The one about…demons.

The ‘Good Place’, the ultimate afterlife destination, a heaven like utopia for the elite of humanity, an eternal paradise for those that are good enough or so you’d think…but things aren’t always as they seem and the Good Place is actually an experimental neighbourhood designed specifically for four particular human beings as part of an exploration into alternative torture; hosted by a demonic architect called Michael, the four humans are tortured; not with the more traditional fire and brimstones but instead simply by being, well, human.
It’s another one of those Netflix shows that sounds a little far-fetched and it probably is, the ‘frozen yoghurt in heaven’ concept clearly suggesting that the plot is not rooted in any kind of reality! Yet what if there’s more truth to be found in the ideas it does present, what if the theories it conceptualises are not as far from reality as we might think.
We all hold some thoughts about the afterlife; so whether we dismiss it completely, opting for a huge void of nothingness, or whether we calm our existential fears with thoughts of angels, harps and clouds (or a range of options in between) it’s a subject that we have no definitive answer to no matter how strong our religious (or non-religious) convictions are.
Heaven and hell; literal places we descend or ascend to when our time on earth is over or a metaphorical allegory (is that even a thing?) providing meaning to that which we can’t explain? Angels, demons, an omnipotent judge like character? It sounds the stuff of fiction and fable, more at place in a Phillip Pullman novel or as a plot in Good Omens; but what if demons are more common than we think?
Life isn’t always easy and even when it’s going well, we can battle some pretty tough thoughts in our mind. Those “demons” that taunt us about how we don’t deserve to be happy, who whisper horror over that new lump or bump that’s appeared or the way that mole has changed; demons that talk you into one more drink because really, what’s the harm? Demons that make you doubt anyone really likes you, that you were only invited because they were being polite and it probably would be best to send that text to say you’re not going to make it because you don’t want to spend the whole evening feeling like you don’t belong. Demons that torment you with all the bad decisions you’ve made whilst trying to parent that child, that tell you the reason she does that is because of what you did. Demons that tease you about your ideas for that presentation, that suggest its not good enough and that you won’t get the promotion so it’s best to give up now. Demons that laugh at your attempt at a costume for your child, reminding you of your own childhood humiliation at school plays and mufti days. Demons that haunt you with and uneasy paranoia about who you are and what you’re capable of. Demons that go out of their way to show you how you’ve failed, that remind you you’re not the wife, mother, daughter, friend, sister (or husband, father, son, brother) or maybe just not the person that you would like to be.
Demons can take all shapes and sizes and they can creep up on us out of nowhere, just chipping away at our confidence, at our self-worth, at our belief that we are enough and that we are doing OK.
Shawn from the ‘Good Place’ bad place might well just be a cleverly characterised attempt at mimicking Lucifer, the bad place might host some weird and wonderfully designed demons and it might all seem a little too far from the truth but what if there is something in the way humans are used to torture themselves that is quite close to the truth? What if we do actually create our own hell in the thoughts we believe and the way we respond, not only on a personal level but on a national and international level too? What if the concept of hell isn’t something reserved for the afterlife but a very present phenomenon right now? What if all this suggests that if we can create our own hell maybe creating heaven on earth isn’t as impossible as we think.

The one about…moving the dog!

I didn’t expect the dog to be the problem…the move went so well, and we’re so incredibly grateful to all those friends and family that helped; providing boxes, beds, moving boxes, lifting sofas, bringing a trailer, loading the trailer, carrying chairs and wardrobes and desks, entertaining children, taking washing and gently reminding us that it will all be ok! We’re in and it feels like home, more like home than where we were before (but then I do remember that house feeling like that when we moved there). The children have been incredible; building beds, unpacking clothes, filling draws, taking a breath and smiling when I can’t quite remember where I put their favourite toy and being patient when the cooker took longer to cook dinner than I expected. They have genuinely been there for each other in those moments where the tears fell, when it all felt a little strange and those times that we all just needed to know that no matter what else happened we had each other…they have rocked this move!

