Homosexuality?

Not surprisingly, a number of C of E bishops at their recent Conference refused to receive communion at the opening service on the Sunday, since same-sex-partnered bishops and those who ordained bishops in same-sex relationships were present. We can understand that.
But, I think there are things to consider.

First of all we must remember that God’s choice for human beings creates a basis for avoiding misbehaviors. But we know that human beings were developed through evolution. Without our complementary sexual organs there would have been no human race. But, should we take into account that a number of people have strong homosexual desires and, perhaps, dislike ‘orthodox’ sexuality?

Of course there are some concerning aspects. While I, personally, am not drawn towards homosexual activity, are we entitled to respect only those who are not homosexual? We suspect that homosexual behavior is potentially damaging to society since it leads to multiple partners and the dangers of spreading medical conditions. But might we support homosexual ‘marriages’ on the grounds that it is likely to reduce this effect?

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Roe v. Wade

You will probably be aware that, in the US, Roe v.Wade , which generally protected a pregnant woman’s liberty to choose to have an abortion, is now abandoned. In the future, the rules are fixed by each State — and, currently, they are various. The complications may now be different from one State to another. A big, and practical, confusion.
Long term readers of this Blog will doubtless be aware that I believe that the child in the womb has the right to be develop quite simply as a human being — and will continue this process — developing throughout life just as you and I do. That would include its growth — just as we at our great ages continue to develop, and will do so until normal death. The only exception might be the baby who, left in the womb, would itself die and perhaps threaten the life of its mother.
But I expect that some readers will disrespect this view — claiming that the mother is entitled to control her biology, and, so permitted, to undertake abortion as required. Let’s talk about it.

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The older the better?

How do older people think about life? Perhaps I ought to know since I am in my late eighties. Before this stage, I accepted that one day I would die. But the possibility was remote. Now — although I seem to be in good physical order — I accept that death may come at anytime. As a Catholic throughout, I accepted the beliefs and the commandments but now I find myself more critical in my views.

The Ten Commandments we are told are related to the nature of human beings, just as the Almighty created us. We can see without difficulty the damage brought about by our failure to accept them among human beings — their welfare and development through breeding.

I was taught that human nature was created by God, and so the commandments are from him. To which I remind myself that the process was indirect since it operated through evolution. That is, if human beings, as a group, follow the commandments they will have successful lives and the capacity to breed children to provide the next generation.

But over the last 2000 years the situation has changed. Our modern capacities to have, and to bring up, our children are much more effective. Since the relation of a married couple is broadly necessary for their maturing children, regular sexual contact it important. This looks like a need to control the rate of conception — through the use of artificial contraception. But we should remember here that the average desirable children per fertile female is 2.1. In modern countries this tends in practice not to be reached.

Homosexuality is also a potential factor. The main problem here is the the spread of disease through a potentially wide range of partners. Should we encourage ‘marriage’ rather than miscellany? Perhaps this would reduce the likelihood of extended disease.

Naturally, I do not know the regular readers of this blog, although I suspect they are rarely young. If you are a Catholic, have you, like me, developed your understanding of the Christian Church I think we would all value your views.

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Marriage Realities

What do you know about marriage?

How much do you know about marriage? I put that question to all those who think about getting married or are married or who need to know about marriage (for example, clerics hearing Confessions)
Of course we all have our own ideas — discovered through our experience. And through our friends. How do we choose a partner? The qualties we need to recognise the right person? How to cope with difficulties and differences? and so on, and so on, and so on. Naturally we begin to find the answers — from our own experience, and from the experiences of our friends or parents. I could claim a strong position not only because of a 60 year marriage and, currently, twenty seven children, grandchildren and great grand children.
But even that is not enough: I still need to see professional studies which show the measured effects of choices and situations in marriages. Try the marriage foundation. You may be surprised.

