Lenses

Orion Nebula

“Religion is a matter of diet. You must choose what suits your spiritual digestion, I suppose.”

Naomi Jacob, ‘Four Generations’.

Growing up, I loved the stories that Naomi Jacob wrote about the Gollantz family. I am not Jewish, though some of my forefathers were. Reading Jacob’s books gave me an insight into part of my own family’s culture and recent history. One passage has come to mind a lot lately. Emmanuel, the lead character, is struggling to come to terms with pain and loss. Hannah Rosenfeldt, an old friend, tells him that he must learn to say, ‘The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord’. Emmanuel cannot bring himself to say the second part, as he cannot bless a God who allows tragedy to happen. I was way too young to fully understand the stories, but this particular dialogue stuck, as some things do. There was an awful lot in that short passage and it reminds of a similar conversation with my grandfather.
I asked him why… how could the loving Father of whom we were taught in Sunday School permit so many horrible things to happen? It is a question most of us have asked. My grandfather was not a religious man, though he had a belief in the sentience of a Divine Light. These days, many would say he was ‘spiritual, not religious’. Even that would not be the entire truth, for he had walked some dark paths and his convictions were hard won. ‘Religion is a matter of diet. You must choose what suits your spiritual digestion…’ . He had tasted and had chosen. I was allowed to grow up with the same freedom, with an incredible cross-section of knowledge and experience from which to draw the raw ingredients of my own diet.
It was my grandfather who gave me the first hint of understanding… that we are too close to events in this human life to be able to see what purpose may be served by them. But that there is purpose, he was sure of. That hint came when he gave me my first microscope.
Mouse cells
Mouse cells
Looking through the eyepiece I found a strange world opening before me… blood cells, plant cells, the scales of the human hair, an insect’s wing. Peering at this magical world through the lens was a wonderful experience for a child… yet I realised there was no way for me to identify what I was seeing unless I already knew all their patterns and learned to understand them. I could see they were cells, but I was looking far too closely to see what they were part of. I could see them, but had no idea what they made.
Then Grandad built a telescope. A big one, with a lens the size of a dinner plate that he ground himself on a pedestal in his study. I remember it well; the black squared surface of the plinth, the pots of jewellers rouge, the steady motion that polished the glass…and while he worked he told me stories of gods and giants, of the fae and the otherworlds and the stories of the stars. He told me of radio waves… he had been a wireless operator in the army… and built me a Wimshurst machine to teach me about electricity. He showed me, from both the scientific and spiritual perspectives, how it was possible for different forms of matter and energy to occupy the same space. I had a fantastic education and did not know then just how lucky I was!
Wimshurst machine
Wimshurst machine
 
When the telescope was finished the whole affair was huge. Somewhere there is a picture of me standing with it… a great metal structure that captured the heavens for me to see. When elevated, it was much taller than me. We projected the sun’s image onto card; it was too bright to look at directly… and that was a lesson in itself. Some things are beyond the compass of our senses. We see only the effect, not the source. I saw the landscape of the moon and watched the stars wheel across the heavens, learning that much of what we saw through the lens was a past millennia old. Andromeda is 2.5 million light years away… the light we could see was that old. It had taken that long to reach us, so we were looking at the past! Yet time just was… wasn’t it?
Tycho supernova
Tycho supernova
 
It was odd too how similar the view through the two lenses were… microscope and telescope. How could we know that the heavens themselves were not simply the cells of a greater being we were too small to see? Something whose pattern we were too small to understand?
Then there was a time of loss, and that phrase I had learned stayed with me… The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away… Blessed be the name of the Lord. By this time my spiritual diet no longer included the confining thought of the orthodox Christianity we were taught at Sunday School, but the certainty of the One, by whatever name It is known, remained unshaken and unshakable.
I began to wonder if the lens through which I looked at events in my grief was too close? Or its purpose to big, too far away from my understanding? Was there some pattern that I was simply unable to see through the myopic vision of human eyes? Yet I do not believe that each step of our lives is foreordainedI believe in free will…in the gift of being able to choose our paths, gain understanding or make mistakes, learning from the experience of living. That makes a Divine Plan a little hard to reconcile at first glance. How can we have the freedom to choose and yet believe there is a Purpose to the events and circumstances of this life we live?
We need to step further back… away from our involvement with the heartaches of the mundane world and see from a different perspective. This conviction has grown over the decades as, from the hardest, the worst and most painful events of life I have seen much beauty unfold. From the loss or surrender of things to which I have clung, allowing them to define me by their habitual presence, I have found new directions, new doors opening before me. And I have watched this unfolding, this flowering of possibility, in others too.
Helix Nebula
Helix Nebula
We all face the heartaches and trials of life every day and we often do not understand the ‘why’. When we are facing that unscalable mountain that blocks our path, makes us change course and curse under our breath, how can we know it does not protect us from a lifeless desert or a valley of wild beasts? We can never know for sure, but we can learn how to plan a better route and to understand the landscape in which we find ourselves.
It is impossible to trace the beginning of a series of events with our ‘what ifs’…really trace them back to cause and effect. There is always another ‘what if’ even further from the moment. Nor can we see into a future unknown and know what will come of any given event. Events cascade, creating a domino effect of circumstance and possibility that disappears beyond the borders of our imagination into the unseen millennia to come.
Only a being vast enough to bring the lens to the right focus on time and space would be able to see the beginning and the end of the existence we know… and it would have to know our pattern, like that of the cells under the microscope, and understand what we are in order to see what we form as a whole.
Such a being we could only conceive of as god-like and as such infinite. Yet infinity means there are no boundaries, no borders… no alpha and omega, it would itself be both beginning and end, and yet endless. And if it is endless and All, then we and all we know must be of It. And perhaps It knows the Purpose in ways we cannot imagine.
Horsehead nebula
Horsehead nebula