Then there’s the dog…the first night the children all settled, they all slept through, but not the dog! No, the dog woke at 4:40am and whimpered, then the whimper turned to a whine and the whine to a bark until desperate Deb got up with a spare duvet and lay on the sofa next to him, not because she wanted the dog to feel better but because she didn’t want him to wake the children or the new neighbours! Last night was a slight improvement but Sid still had to go to him twice and I gave in and got up at 5:50 just so that he would JUST BE QUIET!

I just didn’t see that coming, I didn’t expect the dog to be a problem but he is. Hopefully, given a few days he will settle down but in the meantime it’s serving as a timely reminder that I need to learn to love the dog,

My fundamental inability to have any feelings of compassion whatsoever towards him,is somewhat problematic. I don’t like the dog. I don’t love the dog. There are many reasons why I feel the way I do, reasons I justify on a regular basis. The dog is ridiculously needy in a desperate kind of way, which I just find irritating, does he not know that there are dogs on this planet that live in the wild, that fend for themselves, finding food, shelter and water while he is at times, quite simply, pathetic. He’s inappropriate, totally incapable of reading situations, like when I’m playing trains with Ez on the floor and he thinks I’m sitting there to play with him. He also only seems to learn what he wants to learn, for example, he can read the clues for a walk but he can’t stay on his bed at mealtime despite being told to go there repeatedly. He thinks everything is about him, because, of course me putting shoes on always means I’m going to take him out…NO IT DOESN’T! He makes work, a lot of work, as if there’s not enough, oh and he smells, of dog, and he always has to put his slobbery face on me if I try to show him affection and he doesn’t ever wipe his feet, I could go on…

However, this is not helping me to like him and neither have the last two nights, yet somehow I just can’t get away from the reality that I need to love the dog. I need to love him because all the time I don’t, there’s something within me that’s just not sitting right, not at peace and while it is just a dog, it symbolises so much more than that, a connection to all that’s hard to love, all that I don’t like, all that I find irritating or would rather not face. To learn to love the dog would be a step towards learning to love all of creation and all of humanity more deeply.

Richard Rohr once said that ‘authentic love is of one piece. How you love anything is how you love everything.’*

What if that is true? What if how I love the dog is indicative of how I love myself, others, everyone? What if love cannot be divided out into lots and given to only that which we deem lovely? What if to love means we have to choose to love the unlovely, whether that’s the unlovely within ourselves, within others or even within the dog. What if love grows as we choose to do this, because as we learn to extend the boundaries of what we thought we could love, our ability to love increases? Or maybe, as our hearts overflow, we find that love can, naturally of its own accord, extend wider, until it encompasses caring for all things, and connection to everything—until our love becomes Love itself, the very flow and force of the universe.*

So maybe the disturbed nights and the early mornings are a gift, an opportunity to learn, a gentle reminder of what I need to remember, an opportunity to be grateful and an opportunity to learn what it really means to love…because that’s one thing the dog does so beautifully; no matter how much we ignore him, or tell him off or send him to his bed, he is consistently faithful, completely devoted and inexhaustibly loving.

*www.cac.org/Giving Ourselves Monday, June 24, 2019 Fr. Richard Rohr.

The one about…redefining Brexit!

Brexit…well, I’m not sure what’s happening with the British exit of the European Union so I thought I’d fill you in on the Bridges exit instead!

We’re on the move! It has been nearly three years since we started looking at jobs in the Church of England, knowing that Sid’s curacy would end and we’d potentially need to take up a post elsewhere. It’s been a rollercoaster of emotion; applications, interviews, emails and conversations, all an attempt to discern what we should be doing and where we should be doing it. Soul searching I think it’s sometimes called, although to be honest I always imagined soul searching to be a little more like walking along a beach pondering some deep, meaningful thoughts; but these years have been brutal, exhausting, real and raw, hopeful, exhilarating, energising, draining and a whole host of other somewhat conflicting emotions! Some moments have nearly broken us, as individuals, as a couple and as family; some very dark, seemingly hopeless experiences followed by glimmers of hope, anticipation and intrigue only to find out it’s not to be. We’ve taken jobs and turned jobs down, we’ve applied and then pulled out of interview, we’ve applied and not been called for interview, we’ve been interviewed and not appointed; but each experience, however random or seemingly nonsensical, has taught us something, something more of who we are and why we’re here. We can both honestly say that while that has been ridiculously hard at times, we’ve learnt things about ourselves that we could only learn by living this way.