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Church of England v. Church of Rome

My message today is brief because I’ve cheated. I want to refer you to a splendid, brief, description of the pillaging and plundering of the English monasteries. (https://www.crisismagazine.com/2022/the-pillaging-and-plundering-of-the-english-monasteries)
Of course we all have the general story but perhaps you will find (as I did) this is an excellent account. It is quite clear that the Reformation was not related to doctrine but strongly about power. I have to say that I am glad not to be a member of the Church of England. But then, of course, I have to accept that the Church of Rome had, and has, elements we might like to change. What do you think?

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Who needs our help?

The newspapers, the radio and the television continue to give us detailed cover of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine. So we know it in detail. But what do we learn?

Indirectly, we are able to look at our own society and, while being aware that nothing is perfect, we are able to applaud western, democratic societies. We are free, we have our basic rights, and we are entitled to hold the views we choose. I wouldn’t like to be a Russian. For people of my age, and older, there is the memory of 1939 when Germany, under Hitler, drove us into major war. But even then we did not have the danger of nuclear weapons which threaten all human beings in the world. You don’t need to know my view of Putin, because you share it. If we can do little to change the situation, we can at least play a part in looking after Ukrainian families who need our help. And we can pray

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Is the Church simply wrong?

A big advantage for ‘born’ Catholics like me is that the Church is very clear on its statements of doctrine and morality. Yet I find today that it is not invariably helpful. I read that a priest in the US has for many years failed to baptise his flock. How come?

Apparently, he used the phrase “We baptise you” rather than “I baptise you” And he has been told, by his bishop, that all the baptisms have been failures because only Christ who baptises, not the community. Why would a priest ever think that the force of baptism comes either from himself or from the community? That force can come only from Christ. Are we to suppose that all the people he baptised, and have died, are now in Limbo for ever — rather than in Heaven?

I have always had some concern over the concept of Limbo. I don’t know how many human beings have lived and died over thousands of years without the opportunity of baptism. Frankly, I find it difficult to believe that all these millions, not just babies, have basically missed their relationship with God. I am inclined to have to choose between God in this matter, or the Church in its wish to protect its apparent iniquities.

What do you think?

https://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/tea/news/world/priest-uses-wrong-word-in-baptism-for-26-years-3718466

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Who is right about abortion?

What is a human being? What are its capacities that make it so? This of course has a potential implication in the matter of abortion. Nowadays in different countries, or in the US States, different views apply. Some take the view that humanity happens at conception, others choose the time at which the heart starts to beat, and others take it to be at birth.

I, as a born Catholic, find it straightforward: from the moment of conception, there is a living entity created by the Almighty — a human being who will continue to the end of life (and thereafter). But, if I had no religious beliefs, how would  I argue?

Perhaps, I would hold that all the human characteristics, such as free will, morality and love, are the outcome of evolution. They give us the facilities for benefitting the human race which, as a result, grows and spreads through its control for existence.  Yes, it is necessary, for our race, to protect the choices of human beings throughout life. But there is no reason why a baby in the womb should grow to birth against the wishes of its mother.

This leads me to understand why many people, who do not share my religious beliefs, accept the use of abortion as a benefit in a wide range of circumstances.

So, how would you argue against abortion without a reference to God or to religious teaching?

x   x   x

Discussion examining when a baby in the womb become a human being. https://geneticliteracyproject.org/2022/01/21/determining-when-life-biologically-begins-is-too-fuzzy-to-give-clarity-to-the-abortion-debate/?mc_cid=2d6fd207d5&mc_eid=877633983d

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What poetry?

I have spent some time recently thinking about the nature and effects of poetry — as compared with normal prose. I had a sense that I had written something about it. Then I remembered: I had discussed this with you a number of years ago. Re-reading it, I was happy and what I had said — and delighted by the comments and favourite poems you have valued. So I thought we might have another look:

“Perhaps no person can be a poet, or can even enjoy poetry, without a certain unsoundness of mind.” said Lord Macaulay. He was right. The sound mind is concerned with common-sense, logic, empirical facts and calculated probabilities. It has no truck with wandering imagination, insights, feelings and the perception of truths which are glimpsed but not captured. The essential quality of poetry is to take us through the physical into the metaphysical by the use of the word.