An Unseen Presence…

File:Jacob and the Angel, by Gustave Moreau, detail, 1874-1878 ...

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There are other sections in the Book of Genesis

which may be pertinent to our survey of St Michael…

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… ‘Left alone at night, Jacob was attacked by an unseen presence

which wrestled with him until day-break, whereupon his adversary cried,

“Desist, for the dawn is here!”

“Are you then a bandit, that you fear the dawn?” asked Jacob.

“At this time, we angels must sing dawn’s praises!”

“I will not desist until you bless me,” said Jacob.

“What is your name?” asked the angel and when Jacob answered, he continued,

“From this time on you shall be called Israel, for you have struggled

against me without succumbing and fire should guard fire.”‘

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Candidates for Jacob’s adversary include Michael, Gabriel and Samael,

although Gabriel’s water associations might count against him.

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Traditionally, Michael is associated with fire, but it is not

altogether clear why, unless he was originally conceived as

one of the ‘Cherubim with whirling limbs of flame’ which guards Eden?

It is difficult to shake the notion that this phrase

is a ‘poetic-kenning’ for the sun.

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Eden, in this mythology, is envisioned as a heavenly realm

filled with brightly jewelled trees which could easily be

indicative of a ‘solar interior’?

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In magical tradition, Michael is Regent of the South Quarter

 in some temples and when there he represents the Cardinal Point of fire,

which is, in all probability, another veiled reference to the sun.

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If Samael can be equated with Lucifer, head of the Seraphim,

he too would qualify, albeit his fire

consists in white flames not yellow, orange, or red,

which points to astral rather than solar origins,

‘the star behind the sun?’

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Precise angelic attributions are a source of continual contention,

and the ninefold ‘Hierarchy of Angels’ provided by

Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite

does little, if anything, to alleviate such debates.

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Hebrew scholars regarded Lucifer, as Cherub and Archangel

and made him a ‘son of the dawn’!

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Jacob’s new, angelically given, name, Israel, means

‘the gods strive against those who oppose you.’

 

A Gnostic Chapter?…

Ancient of Days, William Blake

Left Hand Paths?

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… The concluding sections of Chapter Twelve are by far its weakest.

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In them much of the previous story is restated in far greater detail.

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The woman is given eagle wings with which to evade the ‘serpent’

and bring her to a place beyond it’s sight where she may safely feed?

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There is though some ambiguity here which rests on an

interpretation of the phrase ‘…from the serpent’s face’.

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Serpents ‘see’ via the vibrations carried on air waves,

and can hypnotise prey, with their gaze, before striking…

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The biblical flood is then unleashed by the ‘serpent’

but the Earth comes to the woman’s rescue

by swallowing the flood waters.

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If earlier sections have blurred the distinction between St Michael and Christ,

then this episode surely does the same for God and the Devil?

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The rest of time is to be played out with the ‘serpent’ persecuting

the remnants of the woman’s seed that have survived the flood…

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None of which accords particularly well with previous scripture,

although Moses is given ‘eagle’s pinions’ at one stage

in order to get him to where he needs to be!

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The chapter, taken as a whole, has a distinctly Gnostic aspect to it

with the Earth populated merely by

heaven’s discarded remnants,

and overseen by a wrathful demiurge railing against time.

