appleAn apple a day may keep the doctor away, but following these six simple practises will help ensure you live a life that is healthy and fulfilled.

Lives lived in a hurry, without enough time to stop and think, are chaotic and difficult. But there are a few things we can all do, which generally make life better.

Even just doing one of these things will begin to help, doing all of them may be transformative.

Gratitude

If there is one practise which can change your outlook on life, it is gratitude. When we look for the good in things, and take time to be grateful for the things which have gone well, we open ourselves up to a flow of positivity. The word gratitude comes from a Latin root which also leads into the idea of grace. To be grateful, to be full of grace, is to know the divine flow in your life.

Ignatius of Loyola taught his followers to practise gratitude consciously: to do this, be deliberate about your gratitude. Early in the morning, or late at night, take a few minutes to reflect on what you are grateful for in life, or in the day you’ve just had. It’s a transformative practise. (Click to tweet).

Singing

Singing: it’s the simplest thing. Do it in the bathroom, in the woods, in the car, perhaps not on the train… Although if you’re sure the carriage is empty, then by all means. By improving your oxygen intake, singing means that you physically send more oxygenated blood to the brain, and this can have positive impacts on your alertness and concentration, and it helps with your memory too. To really get that good stuff, you want to bellow it out, don’t be shy, spread the joy. Unless you’re on the train.

Singing releases endorphins and can spread a feeling of pleasure around the body. It also takes your mind of other things, and relaxes you, which in turn decreases cortisol levels.

Silence

Singing is good for you, but so is silence. Especially deliberate silence. There’s a good reason that all the great spiritual traditions have tended to include patterns of silence in their practises. Times of silence and stillness are so important for us, and yet we tend to neglect them. Lengthy periods of silence help our brains develop, while even short periods of silence have been shown to lower blood pressure. Silence also helps to ground us, taking us away from the noise that our ego enjoys. Simply: silence helps us to fully realise our humanity, and gain perspective.

Types of meditation are good ways of spending time in silence, but then so is going for a long walk in the countryside, whatever works, just do it.

Forgiveness

There is no substitute for forgiveness. To refuse to forgive is to build up bitterness, and doing that is mentally, physically and emotionally toxic. Forgiving doesn’t need to mean ignoring, or ‘wiping the slate clean’, it’s about how we deal with what others have done. (Click to tweet). Of all these things, it’s the hardest, but it’s the single most important.

Taking time to do a simple mental ‘audit’ will show you who need to forgive, don’t expect too much of yourself, some things are very hard to let go of, but don’t have no go areas either. If you can bring yourself to forgive, then do so. Time with a coach, counsellor, soul friend, or mentor may help you with this.

Vegetables

“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Said food author Michael Pollan. He means eat real food, things you cook from scratch, and in the main, eat vegetables. Humans have traditionally relied on vegetables as the majority of their diet, with meat and rich foods as a luxury, we grew strong on those diets. Contemporary ‘western’ diets, for all their delicious luxury, cause diseases. Just introducing a few more vegetables in to your life will help: the fibre, the macronutrients, it’s all good.

Vegetables are good cooked, they’re even better raw. Raw vegetables that you buy are good, but the ones you grow are the best.

Routine

It might seem boring, but routine is a very effective antidote to the poison of chaos. A chaotic life is stressful and leads to the development of all sorts of bad habits, whereas a routine helps simplify and structure your day to day life, making it easier to make good and healthy choices. Morning and evening routines are the best ones to get established, and if you can start the day on your own terms, rather than constantly rushing to catch up with yourself, you will find the rest of the day more manageable too.

Set a get up time, and stick to it, everything stems from there. To establish a bed time, work backwards in 90 minute slots, to allow for natural sleep cycles. If you are someone who can get up early, then good for you, it will allow you time to develop some healthy practises. But if you’re not an early bird, then save yourself some stress by establishing a good night time routine which involves preparing the things you need for the next day before you go to sleep.

Make my daily meditation a part of your daily routine, by signing up here. It’s free, and it arrives at 7 AM every weekday.

file1951346280860.jpgRecent reports that show a growing number of young people identifying as having ‘no religion’ are evidence not of growing secularism, but actually of a society which post secular.

New research, by Prof Stephen Bullivant of St Mary’s University, details percentages of 16–29 year olds across 22 countries who identify as having ‘no religion’. Of the countries studied, only eight had a majority of young people who self–identify has having a religion.

In the UK, the figures are clear, and follow a common narrative: Seventy percent of British young people identify as having no religion. This is not, contrary to some press coverage, a shock statistic. The movement in societal terms has been clear for some time, Brits, particularly young ones, have increasingly identified as having no religion.

