A Presence that Continues…

For a number of years now, long before I accepted that I am (and have always been) a Christian at heart, I´ve subscribed to a weekly email service from The Centre for Action and Contemplation; founded by Franciscan Friar Richard Rohr. A friend sent me some reflective pieces that appeared on the site, knowing that I was on a ´life purpose´ journey of my own, and they always seemed to contain just the thing I needed to hear at the time I received them, which made me intrigued to read more.

The philosophy of the Centre and its contemplations are very appealing to me. And its focus is well-reflected in the title of Richard Rohr´s latest book: ´Every Thing is Sacred´. It is an inclusive philosophy; one grounded in continual movement towards a better acceptance, understanding and love of the ´universality´ of God. It is rooted in a sacred respect for the spirit of Love that dwells within us and within all living and natural things, and the fruit that it bears is a constant awareness of the need to ´actively live this universal love´ in the choices we make and the things that we do each day.

Below is a beautiful piece of writing that appeared in this week´s email and that reflects perfectly what I’ve come to learn in the last few months, living and working in the heart of a Christian Catholic community in Spain. Firstly, that healing, life-enhancing Love (that which Theresa calls ‘The Great Good’ or ‘God’) is found in the simple daily tasks and world that surrounds us. And secondly, that there was a spiritual purpose for me in being born into this Universal faith that I distanced myself from for the majority of my life.

It seems fitting that, on Mother´s Day, I should acknowledge the debt that I owe to my mother who decided we should all be baptised into the Catholic faith, shortly after my birth. Because it´s only now, much later in life, that I´ve come to appreciate the value of such communities and how much I´ve learned (through example) about unity, respecting difference, sensitivity to the vulnerabilities of others and the rewards of working together with a common purpose that is larger than our individual egos and selves. I´ve learned this through simple projects, working with others, discovering how daily, practical tasks become meditations, prayers and songs of praise in their own right; through the love and care we invest in them, which mirrors the love and care we receive ourselves.

“Theresa Torres’ description of receiving her faith through her grandmother is a wonderful reflection of how faith was once passed down generation to generation. Her grandmother, or “abuelita”, inspires spirituality not as a religious creedal statement or morality code, but as a healing and transformational way of life.” 

– Richard Rohr

Theresa Torres´ Childhood Memories: “As I reflected on the various types of prayer I rely on to give me strength and support on a daily basis and to carry me through the dark times, I had to return to my childhood. It was my ‘abuelita’. I am a third-generation Mexican American, and it was my grandmother who taught me so much about our culture and spirituality. I keep these nuggets of wisdom, knowledge, and strength close to my heart and soul. Because what she taught me was that prayer is about life – there is no division between daily life and daily prayer, they are one and the same. She taught me that ‘the great Good’ that we call ‘God’ is present all around us and we are one in ‘the great Good’.

Some of my fondest memories of childhood are of getting up early in the cool, damp summer mornings and finding my grandmother working in her garden and blessing the earth with her hands and her gentle spirit of reverence and awe. In the silence of the morning, as she worked, I found her at prayer – in silence and the presence of love for all of us and the earth. She was at one with the Spirit of ‘Good…God’.

She was the ground – the foundation and the presence of spirituality for me and for our entire family. . . . I was twelve at the time of her death, and she died after a short illness. Because she was so strong for most of my life, I could not envision she could be so ill or even could die. I was in denial and, while my mother tried to prepare me and console me, it was abuelita herself who showed me that her goodbye was not an end. In her death, she came to me and said her goodbye through the shared memories of our many experiences, and I felt her love and spirit go through me. She knew that her dying would be hard, but her presence was not gone – we are united in the grounding of ‘the great spirit of Good’. She also showed me the unity among those who have gone before us. Her presence and wisdom continue in my life – she has returned in dreams at important points in my life, and she continues to bless me. It is in living and even in dying that we are united in ‘the Spirit of Great Good’, so long as we love and we listen deep within. In the grounding of our lives, in the silence, we come to KNOW the wisdom and the transformative ‘Good’ that exist in us and around us and in the lives of the ‘abuelitas’ who have gone before us.”

When spirits take flight…

The paths to peace take many forms and, sometimes, meditation, contemplation, silent reflection or prayer are not actually the key ingredients that nourish us whilst we meander along our own particular way. Sometimes a dream or a passion burns so fiercely inside us that the only way to find inner peace is to give that fledgling dream wings and the opportunity to see if it will fly.