Yet all of it eventually had to culminate in something, a decison had to be made, and the decision was not just about one person or even two, any decision had huge implications for our children too, it would impact their friendships, their education and their lifestyle; it would impact who they are and who they would become, for better or for worse. We moved here with only five of them and now there are seven, and while playgroup and primary were our only consideration five years ago we’re now well into secondary school, GCSE’s and considering the crazy world of post-16 too. Decisions can’t be made lightly!

The decision has been made and now we find ourselves surrounded by boxes, lists and cluttered piles of “stuff” headed for rubbish, recycling or the next charity shop collection. It is somewhat monumental, the reality of moving nine of us, somewhat surreal, as we look around the house and walk the streets of our neighbourhood where we’ve lived life together, through all its ups and downs. It seems strange to think that this chapter of our life is over yet we know that the beauty is found in turning the page and beginning the next.

So we move, not far away, neighbours will change but much of what we know will stay the same and the work we’re called to do, well that’s what’s giving us the energy and inspirtaion to pack up and move on. We knew we had to find work, vocation and a lifestyle that made our hearts and souls sing. We’re so excited by what we’re doing that all of the past confusion and hurt and disappointments pale into insignificance as we look to what we get to do each day.*

There’s so much that we have learnt and are continuing to learn from this journey but there’s something about the name Prodigal that is so important, more important than we realised when we created ‘Prodigal Collective’ nearly a year ago. ‘Prodigal’ was inspired by the story known as ‘the Prodigal Son’, found in the bible. For so many, ‘Prodigal’ conjures up images of a wayward child, squandering inheritance, reckless and extravagant and maybe that’s how some people see us!? For us though, ‘Prodigal’ defines the father, the God character, the divine source, energy or being that holds the whole story. ‘Prodigal’ is recklessly extravagant in all the right ways, a universe that lacks nothing, an ultimate reality that is wired in favour of humanity…prodigal is generous, unstinting, bountiful and abundant and that is what we have experienced as we’ve journeyed. That does not mean that every day we’re skipping along without a care in the world, the belief that the universe is wired in our favour hasn’t fully stopped the tears and the pain, it hasn’t completely removed the fear or prevented the sleepless nights but it has enabled us to move through all of those emotions knowing that they belong, that we’re held and that this is all headed somewhere good. Our understanding of Prodigal is what makes life worth it, it’s what inspires us and keeps us hopeful of good times even through the difficult ones. Our understanding of Prodigal is what enables us to do each day, it’s what’s teaching us to celebrate all that we do have and it’s showing us how to live life to the full.

 

If you’d like to know more about what we’re up to then check out our website: www.prodigal.org.uk

 

 

The one about…spirit!

What comes to mind when you hear the word spirit? An energy or force? The life within someone or something?

Would you describe spirit as a ‘spark’, ‘zest’ or ‘fire’? Or do you see “spirit” as something even more ambiguous, an essence or an aura, sometimes linked to soul or life source, or even a life force, a ‘non-physical’ part of our humanity?

Whatever we understand ‘spirit’ to be, it could be argued that our spirit somewhat defines our character, somehow our spirit is who we are or maybe how we’re received by the world. We talk of children being spirited when they have a lot of energy and opinion! We describe people who live life a little on the edge of normal as free spirits. We talk about events or experiences that ‘lift our spirits’ and we talk of our ‘spirits being dampened’.

What is it though that affects our spirit? What causes us to be in “good spirits” and what causes us to feel ‘poor in spirit’?

