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'Writing Inspired by an Island in the Atlantic'

Bathing in the Light

Glass, with its transparent quality, can serve as a metaphor for clarity and purity, and the interplay of light through glass has long captivated human imagination, and encouraged contemplation of God.

In many spiritual traditions, including Quakerism, light symbolises illumination, knowledge and the presence of God, the Light, or Whatever we wish to call it. The interconnection between glass and light becomes a powerful symbol representing the clarity that spiritual seekers strive for in understanding the mysteries and purpose of existence.

I experienced this for myself just a few days ago during a visit to Buckfast Abbey, a Catholic Benedictine monastery in Buckfastleigh, Devon. I last visited the Abbey well over thirty years ago with a party of schoolchildren, and I will never forget the impact that the floor to ceiling stained-glass window in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament had upon my pupils and myself. Since our visit would conclude a busy day that included the excitement of a journey on the Dart Valley Steam Railway, I was apprehensive as to how a visit to the Abbey would be appreciated by my class of lively eleven-year-olds, but our headteacher had insisted. I need not have worried.

The window was created by an artist and Buckfast monk, Charles Norris, in 1968 and was made in the Abbey’s workshops by the monks. The window was created using chipped, roughly hewn glass, set in a resin base to create a truly inspirational design as light interacts with the glass. It is breathtakingly beautiful, and it is hard not to feel bathed and refreshed in the Light.

Throughout history, stained glass has adorned places of worship, harnessing the transformative beauty of light to convey sacred meanings. The kaleidoscopic of hues that dance through stained glass windows remind worshippers of the diverse understanding of spirituality, and the various paths that are taken in seeking a connection with God.

Quakers often describe God as an all-encompassing light, which can be described as similar to the way that light interacts with glass. The radiant beams filtering through glass become a tangible representation of God’s presence and invoke a sense of awe and reverence. The play of light and shadow on surfaces is a form of dance that mirrors the ebb and flow of spiritual experiences.

The Spirit is often associated with the intangible and the transcendent. Glass allows the passage of light without obstructing its essence, which for me symbolises the veil-like nature of boundaries between the physical and the spiritual. It helps to serve as a reminder that, like light through glass, the divine presence can be felt and experienced throughout our lives.

Sitting in silence, as I did with my pupils thirty years earlier, bathed in the Light from this window, prompted me to reflect upon my own spiritual journey. The transparency of glass encourages us to embrace openness and honesty in our understanding, and to seek the wisdom to guide us towards a deeper understanding of our own lives and the purpose that we seek.

Glass, light and The Spirit converge to transcend the material world, and invite us to explore our beliefs more deeply. Through the lens of spirituality, glass becomes a metaphorical portal, allowing us to connect with the essence that unites all of creation.

Excited chatter from my pupils immediately ceased when we entered the Chapel. We sat in awed silence looking at the window, and I believe that we all experienced something very special during those few minutes together, bathed in the Light. We left the chapel and Abbey in silence, and there was very little conversation as we left the Abbey grounds.

During follow up lessons of the visit, the steam railway had certainly made a big impression, but it did not overshadow the enthusiasm with which the children talked and wrote about the Abbey, and particularly the stained-glass window.

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

Join me on Facebook: @barrie.mahoney

To find out more about Barrie, his blogs, podcasts and books, go to:

Dying Well

The ongoing debate about assisted dying in the UK and in many other countries is much more relevant to me now that I have been diagnosed with bowel and liver cancer. Don’t misunderstand me, I currently have no intention of going anywhere for a while and, of course, I am determined to prove the doctors wrong. Despite the bravado that cancer suffers often display, in those dark hours of the night, like so many in my position, I often wonder how I will deal with those last few days and hours?

It’s not death that troubles me, but the pain, loss of dignity, loss of independence, and the burden that it places upon others, and particularly those that are closest that troubles me most. In response to my many questions about the issue, my consultant assures me that there will be drugs available to ease any pain (I note the words “ease” and not to eliminate). Nursing support, or indeed a hospice place, would be available if necessary. Despite his well-meaning and kindly, confident assurance, I am not so sure, since I know that our local hospice is only accepting terminally ill patients in the final day or two of impending death. This restriction is due to capacity, funding and staffing issues, which I find alarming since one’s date of death is difficult to determine accurately. Such is the demand for such places that a peaceful end to one’s life in the hospice is not assured given the lottery of admission and appropriate care. Personally, I would like to die at home, surrounded by people that I love in a place that I feel comfortable, but I know that this may not be possible or sensible when the time comes.

So, what’s the answer? The answer, to me, is very clear. Would we let a dog or cat, or indeed any animal, suffer from an incurable illness when we could see that they are in pain or distress? For most people, the answer would be ‘No, of course not’. Would we not try to ease their pain and to make their end as comfortable as possible in a place where they feel loved, and secure? (Although I accept that there is a very different morality when it comes to the appalling treatment of farm animals and their slaughter.) Can we not offer the same compassion to humans too?

I sometimes wonder if I would be happy to spend around £15,000, if I could afford it, for a one-way flight to the Dignitas Clinic in Switzerland where I could legally decide to end it all, with a couple of tablets, and at a time and manner of my choosing. Of course, this option is a non-starter for most people, but more enlightened governments in the Netherlands, Belgium and elsewhere have made it much easier for assisted dying to take place in their countries and this is being seriously considered in many others. The issue is once again being debated in the UK Parliament, and I truly hope that it will not be too long before the UK recognises that it is time for compassion to be at the heart of a new law to allow assisted dying.

There are often well stated and passionate arguments relating to the prevention of abuse by relatives anxious to get their hands on the sick person’s estate, but protections can and are put in place to prevent such abuse in other countries, so why not in the UK? Although Quakers have not at this stage of the debate definitively stated their agreed views, there are numerous and often reasonable objections from many religious bodies that are carefully considered in this debate. What I do object to is the view that assisted dying is “Against God’s Will”, and as such is regarded as a sin. As a Quaker, I find it hard to balance a loving God, the Spirit, or Whatever wishing to prolong pain and misery; a view that I personally find hard to take seriously. It is for this reason that I would like to see well meaning, but often dogmatic clerics removed from this parliamentary debate, and replaced with informed views from the dying, the medical profession, as well as lawmakers who have dealt with a similar challenge in other countries.

A young friend of mine has mouth cancer; he has lost his tongue and can no longer eat or speak and he grows weaker by the day. Over the years that I have known him we have shared a love of growing orchids and I send messages to him regularly, together with a photo of one of his favourite orchids when I find a new one to share. Although he is seriously ill, I know that he does not want his life to be ended whilst his pain his under control, yet the option should be there if and when he can take no more.

If an Assisted Dying Bill is eventually passed by the UK Parliament, I doubt that patients would be queuing at the doors to ask for their lives to be ended. The will to live is very strong in most of us, despite suffering from some truly dreadful health conditions. I meet and speak to many patients in the cancer ward, as well as online, and I know of very few who would request assisted dying at their stage of illness. Recent proposals suggest that it is only in the last six months of a terminal condition that the right to an assisted death should be agreed. Many suggest that such restrictions are unnecessary given the wide range of serious health conditions and circumstances, but it would be a start.

Published in The Friend on 9 November 2023 under the title of 'Late Blooming'

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

Join me on Facebook: @barrie.mahoney

To find out more about Barrie, his blogs, podcasts and books, go to:

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