: “Her care and compassion were apparent in everything she did and this is what I admire most in her.”

I first got to know Hadewijch when she was a “student helper” at Woodbrooke Quaker study centre in Selly Oak, Birmingham, during the autumn term of 1980 when I was a student following Woodbrooke courses. I have vague memories of her wielding a paintbrush or working in the kitchen.

Hadewijch spent a whole year at Woodbrooke and became a Quaker by convincement. A few years later she become the first clerk of Europe and Middle East Young Friends (EMEYF). For the first six months of 1987 I served as secretary to EMEYF, which included participating in the spring gathering in Copenhagen. That summer Hadewijch and I shared the experience of a week at Taizé together with a small group of young Quakers from around Europe.

A couple of years later I had the privilege of attending Hadewijch’s and Martin’s wedding in Hamburg, which was, of course, a most joyful occasion.

Somewhere I have a photograph of Hadewijch and Martin which I took when they visited me in Laufdorf (north of Frankfurt-am-Main) fairly soon after I moved there in 1990.

We kept in touch intermittently and I occasionally met Martin at various Quaker gatherings. In 2012 both Martin and I were amongst the participants in the Friends World Conference in Kenya. After the gathering I needed somewhere to stay on my way to Brussels and Martin arranged with Hadewijch for me to stay at their house. Hadewijch made me feel very much at home and allowed me to use a computer to prepare the presentation that I had to give in Brussels.

Some time last year my wife and I were able to enjoy Hadewijch’s (and Martin’s) hospitality once again. And they both attended our wedding in Lancaster.

Little did we know that a year later Hadewijch would no longer be with us. Hadewijch was a good friend to us both and we are grateful that we have the beautiful marriage certificate which she created. As her son, Ide, said, “She will forever live in our memories.”

In an article in this week’s issue of the Friend Terry Hobday writes: “It is in acts of loving kindness and respect that our true colours are really seen.” Light shone through Hadewijch’s life in all the colours of the rainbow.

Ide said: “When she heard about refugees in the Netherlands who could not acquire citizenship because they couldn’t master the language, she started helping them by teaching Dutch to her ‘taalmaatje’. When she heard of an elderly person who, in her younger years, loved to crochet and knit, she provided her with wool and needles. When she heard about prisoners in Iraq who had not received a fair trial, she sent many Amnesty letters to their government until they had.

“When Hadewijch spoke to you, you would always feel her compassion. In a conversation she would always listen attentively to your story and give you the feeling of being heard. This made it very nice to speak to her, not only for me but also, I believe, for everyone else. Nevertheless, Hadewijch did have clear opinions herself. These often differed from my own. For example, my parents and I have very different attitudes to faith and religion. I treasure the kind of mother that Hadewijch was, a mother who did not want to impose her beliefs upon me, but taught me to form and argue my own opinions. I have always been able to have good discussions with her about any kind of subject because we have always respected each other’s opinions and were open to changing our own.”

Hadewijch’s brother, Jeroen, described Hadewijch as a “strong, loving and very stable person”. He said: “There is a sudden emptiness at a spot where we expect someone who is always loving, attentive, friendly, open and interested.”

Jeroen said that Hadewijch felt “safe … in her faith in God”. “She did not believe in an almighty God who determined her fate, but trusted a God of love to take her by the hand and not let go.”

Mon ȃme se repose en paix sur dieu seul.

De lui vien mon salut.

Oui sur dieu seul mon ȃme se repose, se repose en paix.

(from the songs of Taizé)

Witnessing to Peace in the 21st Century

“Working for Peace: Our peace testimony in the 21st century” was the theme of this year’s annual meeting of Dutch Quakers – Netherlands Yearly Meeting – which took place a few weeks ago. This subject is very dear to my heart, as is surely obvious to those of you who are familiar with my blog. Witnessing to peace is central to my understanding of what it means to be a Quaker.

Note that it is “witnessing to peace”, rather than “working for peace”, which I believe to be significant. As disciples of Jesus, we witness to the peace which God gives us. George Fox, the founder of the Quaker movement in the 17th century, told Cromwell’s commissioners that he “lived in the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars”. There is a life and power which is life-giving and life-supporting. This is a much better defence against all that threatens to damage or destroy us than any use of military force or violence would be.

When we live in the virtue of that life and power, our lives become a witness to God’s peace. We become peaceable people who have no need to resort to violence. Whenever we do violence to a fellow human being, we demonstrate a lack of faith in God.

Living in the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars, and following the leadings of God’s spirit of love, may well lead us to work for peace in various ways. But at all times we need to put our faith in God rather than in anything that we can do. As soon as we begin to trust our own judgement and to put our faith in our own actions, we risk making matters worse when we become engaged in conflict.

On the Saturday morning at Netherlands Yearly Meeting Antal (“Toni”) Frei, pastor of the Evangelical Friends Church in Hungary, reminded us of our calling to be peacemakers who are entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told those who had gathered to hear him: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God”.

Paul of Tarsus, in his second letter to the Christian community in Corinth (2 Corinthians 5:17-20), wrote: “Therefore, if someone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come. All this is the work of God. He has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation. It is God who through Christ reconciled the world to himself, he has not charged the world its violations. And he has committed to us the word of reconciliation. We are ambassadors for Christ, God makes his appeal through us. On behalf of Christ, we beg you, be reconciled to God!”