Often our spirits are high when life is going as we intend; the job, the relationship, the children, all as we hoped it would be, or near enough. We almost don’t give much thought to the state of our spirit while we take for granted that life is good.
We seem to become more aware of the state our spirit is in when we lack the energy that usually sustains us. We might try to find enough distractions to boost our spirit but often the insane, incessant pace of life or the everyday, consistent demands on us can leave us feeling as though we’ve reached the end of our resources.

So how do we restore our spirit when it’s lacking the zest we’d like to have?

Maybe there’s something about recognising that the aim of life isn’t to always be ‘in high spirits’, that our ultimate goal isn’t to be consistently happy. What if a healthier aim is to be more connected to our spirit, more aware of what causes our spirit to soar and what causes it to feel lost and low? What if it’s more important to understand ourselves, to know what influences us than it is to try to force ourselves into feeling good? What if a little more self awareness allows us to respond rather than react to a situation? Which in turn helps us to be more the people we’d like to be, more consistent and real? What if being aware of what causes our spirits to fail and falter allows us to tread more lightly around certain circumstances or people? What if by treading more carefully we find we’re not so entrapped or entwined with events or individuals that cause our spirits to become low? What if that level of awareness means that even when spirits are low, we’re more able to journey through the moment, however long it lasts, learn from it and keep moving forwards?

All good thoughts, right, but what if there’s something more? What if “spirit” isn’t as individual a concept as we perhaps think? We often talk of community spirit, or the spirit of a company or team, as though it’s the ethos or the energy that drives a group of people. As individuals we can find that, while we may not be in a good place emotionally, mentally or even spiritually, when we’re with others, part of a collective, a group who together create community, our sense of spirit does thrive. When we find our spirits are connected to others we find that they are also lifted because of that connection, because of a sense of belonging. What if this has huge implications for how we choose to live. What if our spirit is most alive when in relationship with others, however that relationship is defined, whether its love, a ‘dance’ of conversation or experiences or a more intellectual sense of knowing? What if identity and purpose, our sense of who we are and why we’re here makes more sense when found in relation, association or attachment to others?

Which really does raise the question of whether our spiritual wellbeing thrives when we are part of something beyond or more than ourselves? Does our mental health benefit when we find a place to belong, or when we connect into community and find places that we are listened to and understood, places we can contribute to, give back to or just simply be known? What if finding those places and recognising what they offer and what we can offer to them, is what really makes our spirits sing and community spirit thrive.

 

The one about…letting go.

I know I’m holding on too tight, scared that if I let go I’ll end up in free fall, out of control, spiralling downwards.

Holding on isn’t always a bad thing, it can be the right thing to do; like holding to a dream because you know it will come good, or holding on to a relationship through some difficult times because you know it’s meant to be and it will work out, or holding on to the truth of who you are when other people are questioning your integrity. There are times where I’ve held on because it’s been the right thing to do; times where clinging on has been life giving and good, because some things do require time and patience, some moments require us to wait, and those moments need to be nurtured until they become all we know they can be.

This isn’t that kind of holding on, this clasp, this fists clenched grasp, is suffocating, stifling; whatever it is I’m holding, I’m holding it too tight.
Sometimes it’s obvious what we’re clinging to; status, wealth, youth, identity, security, sometimes we chase these things, we believe we’ve caught them, we think we have a good grasp and so we cling to them, believing that if we let go we’ll lose something of who we are.
Maybe, for me, it’s an element of all these things, holding onto a season of life that I’ve loved, with small children, in a house and a role that I like, with an identity that I have embraced. Maybe, as it all changes around me, I find myself strengthening my grip, in a futile attempt to hold on. I know it’s futile but I’m struggling to loosen my grip. Instead I fill my days with activity, distracting myself from the nagging reminders that something isn’t right, hoping that those feelings will go away. It’s very easy to find things that distract, obsessively watching sloth videos on Facebook, taking on more overtime, upping the miles on the running route, enjoying a little more, or a little less, to drink or eat, so many methods of numbing the pain of existence or escaping the everyday realities, just for a while. Yet, the underlying sense that something’s wrong doesn’t go, the cloud doesn’t lift no matter how many distraction techniques are employed and the only real solution, the only actual way forwards, is to let go.
Letting go means relinquishing control, admitting that we’re powerless to prevent life moving on. Letting go means surrendering to the future and allowing all that will be to…simply…be.
There’s a quote that says ‘the opposite of faith isn’t doubt, it’s control’. What if having faith isn’t about employing a belief system that is religiously adhered to but more about surrendering control and allowing wonder and mystery to thrive? What if the way to freedom is to dare to believe that life could actually be OK, that the new stage of life could be as good, or maybe even better than anything experienced so far? What if faith means daring to step forwards, not forever looking back at what was, but instead fully rooting each step in what is, right now?
It might mean that everyday we have to choose to let go, that everyday we have to choose to loosen the grip and surrender because our natural inclination is to intensify our hold. What if in those moments where we want to hold on tightly to how life was, instead we very carefully relax our hands, and our hearts, even our souls, and let go? Maybe then instead of spiralling out of control, downwards into freefall we’ll find that we fly.

