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The theme this week is generosity. We’ve had a weekend that has been marked by great generosity which manifested in a variety of ways. Because it was my wife’s birthday, we wanted to mark the occasion. This was partly planned, but other things just arose spontaneously. Apart from cards and presents, our children arranged a lunch at a gastropub in Dulwich with a table for nine set down the middle of the bar and a birthday tea to follow with cakes made by our grandchildren. It was noisy but thoroughly enjoyable occasion. The day before we attended a celebration of the life of close friend and colleague who had died recently. It was a big event with well over a hundred people in attendance. He was a brilliant man, a great scholar an inspiring teacher and in his absent minded eccentricities a complete one off. The thing that came out of the eulogies was, apart from all the entertaining stories about his idiosyncracies was his great generosity of heart. He certainly was a man much loved.
In the evening we went to a beautiful concert of choral music by Handel in the Hawksmore church in Greenwich. There was a huge choir, lovely soloists and a full orchestra. It really was a most wonderful evening of music composed and performed with great spirit. If you would like to hear the choir singing in an earlier performance of Zadok the Priest click on the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rc3t3-9auY
On the way back on a packed tube train from the celebration of our friend's life, firstly a Boy Scout from Guernsey, who I imagine must have been in London to mark Remembrance Sunday, offered my wife his seat. Then a group of students got on. One of them admired the scarf my wife had been given by a friend that morning and asked where she had bought it. My wife said she didn't know as it was a birthday present. They then asked when her birthday was. She said, ‘Today.’ They all then started singing Happy Birthday to her. Everybody looked up from their self contained worlds and started laughing. She was then asked her name was, and when she told them it was Patti they turned to the rest of carriage called out that it was Patti's birthday and started singing For She's a Jolly Good Fellow, and the rest of the carriage joined in. It was a memorable moment.
What with the reminder of the great good humour and generosity of our friend whose life we had celebrated, what with the generosity of friends and family towards my wife, the generosity of the singers and musicians who sang and played Handel's wonderful music with such spirit, and the generosity of these strangers on the train, it was certainly a weekend marked by great good heartedness, a fitting contrast to the very moving solemnity of all the events that marked the centenary of the end of the First World War and all those who gave their lives.
With my very best regards, William
PS We had a terrific start to the five week course, plenty of people in attendance showing great enthusiasm for what was on offer. If you would like to come it’s not too late.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
We all need to be nourished, and there are so many ways that this is done. Firstly we think of physical nourishment: good food, fresh and well prepared. If we had any sense we would refuse anything else. We would certainly want to serve food of this kind. When food like this is served it's not just our stomach that is filled. This food is nourishing in many ways. One way is emotionally. When we take care about the way we prepare and serve our food then this becomes obvious.
The heart of the family is the meal table. There’s a world of difference between food served with care and food that isn’t. This is convenience food in the sense that through it things come together, convene and make whole. In serving our family and friends food of this kind how can we do anything but nourish? Food like this is not only convenient, it's also wholesome. It makes whole.
Inherent in this is another factor. for there is both the food itself and then there is the serving of that food. Service in itself is nourishing. Through service you honour your guests. You acknowledge their value. When value is not given or received, the individual shrivels. This is true for those who do the honouring just as much as those who are honoured. In acknowledging another we acknowledge ourselves. This is why company is so important, good company in particular.
There is also this other word: generously. If we could simply make the offering in whatever way comes to us in a generous spirit, just give: time, service, attention, care, willingness, love, this would be a gift indeed.
We started this consideration with food for the body, but as you can see it soon becomes evident that you can't prepare good food for the body without it also involving good food for the mind and good food for the heart. Food of this kind requires a sense of measure. Ingredients and measure are key factors in any recipe, and the quality of the ingredients and the precision of measure is essential in philosophical living just as much as cooking.
Measure in all things is a philosophical maxim with a long pedigree. Measure of this kind can only be discovered in the present, and the more we are sensitive to the present need, the more exact is our sense of measure. We give only what the situation demands.
All this is food for thought, things to consider and act upon. Just as the body needs continual nourishment so does the mind. By seeking nourishment of this kind the principles to which quality nourishment constantly refers are opened up within us. In this sense you are reading a cook book, but cook books are one thing, good food is another. For the ideas found here to be kept alive they must be practised.
I kept the ideas alive by keeping them with me. I'm on the phone a lot at the office. The reflections that seemed particularly appropriate I write out on Post It Notes and attach them to the telephone. Every time the phone rings I return to the idea.
By adopting reminders like this the principles become so familiar that we are able to express them not in any self conscious way but in a way that is utterly natural and appropriate. It has to be natural because these principles are natural to us. Food of this kind doesn't so much fill, but more opens up and reveals. It's about accessing the essential thing.
Serve the best food.
Feed yourself on what is best by constantly accessing the essential thing.
And having found what is the best food for yourself,
generously serve it to others.
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