We might make the same claim mutatis mutandis of all the arts – which are often the only contact with the spiritual that the modern man can bear. But poetry is the most immediate and the most accessible; it does not need an orchestra or an easel – a scrap of paper and a pencil stub will do.

Ultimately poetry has no rules. It stretches the use of language to its limits. Rhyme, half rhyme, rhythm and metre, neologism; alliteration, onomatopoeia, and line shape can all play their part. Of course there are fads. Some will claim that blank verse, often seen today, is not poetry, but both Milton and Dryden cursed the “modern bondage of rhyming” which interfered with purity of expression. In the end the test lies in the effect. Arguably, only the poet can judge how perfectly his poem expresses his meaning.

We do indeed look for patterns in a poem if only because our poor brains need pattern for understanding, completeness and memorability. But the forms of pattern can be achieved in manifold ways. And there are conventional verse forms, such as sonnet, haiku or villanelle (“Do not go gentle into that good night”, Dylan Thomas) which a poet may choose as a framework for his expression, finding that this discipline forces him to explore his thoughts more widely and deeply.

Three powerful characteristics stand out: metre, simile and metaphor. Metre reminds us that poetry and song are cousins. It can establish the whole thrust of the poem. Compare “Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from thy breath.” (Swinburne) with “Half a league, half a league, half a league onward” (Tennyson), and with “Do you remember an inn, Miranda?/Do you remember an inn? (Belloc). And if some contemporary poetry eschews obvious metre, it can often be found in another balance, like this little poem about the Bible:

I doubt if King James wrote it,
But the one who did
Knew the force of short, brute, words;
And did not, if there were no clear need,
Write polysyllabically.

The Highwayman (Noyes) presents us with metaphor and simile within a line: “His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay “. The simile is vivid, but it is the metaphor which carries the power. No eye is actually a hollow of madness, but the phrase leads beyond itself. And we must travel alone to find our understanding. We should be accustomed to metaphor because much of Scripture is extended metaphor, and so is theology – though often stifled by the cold hand of use. What does time in Purgatory mean where time does not exist and the conditions in Purgatory mere speculation?

Shakespeare gives us a powerful example: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player/That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/And then is heard no more.” Two strong metaphors there – and the whole is wrapped in metaphor for the speaker himself is a “poor player” and a metaphor for Macbeth. Most of us know those lines by heart, and have thought upon them.

Which brings me to the memorable line. Poetry can get away with words which would be pretentious in prose. We each have our favourites, but surely all lists must include “A rose red city half as old as time”. John Burgon’s poem about Petra is indifferent, but that line won him the Newdigate Prize and put him among the immortals. I shall resist the temptation to give a longer list – you will know them all.

I say that confidently because a philosophy group I attend on a fortnightly basis finishes the term with a meeting in which each member reads a piece of poetry, and then tells us why. It is a great treat, and it often leads to the best discussions of the term. We are very ordinary people from different backgrounds, and yet all have poetry which has accompanied us through life. And important enough that, for some, reading their choice can move them too deeply to continue.

All of us who have poetry threaded into our lives share Macaulay’s unsound mind. And why not? We believe in a God whose name is a metaphor for his nature and a son who offers himself as a metaphor for his father. Before the altar we are all poets.

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The Science of Meditation

Yes, I’m cheating. I am looking back over 10 years to my practical description of meditation. But I have found it valuable to remind myself of what I said at that time. And certainly we had some excellent and practical responses.


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My column this week could, for some of you, be one of the most useful things you have read for a long time. Not for all of you, inevitably, because some will know about it already, and others will – for a variety of reasons do nothing about it. I am going to write about the scientific basis of meditation and what it can do for those who choose to take it to heart.