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The time-phrase riddle for the ‘New Dispenation’,

resolves itself into a designation of the mystery woman

as Venus, the Pagan Goddess of Love,

which in the light of much that has transpired

in the last millenium makes a lot more sense than most other solutions –

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Of the ‘half-time’ planetary beings only the Moon and Venus

are conceived as Feminine and as the woman symbolically

‘stands-on-the-moon’ she cannot be the moon.

There are also some very persuasive

astronomical reasons for this designation…

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– The only way out of the nightmare is by death or, as St Michael proclaims,

by ‘the blood of the Lamb,’ and by the ‘word of testimony’,

which is, perhaps, not the clearest of ‘road maps’ for people to follow…

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Heaven by design, Earth by default,

has ever been the cry of those irrevocably lost at heart.

 

‘Heaven’s loud voice?’ …

Blake’s Angel neatly encapsulates aspects of the Books of Daniel and Revelation.

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… “Now is come salvation and strength, and the kingdom of our God,

and the power of Christ: for the accuser of our brothers is cast down,

which accused them day and night…

Therefore rejoice you heavens and you that dwell in them.

Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and of the sea!

For the devil is come down to you, having greath wrath

because he knows that he has but a short time.”

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Are we to conclude that this is the voice of St Michael?

I think we are meant to.

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We may wonder after the inhabitants

of the earth and sea on the third day of creation?

And Christ’s participation at this early stage?

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The argument, presumably, would be that as the heavenly realms

are beyond time, they include all time, and the passages

we have considered so far are certainly consistent with this theme.

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Strength in relation to St Michael we already know about.

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Salvation is a lifting of veils, or scales, from the eyes:

an awakening into that living realisation which alone grants freedom.

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If some of the traditional attributes of Christ seem to fit Michael,

like casting out devils, then some of the traditional

attributes of Michael can also be seen to fit the Christ.

 

A clear draught

reservoirs 050

I came across an old photo quite by chance, putting things away in the loft. It set me off thinking, as such things do. In the picture my late partner is holding a coffee cup… You can’t see it, but I know precisely what it looked like all those years ago. White with a blue rim and dots, with three tiny flowers, red, yellow and blue.

I remember it because it meant something. Not in itself, of course, but because of circumstance. When he died I had just made his morning coffee. There was a moment when it was all ‘over’, when the ambulance men had left and I waited for the undertaker, and I picked up the cup, still bearing the last traces of warmth, and I finally wept.

I used that cup for a long time afterwards… just me… even when it was chipped and the handle dangerously cracked. I used it till I didn’t need to… then it went in the cupboard. It stayed there until I didn’t need it to be there anymore. It took a while.

Why? Because it had held more than coffee for me and it had become a symbol of something more than its physical form.

As I drove into town, I got to thinking…

We can be picky about cups and glasses, those vessels which seem to epitomise that which they hold. Champagne… a rarity, of course… I like to drink from a flute, red wine from a deep bellied glass. Tea must come in a china cup with a saucer… or a big mug filled with a deep mahogany brew.  Coffee, to be fair, can be administered through an IV drip for all I care… but my preference is for the tiny cups of espresso.

There is a reason beyond habit for these things. Champagne really does taste better in a flute… honestly, there have been scientific analyses done to prove it… something to do with the way the gas bubbles collect in the glass. The same for red wine, though more to do with the warmth of the hand that holds the bowl. Tea ? Let’s not go there… I’m a Yorkshire lass… it isn’t up for discussion.

I do wonder though if the vessel holds expectation just as much as liquid. We see the shining silver and porcelain of a tea-room and expect good tea… A tiny cup and a pavement café in Paris are synonymous with that certain je ne sais quoi. The misted surface of a cold glass of beer simply invites thoughts of a hot summer’s day… We see and expect even before we taste.

sheff 166

Yet, if we are thirsty, truly thirsty, do we care about the vessel that holds the water? The vessel merely contains, so that what is held within may be moved from source to lip, it gives the water shape… may even seem to colour it… but what lies within the vessel is still water.  Do we need crystal glasses or fashionable plastic bottles? A cracked mug, a paper cup, our hands… or even, perhaps especially, just plunging our face into a mountain stream  and drinking from the earth. All will serve, for it is not the vessel that counts, but what it holds. To those whose thirst is urgent and visceral even a muddied puddle holds salvation.

In many of the Sufi poems we ourselves are likened to vessels shaped by the Hand of the Potter. It does not matter if, as Khayyam wrote, the Hand shook in the making, nor if  the vessel has been chipped and cracked by usage. It matters little if it thinks itself fit for champagne, comfortable enough for tea, or as holy as a chalice… it is filled with what is needed to quench the thirst of the one who drinks. The pot has no say in the matter. It is filled by another Hand.

