Tag: human

Spiritual Reflection: What does it mean to be human?

What is man that you are mindful of him?

The son of man, that you care for him?

Psalm 8

At the start of each month, I come to reflect on fundamentals: what does it mean to be human?

Three aspects emerged at the start of this October, in 2019:

  1. To be human is to be created
  2. To be human is to interdependent
  3. To be human is to be complex

Created

Although my culture in 21st century Britain emphasises autonomy, actually I find that this is not an accurate description of being human. I did not create myself: I was born to my parents, as they were to theirs, and so the chain goes back into history.

As human beings we are created, not autonomous. Michelangelo’s interpretation of being created tells me this is something incredibly energetic and vital:

The creative power behind human being is a God of love and energy, without whom I would not have life – as Adam, in this painting, just lounges lifelessly, awaiting God’s touch.

Interdependent

Just as I am not autonomous in origin, so I am not autonomous in living. I depend on air, water, food, the earth, and especially other people. Collaboration is one of the most powerful forces available to us as human beings. Synergy multiplies our capabilities hundreds and hundreds of times. We were made to live together.

I love the way the angels dance together synergistically in this painting by Botticelli:

To live interdependently is a great challenge: the devils scuttle away at the bottom of Botticelli’s painting, reminding us that mixed motives and the presence of evil in life is never too far away. When we seek to live with others, we must deal with problems and darknesses in ourselves and in others, without losing the vision of those angels at the top of the painting, dancing in perfect harmony.

Complex

To be human is to be a complex of body, mind, emotion and spirit.

Leonardo’s “Vitruvian Man” captures something of the mystical beauty and complexity of humanity:

“Vitruvian Man”, Leonardo Da Vinci

Probably most of us are more like Van Eyck’s “Adam” below, though: not perfectly symmetrical, not beautiful in every way.

Adam, from The Ghent Altarpiece, Van Eyck

And yet, as the inside of The Ghent Altarpiece reveals, our physical existence is only part of the complexity of what it means to be human:

In Van Eyck’s vision, Adam and Eve (top left and top right) are just part of a much bigger spiritual picture, with God top centre, and the mystical “Lamb of God” and the fountain of life in the middle at the bottom. Humanity assembles from the four corners of the earth to worship and acknowledge their createdness, their dependence on each other and in God, and their physical, emotional and spiritual complexity.

What is man that you are mindful of him?

The son of man that you care for him?

Psalm 8
Learn a Little Wisdom

Learn a Little Wisdom

I was young and blind to my vices

            I was young and enthusiastic

                        and keen like the North wind

.

Who would help me resign myself

            to my human failings

                        my daily, common human failings

.

So that I ceased to rage against myself

            and against my own inadequacies

                        and would start to learn a little wisdom?

.

I was young, and young in judgment

            and my passions swirled within me

                        misleading me with every step I took

.

And I thought I had understanding

            never knew what I had to learn

.

There has been so much more to consider

            as I pore away at my books

.

And now it is enough

            to make my soul burn.

.

This poem is from First Words, a published collection that explores questions about life, about time and relationships, youth and age, scepticism and belief, questions and faith.  They are the poems of a searching spirituality, moving from uncertainty towards maturity, and contain some of the earliest poems that I wrote that I wished to preserve.

I contribute £2 (GBP) to Street Pastors, Shrewsbury, from each sale.

If you would like to purchase, please follow this link

Also available…

Returning to the Father

These poems follow a journey from rebellion to realisation to reconciliation and returning to the Father.

Rembrandt’s famous painting of the parable of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen’s book The Return of the Prodigal Son, and the parable itself have been important sources for this work, and readers are directed to those works for further inspiration.

This volume of poems is now available to purchase for £5 (GBP) before postage. I contribute £2 (GBP) to Street Pastors, Shrewsbury, from each sale.

If you would like to purchase, please follow this link

Songs of Gladness, Songs of Pain

Songs of Gladness, Songs of Pain is a modern rendering of twenty-nine different Psalms, ancient texts that speak of human struggle to understand and relate to God.

Like the Psalms, these poems seek to understand evil and violence in the world, searching for peace and meaning, searching for joy and gladness in the midst of pain.

I contribute £2 (GBP) to Street Pastors, Shrewsbury, from each sale.

If you would like to purchase, please follow this link

Inspirers: The Inspiration of Adam

Chapters 1-3 of Genesis describe the totally captivating stories of the creation of the universe, the earth, all of life, and human life in particular. “Adam”, for me, represents all of humanity: we are created, related, spiritual, embodied, sexual, articulate, inquisitive, logical, mortal, fallible…

“Vitruvian Man”, Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man” (above) explores the relationship between humanity and mathematics: the human figure is shown as proportionate and symmetrical. Sadly, few of us are quite as mathematically perfect as this!

Masaccio’s painting below, is one of the most harrowing portrayals I know. This is of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from paradise:

But overall, when I think of the story of Adam, I am more inspired than deflated. The story of Adam is the story of a universe where God intentionally creates a living, self-conscious human being. It is not science, but it illuminates the human condition.

Adam, from The Ghent Altarpiece, Van Eyck

Leaving Scepticism

 

They said that all things seemed

they said I dreamed

.

Which angered me

when all about me I could see

.

The places and the people

sublime and beautiful

.

Which must be real

or what else did I feel?

.

The world with all its light and energy

spoke meaning to my sense

.

Everything that looked at me,

everywhere I went

.

And so I left their false philosophy

which could not answer

could not satisfy me

.

Frustrated by distrust and suspicion

I could not live with endless scepticism

.

But went elsewhere to find

the human peaceful mind

.

The wiser and the quieter

and the happier condition.

.

 

Different in Kind

I had

A revelation

.

That though

The world turned

.

On its own orbit

Intuitively

.

Human life differed

In nature and kind

.

And each

Had been given

.

Reason

And love

.

And each day

Of our lives

.

We mysteriously

Rise

.

And make choices

We act

.

And we pray

Each a spiritual agent

.

Of both future

And today.

.

choices 18Aug