The Church of England records what it describes as the ‘Usual Sunday Attendance’ at its churches, and noted by 2013 that the percentage of English residents who attend church had halved, from three to 1.5 per cent of the total population over a period of forty years. Similar trends are to be found within various contexts, including in America, where church attendance has historically been high, and where a growing proportion of the population are now reporting that they have never attended a church service.

But not attending church, or having ‘no religion’ is certainly not the same thing as having no beliefs, as other studies have shown: According to one report, approximately 30% of those who belong to no religion at all, claim to believe in life after death (something that not even all church going Christians necessarily believe).

Further to that, 7% of self-professed atheists believe in angels; and approximately one in four of the UK population believe in reincarnation, including one in seven atheists.

This social change has occurred during a period of time in which British culture has become notably more diverse, with a growth in the number of religious and cultural identities reported in surveys. Some of the ‘new’ religious identities are ‘joke’ or ‘parody’ religions, but not all. Some of the new religious identities, even the more playful ones, that have come into existence, have at their core a sense of Tillichian ‘ultimate concern’, making them genuine in a theological sense.

At the same time as this change has taken place, social attitudes have altered to become more tolerant and accepting of diversity, with an acceptance of, or preference for, spirituality over religion: other research has shown that ‘nones’ are generally ambivalent towards the church, regarding it perhaps as more inconsequential than negative. Its not so much that the church has been violently rejected, or rebelled against, just that it has been found to have little meaning. It may be useful in certain times (major tragedies etc.), but on the whole it has little of importance to offer, and certainly doesn’t endow the attendee with the kind of symbolic capital that it used to.

This social climate, which allows for or encourages a liquidity or plurality of belief, underlayed with a marked decline in the size, scope and power of the mainstream religions (particularly Christianity), rather than being purely secularist, is indicative of post secularism. Within a postsecular society, religious thought continues to play an important part, actively shaping ‘social life at different levels and in a variety of forms’ (Habermas) but no longer acts as the dominant or defining narrative.

Rather than seeing the total destruction of religious activity and belief as one might expect to be the result of the process of secularisation, what we are actually seeing is the changing shape of belief, and its movement away from the contained or institutionalised form. For Christians, this may pose a challenge, but should not necessarily be unwelcome.

Beaten

Stripped

Torn

Sweat stinging

Ears ringing

Heart straining

Lungs straining

Eyes staring

Eyes aching

Thorns cutting

Nails.

Cut up

Hung up

Left

Inexpressibly alone

Just waiting

So thirsty

And hungry

Aching

Fading

Breath weakening

Heart slowing

Pain growing

Overwhelming.

Bones shattered

Strength gone

Blood congealing

Flies buzzing

Flies landing

Legs rubbing

Surrounded

Infinitely alone.

Flesh

Not

Stone.

Black descending

Fading

Gone.

Fin.

 

On this day in history, approximately 2000 years ago, a Jewish revolutionary and mystic known as Jesus of Nazareth died after being executed by the Roman authorities.  In his mid thirties and of a peasant background, Jesus was a charismatic figure and is believed to have amassed a small army of followers who welcomed him to Jerusalem where he provoked the occupying powers in a series of political ‘stunts’. After a few days of increasing tensions, he was captured late one night and swiftly tried. His execution is thought to have taken place at approximately 9 am, on a rubbish dump on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

He left behind no writings, and founded no religion or political party, and yet is regarded as one of the most influential and controversial people to have ever lived. His teachings of non violent political resistance and radical ‘love for others’ inspired some of the greatest political thinkers, and some of the worst, from the intervening centuries.

 

Image result for #meetooA recent article doing the rounds concerning the sexualised nature of the the violence Jesus experienced at his crucifixion, the controversy surrounding the gender identity of the first Gentile convert to Christianity, and a brief reminder of the possible implications of Mark 14:51, have reminded me of one of the most obvious pointers towards progressive sexual politics in the Gospels. The #MeToo women in Jesus’ genealogy.

Generally speaking ancient genealogies don’t include women, they are a tool of patriarchy. But something interesting occurs in the genealogy of Jesus found in the New Testament book of Matthew.

There are five women in “Matthew’s” genealogy of Jesus: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary. Of these, four were definitely what we might now consider to have been sexually exploited.