The one about…spiritual wellbeing!

🎵I believe in you
You know the door to my very soul
You’re the light in my deepest darkest hour
You’re my savior when I fall!🎵

I sang the BeeGees out loud on my way to school, much to my daughters annoyance and embarrassment. I could argue it was the Michael Buble version but I’m not sure that would have made it any more credible!

I looked at my eight year old as I sang, her eyes shining, laughing at me but also wiling me to be quiet, it was one of those moments, almost impossible to describe but as her eyes sparkled it was as though she became that ‘door to my soul’, there are moments where all my children are that door, moments where they release something deep in me that makes complete sense yet is also completely incomprehensible.

There are other occasions too where I find that my soul is stirred, awake, alive; that the door is open and something in me can be set free. Those moments when the words of a book seem to race with excitement and anticipation as though they’re written just to me, or the lyrics of a song connect so deeply, making sense of something I otherwise couldn’t have put into words. My soul comes alive in the simplest of experiences too, finding a conker still wrapped in its casing or an acorn with its little ‘hat’ on, a moment by the sea, the sheer volume, vastness that speaks without words; a walk in the woods as the rays of sun filter through, the colours of the sunset, catching the look in a friends eye and knowing you’re known, all these for me are soul moments. They are moments where I know there’s something more, that there’s a connection to the universe, a higher power, another, a love that holds all of what I think is true, they leave me with that deep sense of wellbeing that makes me sigh with contentment.

This feeling is even more heightened, even more real, when I share those moments with others, when I have conversations that are about more than just the weather, or what the teacher said about that child, or what I did at the weekend. Those conversations have their place but the conversations about what it means to be human, about what we’re fearful of or excited about, conversations where those participating dare to be a little more vulnerable and honest, that’s where the energy is for me.

The reality is that those conversations, those moments, are fleeting. It seems they’re there, they happen and then they’re gone. I guess something in me changes slightly each time but then life takes over again and to be honest its easier sometimes to cope with life by simply keeping busy, going for a run, scrolling facebook, shopping for trainers, looking forward to a glass of wine on a Friday night or a weekend away. None of these ways of coping are bad in and of themselves but cumulatively they can serve as a continuous distraction which stops me from discovering soul moments.

What if we could find a way to embrace soul moments more often? What if we could discover how to nourish our souls, to feed them, to wake them up? What if we were to pay attention to our spiritual wellbeing? Physical and mental health are on the agenda, and rightly so, but what if spiritual health, spiritual wellbeing needs to be on the agenda too? What if spiritual wellbeing takes us further than our own individual health and wellbeing and leads us towards connection, belonging and community?