During the weekend we were reminded now and then of the prayer attributed to Francis of Assisi, which begins: “Make me an instrument of your peace.” I prefer the translation: “Make me a channel of your peace”. Maybe God uses us as instruments. I don’t know. But I find it more helpful to think of opening myself to God’s spirit of love, so that God’s peace can flow through me into whatever situation I find myself in, especially when I’m in a situation of conflict.

Each day during the weekend we met in small base groups. I’m grateful for the depth of sharing that I experienced in the group that I was in. When we introduced ourselves on Friday evening, we shared our experiences of being peacemakers. When we met after breakfast on Sunday morning, we shared our ideas about the next steps which we might take as peacemakers.

I noted down and shared a number of thoughts and ideas:

  • My first next step is to write a blog – as I’m doing now!
  • This week my wife and I are taking part in the German Protestant Kirchentag (church gathering) in Stuttgart.
  • I’m going to look out for “The Gentle Art of Blessing” by someone-or-other Pradervand, a book which was recommended to us by a member of our base group.
  • During the coming months I want to do what I can to facilitate a smooth transition during a changeover of staff at the Quaker Council for European Affairs, where I work.
  • I am planning to move house within the next couple of months, in which case I shall want to support the peace work of Quakers there and play a more active part in the life of the Laurentiuskonvent, an ecumenical community committed to working for justice, peace, and the integrity of creation.
  • I will continue to translate articles for Church and Peace, the European peace church network.
  • And as background or context for my peacemaking activities I will take the Charter for Compassion, a multifaith commitment to compassion as the basis for all our actions.

Wish me luck! – or rather God’s blessing.

Living Water

“Come forward, you who are thirsty;
accept the water of life, a free gift to all who desire it.”
(Revelation 22:17)

I don’t always pay a lot of attention to my dreams. But I do pay attention to those which seem to carry a significant message. Such dreams have been quite rare recently, but this morning I was gifted with three of them.

In the first dream, which was perhaps the most significant, I found myself in a large cave. There was plenty of light, so I guess the cave must have been open to the daylight above. There wasn’t quite so much light at the bottom of the cave, but enough for me to use a spade to clear some earth away. As I removed the earth I discovered an old well, with the hole covered by a grating. A little way down I could dimly see the water.

Deep within each of us is a well of living water, a source of spiritual strength, on which we can draw whenever we need to. Too often this source of strength gets blocked up by the cares and worries of daily life. And it may even be forgotten, if we don’t take time to go into the cave regularly, i.e. to find time and space for spiritual reflection.

I need to be drawing on this internal source of spiritual strength on a daily basis. I try to do this by reading from a source (or sources) of spiritual wisdom. At the moment I’m reading Henri Nouwen’s “Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith”. Here are a couple of sentences from the reading for 29 February: “Jesus came…to help us overcome our fear of God. … As long as we are afraid of God, we cannot love God. … The greatest block in the spiritual life is fear. … God is perfect love, and as John the Evangelist writes, ‘Perfect love drives out fear’ (1 John 4:18). Jesus’ central message is that God loves us with an unconditional love….”

For many years I used to read the Losungen published by the Moravian church: selected Bible verses and a short quotation, often a verse from a hymn, for each day of the year. These readings often carry a simple but profound message and are a source of inspiration and food for reflection at the start of the day. The Bible verses for today (1 March 2015) are Psalm 36.5, “Thy unfailing love, O Lord, reaches to heaven, thy faithfulness to the skies.” and Romans 8:35, “What can separate us from the love of Christ?”

The love of Christ is a never-failing spring.

In my second dream I found myself in the communal house of the Laurentiuskonvent in Laufdorf in central Hesse, where I lived from 1990 to 2001. I was with a fairly large group of people on the ground floor. We were on our way up to the chapel at the top of the house. For some reason I had to wear red (unlike everyone else). I was offered a red jacket with a white fringe, but it looked like a mini cloak for Father Christmas, so I chose to wear a red pullover instead. I’m not sure about the significance of the colour red, but it occurs to me that it means both danger, something to be afraid of, and – in the shape of a heart – love. In the context of my dream, it was undoubtedly to do with love. We were on our way to worship and there was no fear in my heart. Worship is about love and joy and peace. We should go to worship with love in our hearts.

In my third dream I was in a workshop of some kind. Or it could have been an old laboratory of an amateur chemist, because in a large drawer in an old bench I found a bag full of small bottles and glass retorts of various kinds, complete with their stoppers. I was thinking that I should take them all to the bottle bank, although that would mean having to remove all the stoppers and rinsing everything out. A young colleague advised against doing this, because the bottles and retorts were likely to contain poisonous chemicals. But I didn’t want to leave them all festering in the drawer.

I guess the poisonous chemicals in the bottles and retorts represent bitterness, guilt, anger, resentment: residues from past events and relationships. I reckon they need to be washed out with living water, so that my heart may become pure – pure love. I don’t imagine that I will ever be able to love unconditionally, as Jesus did and as God does, but that is what I aim for, as a disciple of Christ.

Oh, dear! All this sounds rather pious! One step away from being self-righteous, which is about as far away from being loving as one can get. I’m reminded once again of this quotation from Thomas Merton (in New Seeds of Contemplation):

“The saints are what they are, not because their sanctity makes them admirable to others, but because the gift of sainthood makes it possible for them to admire everybody else. It gives them a clarity of compassion that can find good in the most terrible criminals. It delivers them from the burden of judging others, condemning others. It teaches them to bring the good out of others by compassion, mercy and pardon. We become saints not by conviction that we are better than sinners but by the realization that we are one of them, and that all together we need the mercy of God.”

We all need to draw regularly from the well of living water.