Posts Tagged ‘turning point’

I feel like the luckiest man alive

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

When I was in my teens and an ardent believer and I wanted to be a priest, one of my good reasons for wanting to be a priest was to be with people at key moments in their lives – like birth, weddings and bereavement. I wanted to engage with the real needs of people.
After my nine years in religious life, when I walked away from not only my priestly path but, in time, from all religious beliefs, I assumed that gone was my dream of being with people at core turning points in their lives.
I spent five years as a teacher. And I was privileged to work at St Bonaventure’s comprehensive boys’ school at the heart of the East End of London, under the leadership of the now knighted Sir Michael Wilshaw, who was subsequently made head of the English schools’ inspectorate, OFSTED.
But I knew that remaining a teacher for the rest of my life wasn’t what I wanted to do, and so I left teaching after five years.
For the guts of the next 20 years I worked as a journalist, columnist and author, in a self-employed capacity, enjoying being my own boss and working from home. I spent the guts of three years during that time as a publisher too. And then I took time out to delve into my own story, how I shifted from belief to unbelief and I celebrated that story, or part of it, in my RTE Radio 1 documentary, From Belief to Unbeleif, and in an as yet unpublished manuscript of a memoir.
And then, earlier this year, I thought about becoming a Humanist celebrant. And that is why I feel like the luckiest man on earth. If, as a teenager, I wanted to be with people at key turning points in their lives, helping them to express sorrow and joy, laughter and tears, I have discovered that I can do that as a Humanist celebrant. And I could do so without having to pretend I believed in religious fantasies that lost any claim on my allegiance, acceptance or intelligence.
As a humanist celebrant there is no nonsense about ‘ontological change’ happening at ordination. I’m a regular human being just like everyone else. And I don’t have to pretend to have the ear of a deity! Or to know his will! Or to interpret his ‘revealed word’ accurately. I’ve outgrown all that nonsense. All that superstition. I know that we have only one life and that it can be a wonderful life, and that the birth of each child warrants celebration. And that the marriage of two people is usually a happy time, and that it’s OK for people to be sad at weddings too. And I have been privileged to facilitate funerals – celebrations of a life ended, at which I have witnessed laughter and tears, joy and sadness, classical music and hard rock!
Now in my fifties, I realize that being a Humanist celebrant uses the skills and talents I’ve been lucky enough to have: my original desire to be with people at key moments of their lives; my writing skills in drafting ceremonies that are meaningful and personal for the people concerned; my teaching skills of speaking and engaging with a group of people; my empathy and compassion and listening skills; and my gratitude for being able to do this work which I love.


Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

I have a labyrinth in my garden. Unlike a maze, there is no frustration in walking it. There are no cul de sacs. Walking the labyrinth is very interesting when done with a degree of self-awareness. Do I spend my time looking at the weeds? How do I feel when the pathway leads me out and seemingly further away from my goal of arriving at the centre of the circle?

Each turning point tells a tale. What matters, what matters always, is to keep going. To take the next step. Turning around and exiting it without having completed it is not an option. The first time I ever walked a labyrinth I was struck that at one point, having walked for ages, I returned to a point only inches away from where I had started out from. As the crow flies, I was just as far away from my goal of arriving in the centre. However, the lesson for me that day was that while I seemed as far away in fact I had walked a long way and simply by taking the next step I would arrive before long at my goal.

Recently when I walked it again I was struck by the confusion one can feel in the middle of the pathway. One has been walking a long time and one still seems far from home. From this vantage point one can survey the varied directions one has come, forth and back, back and forth, turning points here, there and everywhere. It isn’t clear when I might arrive at my goal nor is it apparent if the route I have taken was walked as well as I might. There’s a sense of displacement. The is no guarantee of success. Yet, unless I keel over with a heart attack I have no intention of doing other than to proceed.

Walking a labyrinth can be a profound learning experience. Some might call it a spiritual experience. It is often a metaphor for how one treads through life. Lessons are to be learned, easily, for free. It’s as simle as putting one step in front of the other…