When we are seeking the clear water of inner truth we can find it in many unexpected and unlikely places and the expectations we have for the vessel may not reflect what it holds. The draught in the chalice may be wine or bitter herbs, the clay bowl hold pure water, we cannot know until we raise it to our lips and taste what lies within.

light 007

Questions

2 slide

What are the most important human characteristics?

Love, kindness, joy, honesty, integrity, compassion?

Who are we, why are we here, what is the Purpose of all this… and what do we do with it?

We have questions…we all do.

We seek a path through life that allows us to find our own answers, a path that makes sense of the universe and our place within it. A path that takes us beyond the bounds imposed by our three dimensional reality and the daily necessity through which we move towards a ‘something’ we sense may lie just beyond our vision. We may not know what that ‘something’ is, but we know enough to realise there are gaps in our knowledge and in our understanding …and we begin to wonder.

Ultimately, it is said, that whatever belief, faith or reasoning calls us the path we choose must be walked alone. Yet how do we define ‘alone’? Conscience, that intangible presence, is a guide and constant companion we are all familiar with. What is its source? The conditioning of our upbringing and culture can explain the majority, but occasionally we simply ‘know’ in a way that seems to go beyond what we have learned. Perhaps there is a deeper level of being than we are aware of on a daily basis?

There may come a time when we reach a turning point, a moment when we become conscious of a need to set our feet actively on a path that leads towards a greater awareness. There are many such paths to choose from and no one is better than another; all are right for those who choose to walk them with a whole heart. Like spokes on a wheel, they may begin at different points and take different directions, but the goal, that central point, is the same. All paths, spiritual, humanist or religious seek a spark of inner Light, and whether we think of that as Spirit, Divinity or simply as the highest aspects of human consciousness, our quest must begin in the same place… within ourselves.

This is where we begin in the Silent Eye.

Menorah?…

Hanukkah Menorah Jewish Judaica Israel Vintage Brass Chanukah ...

Menorah as Chalice

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… The Book of Revelation can be described

as a book of arcane symbolism.

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It seems to me astonishing that such a work should have been

accepted into the recommended canon when so many

other far less controversial texts are regarded as apocryphal –

this word which now has connotations of spuriousness or falsity

is derived from the Greek word for ‘hidden’ –

Apocryphal works, then, can be regarded

as those books which possess hidden wisdom.

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It will be useful to consider the opening few paragraphs

of Revelation and compare them to Daniel’s vision of Michael

which we looked at in earlier posts

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“It was on the island of Patmos.

I was meditating on the seventh day

when I heard behind me a voice as of many waters,

“I am the beginning and end, first and the last.”

I turned to see who it was that spoke,

and I saw a figure resembling the Son of Man.

He was standing in the middle of seven golden candlesticks.

His beard and his hair were like white wool.

His eyes were flames of fire.

His countenance was bright, as the sun when it shines at its height.

He was clothed in a long white robe.

About his breast went a golden girdle.

In his right hand he held seven stars.

His words rang out of his mouth clearly

with the poignancy of a double-edged sword:

“I am he that lives and was dead.

I possess the keys to death and hell.

I shall live forever more.”

I fell down at his feet and they were like fine-brass forged in a furnace.

He laid his hands upon me, “You must write down all you see in a book,

and send it to the Seven Churches of Asia.

Let all the churches know that I am he who searches

the reins of the heart and gives to every one, according to their works.

Tell them to remember from whence they have fallen,

to return to their first love lest I come upon them like a thief

and remove their candlestick from its place,

thus speaks the ‘Amen’: ‘I know your works, I know that you have a name,

I know that you live, and yet, you are as the dead!'”

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It might be difficult for St Michael to be described as the,

‘one who is living but was dead’, but

he could certainly lay claim to being regarded as

‘the first and the last’ and also as possessing,

‘the keys to death and hell’…

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In the Book of Daniel, we may recall,

St Michael was described as a Great Prince,

as a Chief Prince, and as Daniel’s Prince.

‘War in Heaven’…

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… We have to wait until the final book of the ‘New Dispensation’ before we

encounter a Dragon.

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“And there was war in heaven:

Michael and his angels fought against the dragon…”

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The Dragon in question, though, is red and, “… has seven heads,

and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads…”

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This being the Book of Revelation we may well wonder about the symbolism…

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Unusually for this text we do not have to wonder for very long for we are told,

“… and the Great Dragon was cast out, that old serpent called the Devil, and Satan…

he was cast out into the earth and his angels were cast out with him.”

