The earth is my sacred home.
I have changed over the years. The early years my life was conventional. Prep school in Surrey until we moved to Liverpool where I went to the Liverpool College.
We attended the church in Princes Park. Liverpool which had been built for my great great grandfather, there’s a statue of him in St George’s Hall Liverpool.
At thirteen I was shipped off to public school near Nottingham. All this had been paid for partly by my father. He died on my seventh birthday while working in Iran. My grandfather then picked up the tab. He had been a vicar at Tunbridge Wells and had been a maths scholar, a wrangler, at Cambridge.
My public school was low church Christian, it was called evangelical in those days. We had chapel every morning and evening six days a week and three times on Sunday. I was fairly well cemented into the Christian tradition and never doubted any of it. I knew my place in the world and it was at the top of the heap.
The school had an arboretum of a thousand different trees and a chemistry teacher who took a group of us to the Lake District for two weeks every Easter hol. We walked all the great hills.
My other grandfather was a gamekeeper. He had once lived near the Barrel pub at Hucklow. As kids we saw more of him than of the wrangler in Tunbridge Wells. The gamekeeper lived in a cottage in Cheshire in what we would now call romantic poverty. We spent holidays with him, eating mostly rabbit stew or pigeon pie. The rabbits caught by his ferrets and the pigeons usually had a bit of buckshot in them from his gun.
We read our books by the light of paraffin lamps, meals were cooked on the openfire and the toilet was thirty yards away from the house through the nettles. One of our holiday jobs was to walk to the three miles to the village to change the accumulator that ran the radio. I loved it there, tramping beside him as he walked his patch of several square miles, looking after the young pheasants and trying to shoot their predators
The chemistry teacher and my gamekeeper grandfather began the unravelling of my Christian faith. They knocked me off the path of Protestant certainty.
There’s a scene in the film Blade Runner where Rud Hullet is talking as his life as a replicant is fading away, ‘ I have seen the most amazing things, sunrises and sunsets, and the most amazing places’
I know what he meant. When I left my public school I went to sea on a tub of a ship that the Bay of Biscay was always trying to sink. We went to West Africa to pick up mahogany logs, sailing up the creeks of the Benin river. Nigeria was a poor country then. One day I had to dress our ship overall with flags and blow the ships whistle as the first of their oil was pumped onto a tanker.
Recently Nigeria celebrated the fifty years of daily pumping oil on to tankers .It is still a poor country.
Later when I was living in London I found it a lonely place and there was an opportunity to join the TA, so I did. Belonging to them meant I had to train as a parachutist and accept the obligation to make lots of night jumps.
At night the moment between the parachute opening and thinking of landing is quite exhilarating. You hang beneath the stars in a beautiful nothingness. It doesn’t last long but you can never forget it.
Then too I went to the alps with some friends and at twelve thousand feet witnessed the sun rise turning the snow clad peaks crimson and then gold.
One of my last jobs before training for ministry was working on an oil field in Libya. It was a three hour plane ride into the Sahara on the way to Chad to work at a remote oilfield. On the surface of the desert you could pick up sea shells because once it had been the floor of an ocean. More than a thousand feet below was the oil field which had once been a forest or a lake.
What had I learned? That the earth was the most beautiful place; you can’t be a soldier and a Christian; the world is terribly unfair; I didn’t have the divine right to rule. There are the most incredibly kind people in this world and they come from all faiths and all nations.
I started going to church again after going to a service at the Unitarian chapel in Knutsford where I was living. And I only went there because they were in the rota for civic Sunday and my brownie daughter was taking part.
But it spoke to me and I saw a lot of friends were there who had never said they were Unitarians.
After a while I thought, I could take a service too so I applied for the ministry and they took me on.
What a stroke of good fortune. I turned up with my Bible which I had always thought was the word of God. The lecturers of Owens College and Luther King House systematically took that Bible apart. I studied it all, Old Testament, inter testament literature, New Testament, other world faiths and traditions.
I have ended up with none of them. I ditched the Old Testament because it bore no relationship to the New, the Old had a quarrelsome god of vengeance whom the people ignored. It is a book of heroes where every hero is flawed and none follow their God. It is a wonderful source for sermons.
The New Testament was the esoteric mystical teaching of an ageless wisdom. Not for me historical Jesus but the phantom teacher of truths. I really bought into that but not the church created sacrificial Easter Lamb.
To me the whole Jesus story is deeply symbolic and allegorical. It points the way to universal friendship and universal love and a connection beyond what is simply of the earth and everyday.
I let the Old Protestant God fade out of my life and found myself free to be in a chaotic unpredictable world that was nevertheless travelling towards its own Ithaca.
Godless, the world revealed the universal consciousness in which all things are connected. From the snowdrop to the mountain top all is within it. It is of the whole universe.
There is an energy flowing that is of joy and loving kindness. That is the energy we feel when we look at the hill or climb up it, or sit under the stars, or watch the sun rise or set on the sea’s horizon, or sit quietly in a chapel like this one.
Call it the spiritual energy of the world and it is all around us and all within us.
Treat another person with loving kindness and their soul responds. Treat them with anger or contempt and they shut down and shut you out. Our treatment of animals is the same.
There is magic and mystery in the world and within ourselves but it has been built over and hidden by the advancing civilisations. We still have the power to heal with our loving kindness.
Some religions and beliefs do point to this spiritual world.
But however crushing religious or political institutions have been over the centuries wisdom teachers have still emerged from within the universal consciousness to keep its truth alive. Paracelsus with holistic healing, Rudolph Steiner with education and philosophy.
In the last century George Ivanovitch Gurjieff said that most people in the world were spiritual sleep walkers. Their souls were asleep and they lived disconnected lives of consumerism. Unaware they were consuming the world they depended on for life.
When the soul awakes, loving kindness flows both outwards and inwards. The world is seen for what it is, beautiful, living and energising.
We are all on a journey to Ithaca. We have a sense that the soul is immortal. We have a sense that death means change and not an end. We have a sense of divinity.
We are not always sure why we are here, why we are on this journey but it is a fact that we are here.
The Christian religion had taught me that my goal was heaven and I and my fellow Christians were special. That the earth was my gift to live on as I pleased, the nations of the world were our servants.
It taught, Go to Ithaca but don’t stop at the markets or deal with the Lestrygonions. That my life was sacred, my earthly home wasn’t.
On my journey I have found the opposite to be true. The earth is my sacred home. It rings out an anthem of joy.
The earth carries the message of the universe in all its wondrous spaces and places, in all it growing and living covered surfaces and depths, that the soul that is filled with loving kindness is the one.that sings with joy and knows the meaning and purpose of life.
The road to Ithaca is for free spirits. May we all enjoy it and love it.