For most of us, meditation suggests mystical Christian prayer, or Buddhist contemplation, or – for the right generation – the Beatles and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. But, for the moment, put all that aside. Think instead of spending some 20 minutes in deep relaxation. And by deep, I mean very deep indeed. The effect will be a great calming of the spirit and tranquillity, a lowering of blood pressure, and, should you suffer from it, a marked relief of depression.

Deep relaxation is a skill. It is in theory accessible to everybody but it takes about a week of regular practice to acquire the rudiments. The skill then continues to deepen until you can call it to your aid instantaneously. As a trivial example, were you to feel my muscles in the dentist’s chair, you would find them completely relaxed, and my capacity for pain reduced to a minimum.

First, an exercise. Clench your fist as tight as you can – so tightly that it shakes with the pressure, Then relax it slowly, attending the growing feeling of relaxation. At the end you will find your fingers to be floppy but – more importantly – you have learned what relaxation feels like. Got the basic idea?

Now lie, or sit down comfortably, and relax every muscle in your body. Follow a sequence: hands, arms, shoulders, neck, face, chest, stomach, buttocks, legs and feet. Clench each muscle and then feel it slowly relax. Occasionally check back to see if earlier muscles have tightened. You will not find it easy and only practice will help you into a state you may never have experienced before A fully relaxed state uses so little energy that breathing becomes lighter and almost seems to cease.

Lie there, relaxed – perhaps listening to some tranquil music – for about 20 minutes. And then bring yourself to – but slowly; and get back to the trials of real life.

What is happening inside your brain? Theta waves associated with deep relaxation increase, and so do alpha waves, which tend to increase when the brain withdraws from intentional or challenging tasks. Beta waves which are needed for such tasks are few, and so are delta waves. Delta waves are associated with sleep – which is a quite different state from deep relaxation. But you don’t need to remember any of that. I put it in just to show that deep relaxation is a measurable state of the brain, induced from the relaxation of the body. You need to be neither holy nor clever to learn how to use it.

My original exploration of the subject started many years ago because the evidence showed that two separated periods of 20 minutes deep relaxation had a measurable and continuing effect on blood pressure. That investment of daily time has yielded high returns in so many ways.

Further practice develops further uses. I can now use “triggers”. I am able to deepen my relaxation throughout my body in the midst of ordinary life, simply by relaxing a hand. The number of occasions when this has checked an irritable remark or an imprudent decision is countless – although my wife would tell you that I still have some way to go. This brief, instant relaxation is also useful for, say, a mother of young children for whom five quiet minutes is a luxury.

Deep relaxation puts the brain into a highly suggestible state. And it becomes possible to use it for self-hypnotism – by definition this is conscious and controlled. It can be a valuable way of changing an unsatisfactory attitude of mind simply through autosuggestion. Don’t expect sudden conversion: this is not magic but just an effective way of moving the mind into constructive directions.

Now that I have demystified this neurological phenomenon, let me replace some of the mystery. I suggested that one might use music as a background. This helps to clear the mind and checks thought processes so that intellectual focus is curbed. But many people prefer to use a mantra – recited throughout the process. Many will know the Tibetan Buddhist mantra, om mani padme hum. No exact translation exists, but it relates to the virtues of withdrawing from self-centeredness.

I prefer one which is more overtly Christian. Maranatha (“Our Lord has come”) is popular; but I favour Julian of Norwich’s “All manner of thyng shall be wele”. It encompasses the idea of Christian peace and confidence. But it’s a personal choice.

More recently I have started to train myself to a further stage where I eschew mantras and simply place myself in the presence of God. I regard thought of divine attributes as a distraction since any human understanding diminishes rather than embellishes. Nor, of course, does any prayer of petition apply, since the only relevant reaction is open-ended wonder. I am not very good at this yet, but, as I have suggested, much practice is required at every stage.

My description of deep relaxation (and its use in prayer) has been short and personal. The professional audiotape I published several years ago was widely used, but is no longer available. However, secular accounts of deep relaxation are available in good bookshops for further study. I look forward to comments on http://www.secondsightblog.com from your experience – especially with regard to its use in prayer.

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