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At which point we realise that although the book purportedly deals with ‘last things’,

this particular vision has to do with ‘first things’, the Third Day of Creation to be precise,

and the expulsion from Heaven of Lucifer and the Fallen Angels…

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Why this Dragon should have seven heads is an interesting question made all the

more interesting by the fact that few if any of the depictions of St Michael

show him in combat with a seven headed Dragon or accompanied by any other angels!

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Also worth consideration is the attempt to visualise ten horns on seven heads…

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It can be done thus: the two ‘end-heads’ and the ‘central-head’ have two horns each,

and the other four heads have only one horn each.

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In this context the phrase, ‘for a time, times and half-a-time,’

which was first brought to our attention

in the Book of Daniel, and is again utilised

later in this Chapter of Revelation, springs to mind.

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It is possible that the Seven Headed Dragon is a symbol of time.

Satan is earlier described as the one, “…which deceives the whole world.”

A description which could also serve for time…

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The Creation, in this schemata, takes seven days to complete,

and seven is the basis for a number of natural rhythms and cosmic cycles,

and is the symbolic number used throughout the text of Revelation…

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Obviously, we still, in some part, retain this rhythm by following a seven day week.

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For the ‘Old Dispensation’, Friday, Saturday and Tuesday,

which is Venus, Saturn and Mars would represent, ‘times’,

whilst Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday,

that is, Sun, Moon, Mercury and Jupiter would be, ‘half-times’.

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And for the ‘New Dispensation’, Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday,

and their corresponding Planetary Cycles would be considered, ‘times’,

whilst Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and their

corresponding Planetary Cycles would be the ‘half-times’.

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But does any of this really matter?

Over such things, traditionally, are wars fought and countless lives lost…

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With regard to this particular stained glass window we might wonder

why Michael needs to be armoured, with a hand resting on the

pommel of his sword, in order to weigh

the souls of the dead?

 

A question of choice

I have been thinking a lot lately…there is more than enough time for that at the moment. Not that a mind often stops. It sleeps occasionally, though even dreams may keep it busy. Sometimes it feels as if conscious thought goes into abeyance and I stand back and watch another me, one who knows something that I do not. A bigger me. Not, as my sons would gleefully tell you given my mere five foot that this is a difficult thing.

Many writers recount how their characters write the book and they, as authors, simply take down the words as dictation. I can verify this for I have felt it myself, learning to know and love my creations as they create themselves. All the writer does then, is set the scene and give them a form to inhabit. The characters seem to write the rest for themselves and the writer taps away at the keyboard, watching and waiting to see how the story unfolds and frequently being taken by surprise.

It is a curious feeling and one that has made me wonder whether this is how deity feels, fondly watching us play out our stories upon the backdrop of life, waiting to see what we will do with the opportunities we are given. For they are opportunities, each and every challenge with which we are faced. Some of them are bigger than others, some pass almost unnoticed, but we meet them every day.

The big ones, those that affect our lives, inwardly or outwardly, are the ones we remember. They are the heartaches and grief, the fears and loss, even the joys. For they all carry choice as part of their gift. Even when we are faced with a seemingly choice-less situation, we still have the ability to decide how we act or react, how we learn, what we carry away from the moment.

I’m not even sure that the choices themselves matter. It is what impels them that counts. Too often we merely react, thinking we have chosen, when in fact we are the victim of our own conditioned responses and we stumble through life unconscious of the fact that we are not fully aware of our own selves. But choice is a precious thing. We won’t always get it right… sometimes there is no right. We will inevitably make mistakes, but that is okay. We can learn from those too. Every single second presents us with the wonder that is choice. And each choice we make will change our world in a very real way.

Have you considered that we are the authors of our own reality based upon how we face each moment. We can change our worlds with a single thought, a shift in perception, a change of heart. We can hurt and cause pain by simply reacting in anger or frustration, or we can share joy and comfort, choosing to look beyond the surface of the moment to see what lies beneath.

When we do make these choices consciously, we do not do so with the mind alone.

There is a stream of thought that sees manifest reality as the ultimate expression of divinity, by whatever Name we call It. If this is so then we are not separated from the Divine, aspiring to be worthy of Its love, but both we and the world in which we live are an inherent part of It… and expression of It’s Self.

We may choose for good or ill, each choice will carry consequences and bring further choices, to be conscious of our choices or to allow ourselves to react. But the simple fact that we have this gift is also an expression of the perfect design of the One. Made in awareness, our choices will reflect that and we can touch something finer within ourselves than we would normally see in our everyday lives. We do not do it often, but when we do, we Know.