Tamar, was a widow in a very precarious social and economic condition (no status or inheritance and in danger of remaining unmarried) and at the mercy of her father in law, Judah. The patriarch was reluctant to let his third son Shelah marry his twice widowed daughter in law (She’d already been done out of conception by her second husband the now infamous ‘Onan’). Without any other obvious means of survival, Shelah tricks her father in law into impregnating her by posing as a prostitute.  The self-righteous Judah at first condemns Tamar, but when he realises that he is publicly on the hook for her condition relents and acknowledges his paternity. One might say that Tamar is hardly a ‘victim’, she was clever enough to trap Judah after all, but she lived at a time when women were little more than property, what choice did she really have? (Matthew 1:3, Genesis 38)

Rahab “the harlot,” who assisted with Joshua’s invasion of the promised-land. Rahab was a ‘genuine’ prostitute, a foreigner living in Jericho, a woman who used what little she had to try and get by. I don’t imagine she grew up looking forward to a life of selling sexual services in order to survive, but she had a family to care for, and she was certainly keen to escape from Jericho when she eventually got the chance. Needless to say the male Hebrew spies took advantage of her ‘hospitality’ when visiting the city. (Matthew. 1:5, Joshua 2)

Then there’s Ruth, another gentile and another widow, who was desperate to find a way to survive. Her route to survival was to effectively seduce her future husband (Rahab’s son), Boaz. When Boaz woke up to discover Ruth in his bed, he covered her with his blanket and eventually proceeded to do the honorable thing by marrying her, but not before uttering some tell tale phrases: “Stay here for the night” and “No one must know…” (Matthew 1:5, Ruth 3).

Then there’s the woman who is not even named in her own right: “Uriah’s Wife” aka Bathsheba, the victim of sexual assault or coercion by King David who then arranged for the death of her husband. There’s a weirdly distorted view of the power dynamic in the day to day reading of this story, poor old King David, just lost control of himself when he ‘saw’ her bathing on another roof,and then ‘they committed adultery’, as if she were complicit. Yeah right. In reality the most powerful man in the country saw a woman having a bath, summoned her to his house, had sex with her and got her pregnant, and then killed her husband. Then we victim blamed.  (Matthew 1:6, II Samuel 11).

The final woman in Jesus’ genealogy is his mother Mary, a young woman, probably only a girl by our standards who was betrothed (not yet married) when she found herself pregnant. What message we are supposed to extract from her inclusion in this #MeToo list, one can only speculate on. For whatever reason, Jesus often found himself referred to as ‘Mary’s son’ – in a patriarchal society there’s something odd about that…

 

Starting on Easter Monday (2nd April 2018) my new ‘Email Meditations’ series. Weekdays only, maximum of three paragraphs each day, on some sort of thought provoking topic. Sign up here (it’s free) if you fancy coming on the journey with me. 

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I love the Greenbelt festival, ‘the best festival you’ve never heard of’, I love seeing my friends there every year, I love the way that the programming is consistently adventurous and provocative. I love the way that it tries really hard to do important things, despite limited resources.

Да! We’re bringing Pussy Riot to GreenbeltThis year’s lineup (as of March 2018, there’s plenty more to be announced) is already classic: combining festival regulars like Martyn Joseph, every inch the troubadour, and spoken word comedy music duo Harry & Chris, with inspired choices – particularly this year’s headliners Russian artist activists ‘Pussy Riot’.

Greenbelt has been working hard to ensure that more female voices are heard throughout the festival. Last year’s festival was strong on female representation, including GRRRL – In place of war, who went on to feature in Songlines magazine some months after their Greenbelt appearance, demonstrating the festival’s ability to get ahead of the curve.

The poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy is another ‘big female name’ for 2018, and for some another controversial voice – although not for anyone who is in any way a Greenbelt regular I’d guess.

There are loads of other brilliant names already on the bill: 6music favourites Ibibio Sound Machine, Duke Special, I’m with her, Jack Monroe and Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires (who were a brilliant find at Greenbelt 2017) to name but a few.

Still to come, announcements on the spirituality/faith programming which remain a core part of the festival’s identity, as well as much more. But on the strength of the ‘first’ announcements alone, the 45th Greenbelt is shaping up to become a classic. Tier one (discounted) tickets are available until the end of April.

There has ball_lost6een a lot of positive feedback from the Lent reflections I’ve written, and I’ve enjoyed doing them too. To such an extent in fact that I’m now in the the throes of setting up a new project, a daily email sent out Monday – Friday with a reflection or meditation to start your day. If you’ve not spotted the Lent Reflections, and would like to join in, you can still do so. Obviously we’re a few days into Lent already, so you’ve missed a few. But not too many.

You can subscribe to the Weekday Meditations list here, Lent meditations subscribers will NOT be automatically added to that list. If you want to get in on the Lent action, see the previous post to this one.

eliot ash

If you are looking for a reflective resource to use through Lent this year, please feel free to sign up, here, to my (free) series of Lent reflections.

The series will not be posted here on the blog, rather they will be emailed out daily at 7am through the six weeks from Ash Wednesday.

At Easter the project will come to an end, and subscribers won’t receive any more emails.

The reflections are short, and are based on six topics: Loss, Grief, Doubt, Emptiness, Waiting, & Gratitude. All quite solemn, as befits the season. They’re intended to draw us, together, into an inner journey leading up to Easter.