There’s an old hymn with the line, “it is well, it is well with my soul” but what does soul wellness look like? I’m not sure I subscribe to the lyrics of the hymn but I get the concept of peace, a peace that exists despite the circumstances of life not instead of them, that kind of peace intrigues me. The truth is that life throws crazy swerve balls at us all of the time and those moments where we catch glimpses of goodness, what I call soul moments, are great but often far too short. Even when we get a longer time to ‘simply be’ we still eventually have to pick up the monotony of the rat race again. Maybe those moments, however long they last, do enable us to face the next moment and gain a new perspective for a while but what if spiritual wellbeing takes that thought even further and becomes about discovering a peace that exists in the midst of the crazy, not just when we step aside from it?

What if peace, that fresh perspective, that centred contentment that comes from having our own soul moments is heightened in experiencing connection to others, to belonging to and contributing to community? What if peace, that concept of a contented soul, comes from knowing we’re held by something outside of us too? What if it offers us the sense that there is something more and that our story, with all its ups and downs, finds more meaning when it connects to others and the bigger, ongoing narrative of humanity? What if that means those moments where we’re not OK are then actually OK because it does all belong? What if starting to explore thoughts of spirit and soul is the start to experiencing spiritual wellbeing and spiritual wellbeing is about our soul becoming more alive than ever as we embrace all that life is? What if it’s then that the light shines, even in the deepest darkest hour!

The one about…dreams coming true!(part 1!)

There’s an interesting distinction between fantasy and dreams. It’s not something I’d really given much thought to until recently. I guess I’d kind of resigned myself to the belief that the way of life I longed for belonged more in the world of fantasy than as a dream that could possibly come true.

So here’s the thing; (I can’t quite claim this thought as my own, it was raised as part of a life coaching course I’ve been studying.) The basic concept is that dreams and fantasy are both an adventure into our imagination, both existing outside of our everyday experience. Fantasy however, isn’t rooted in any kind of reality but dreams are subtly linked to reality. Dreams are an exploration of possibilities, creating an understanding of what is and what could be.

Children are incredibly gifted in fantasy, spending hours in a world far from their own, enjoying the unrealistic possibilities of what will never be but seemingly quite content with that truth. As adults our fantasies change, some healthy, some not so much but all a form of escapism from the day to day ordinariness we so often live with, yet still not rooted in reality, still an unrealistic place for our thoughts to dwell for too long.

Dreams however, those imaginary events that we would love to come true, and oneday possibly might, still often seem slightly out of reach from our everyday. How do we bridge that gap between what we dream of being, doing or becoming and the truth we live with today? How do we root our dreams in possibility and not let them drift into the realms of fantasy?

I think that’s where the Jesus story offers some wisdom. The description of the ‘new heaven and new earth’ seem more at home in the world of fantasy. The concept of a time and place where the first are last and the last are first, where there are no more tears or pain or even death, a world where values are rooted in who you are not how much you earn, how clever you are, the size of house you live in or the car you drive…where love really does win every time and peace is how it is. Where generosity, kindness, joy and patience are in abundance and wine is never lacking(!!!?) A world of fantasy or a place dreams…

Just as we often struggle to see how our dreams become reality it’s hard to see how the Jesus vision of how life could be becomes reality too. Yet what if, to see this vision become real, in the same way as we want to see our dreams become reality, we simply have to begin?

What if the Jesus story isn’t fantasy, what if it is a possibility? What if we were to start to act as though its true, to offer more kindness and generosity, to take a breath in those moments where patience wouldn’t be our natural response, to choose to love and forgive rather than hate and seek revenge. Peace on earth isn’t out of reach but it does seem to require more of us than we often want to give. Which makes me wonder if Whitney and Kygo* were right to invite us to consider whether there is a force or energy outside of us that inspires us and calls us on, a higher love or power, or whatever name we give it.

So whether we look at our own paths and long for our own dreams to be realised or whether we look at the world around us and long for a better reality, the challenge might well be the same. Maybe we need to work out the next step then dare to take it? Maybe we need to take time in our everyday to connect with that higher love? Maybe it is possible to discover that dreams really do come true.

** Whitney Houston and Kygo, Higher Love

🎵Think about it
There must be a higher love
Down in the heart
Or hidden in the stars above
Without it
Life is a wasted time
Look inside your heart
And I’ll look inside mine.🎵