When I watch others do this I see the power that such action can have to create love, in all its many forms, and I feel humbled by the endless forms in which Love manifests itself throughout this material world.

More and more often these days I find that the true Bringers of Light in my life, and the ones that seem to influence me most, are ordinary people leading the way by their example (torch bearers if you like) who teach me, through their actions, just as much as any ancient or spiritual text might do.

Two young men who’ve recently taught me something very valuable in this respect are people that I’ve known for the whole of their lives, since birth in fact, because they’re my nephews, Owen and Jamie McNally. And my belief in the value of their story is so strong that I think it’s worth retelling here.

In 2018 Jamie and his wife Heather moved to a house in the Lancashire countryside and discovered that it was located on the site of the former Hoyle Bottom Cotton Mill with its own natural water source called Tinker Brook. The embryonic dream of a business venture began to form and, in discussion with older brother Owen who was working at the time in Spain, the idea of starting their own distillery emerged and grew into a tangible and measurable goal.

With a beautiful, metaphoric synchronicity, which divine Providence seems to have a way of weaving into all of our lives, Heather also discovered at the same time that she was pregnant. And I watched as the two dreamed-for and longed-for creations grew into maturity and eventual birth, almost side by side.

Potential family funders for the business venture were sought and secured, research and development into the mystical art of distilling took place, and a branding profile was created utilising the heritage of Hoyle Bottom Mill and Owen’s professional skills in graphic design.

At the end of 2018 Heather and Jamie’s son Mylo was born and, at the beginning of 2019, Hoyle Bottom Spirits and its signature product, Tinker brook Gin, were launched.

Team Tinker Brook: the face of inspiration, dedication, common purpose and love.

Almost immediately the young men’s mettle was tested when, the day after launch, their pre-contracted supplier of limited-edition ceramic bottles informed them that there would be a problem with supply. The prospect of defaulting on their delivery commitments to customers, and of disappointing all those who had placed faith in their new business and product, loomed large.

But Jamie and Owen are young men who believe in values. They believe, as does Heather (and no doubt, one day, Mylo will too), that honouring your word, in whatever way you’re able to, and finding creative solutions when obstacles occur, are important character traits required to live happy and fulfilling lives.

So they downed a metaphorical (and I suspect a literal) stiff drink, put any knock to their public ego pride to one side, and set to work on salvaging the situation. They wrote to all their pre-order clients explaining the dilemma, apologised profusely, and offered a refund to those for whom the ‘limited-edition ceramic bottles’ had been a determining purchase choice. They provided free postage & packing on initial orders, in way of compensation, and discounts on future orders to show the strength of their goodwill. They reasoned that any financial loss from this unfortunate, last-minute development should be viewed as a necessary investment in potential future business and that this set back gave them the perfect opportunity to demonstrate their genuine commitment to customer care. They then went into full glass-bottle production and Tinker Brook Gin was born.

Since then it’s been a lot of hard work: distilling, bottling, marketing, promoting, planning, parenting, and selling. Owen, after numerous ‘flying visits’ to provide all the practical help he could whilst still holding down a full-time job in Spain, has now returned to the UK and joined the business full time. The company’s product range has expanded, to include liqueurs and speciality gins. The number of commercial clients has grown steadily and a new, larger ‘still’ has been invested in and installed to cope with increased levels of production and sales.

It’s still a fledgling business, testing its wingspan, and learning best how to fly. But, as an onlooker, what I see clearly is the abundance of commitment and enthusiasm that its young founders invest in its potential, in pursuit of their shared vision and dream. I see the continuing encouragement, love and support of their close family members, providing additional funding when needed and promotional help and advice, when it’s sought. And these are all beautiful things to behold. It’s a dream that is steadily growing, lifted by love and powered by courage, passion and belief.

What I’ve learned yet again, by watching Owen, Jamie and Heather, is that the most effective form of teaching is simply to live by example and that the path to finding inner peace takes many different forms. It sometimes takes a large measure of bravery and tenacity to pursue our individual dreams but, if we just make the effort to open our hearts and to look around, we’ll see that we’re actually surrounded by a legion of courageous torch bearers who, through their own inspiring examples, are showing us all the way.

And I, for one, raise a glass to them all.

“Here’s to friends and family who know us well, but love us just the same”.

– Anonymous toast

If you’re interested in learning more about their story, or the product range that Hoyle Bottom Spirits produce, their website can be found at: www.hoylebottomspirits.co.uk