The one about…Kadosh

Kadosh. Hebrew words are intriguing…they carry such mystery and playfulness because the Jewish tradition is so open to questions and exploration, far more interested in the discussion around meaning than in trying to give answers. Which makes the concept of Kadosh really interesting. Kadosh; holy, set apart, sacred. Kadosh; to draw a circle around that moment, that person, that feeling, that thought and allow…it…just…to…be.

Because there are moments in life that don’t make sense, occasions that just don’t fit with how we understand life, moments that just don’t flow in the usual pattern of our existence and instances that don’t sit comfortably with what we know to be true. There are friendships, relationships and people that confuse us, that cause us to question ourselves and the decisions we have made. There are moments that call into question the very foundations of our existence.
The problem comes when all of the self analysis, the constant replaying of the event, trying to understand it or make sense of the moment, leaves us more confused, insecure and vulnerable than we’ve ever felt and no matter how hard we try, that moment, that occasion, that experience, that person just does not make sense.

It’s at that point that Kadosh does make sense. There are some things you do just have to draw a circle around and say, ‘I don’t understand so I’m simply going to allow…it…just…to…be’! Because those moments are holy or sacred and do just need to be set apart.
I’ve found those moments true on many occasions. The death of my dad, miscarriage, the insecurities of my eight year old, the uncertainty about work…I’ve just had to draw a circle around these things and allow them just to be.
Death, loss, dementia, unemployment; some things aren’t how we imagined, some things just “are” and maybe allowing them to be, to say ‘that’s a holy moment’, to respect those events, no matter how painful or confusing, somehow allows them to belong in a way that didn’t seem possible.

Kadosh…some things are holy because some things just “are”.

The one about…autumnal truth!

There are reminders all around us of a truth we’ve forgotten, the truth that the very essence of who we are is good. Autumn brings these reminders to us in such generous proportions as the air freshens, the birds begin to migrate and the leaves change colour; we’re reminded that each new season has its own beauty and wonder. There’s an awe and reverence to be found in observing the rhythm of the universe. The conkers are falling, breaking their rough, outer shell to reveal the shiny, smooth treasure inside. It’s a reminder of the beauty that creation holds, a reminder that there’s goodness within all that’s created, no matter how spiky the outer appearance.

So often we don’t see the goodness in ourselves or others and sadly the idea that we’re not good enough is often reinforced by the world as the whispers of “not enough” echo around; not successful/thin/wealthy/fit/popular/clever/________ enough! Often the teaching of the church tells us this too, tells us that we failed before we even began. It’s the doctrine of original sin, begun by the early church and adopted by our society, the idea of original sin haunts us and inhibits our ability to be fully alive. Even if we don’t subscribe to a religion, or that strand of one, it’s a belief that has found its way into our heads and hearts.

This belief, whatever angle it is approached from, is damaging.
It has damaged our relationship with the divine. God is seen by many as a wrathful figure who needs appeasing and the death of Jesus becomes about changing the mind of God about humanity rather than the ultimate act of love that changed the mind of humanity about God!*

It’s not only our understanding of the divine that has been skewed; the idea that we are sinful from birth, or that we are not good enough, has implications for our relationship with others from a personal to an international level. If we submit to the doctrine of original sin or the lies of ‘not enough’ then we don’t trust the fundamental goodness of the other instead we fear, judge and often hate simply because we can’t see deep enough to see the truth.

The teaching of original sin and the lies of not enough have also damaged our relationship with ourselves, we begin to really believe we’re not good and to compensate we fill our lives with things that makes us feel better about ourselves, anything that holds meaning, even if the meaning isn’t rooted in truth. We try to prove to ourselves, others, even a higher being, that who we are, what we have and what we’ve achieved is acceptable.

Yet, what if there’s a way to undo some of these lies? What if the role of religion, at it’s very essence, is to remind us of the truth that we are good? What if religion or church or any contemplative practices are fundamentally about creating ways for us to step aside from the lies we’ve come to believe and actually connect with who we really are?

What if then, our understanding of Jesus, of church or of our religion, has the ability to reconnect us with the truth about ourselves? What if the Jesus story offers us the truth about all we have ever been, all we are and all we can be. Truth that says “we are enough”. A truth that has been forgotten but a truth that at it’s very heart, is a call back to our true self? What if the Jesus story speaks of a different way because the way we so often choose isn’t good for us, isn’t the way of the soul but instead to live the way of the soul is to live knowing who we are, that our story has worth and that from that place of peace we can bring life and love to this world.

*my favourite Richard Rohr quote!!

The one about…that thought!

I’m going to die. I’m going to die and I’ve no idea when or how.”

The thought hit me like a bolt of lightening as it coursed through my body. I tried to calm myself taking deep soothing breaths as I stared blankly into the moonlit darkness of the camper I was sleeping in, or at least trying to sleep in.

Unlike some worries and fears this one wasn’t irrational or rooted in some crazy delusion this was true and unavoidable and it wasn’t just me, it would happen to the children, Sid, everyone.

Existential fears I think they’re called. The fears we wrestle with in the darkness that are way too big for our finite minds to comprehend.

It’s not the first time I’d played out this disturbing reality, although every time the thought hits me it does seem strangely like it’s news to my tiny mind. These fears always seem to taunt me most when life is relatively OK. Take this moment for example, camping in the walled garden of an old Manor, surrounded by family and friends. Lazy days spent in the pool, strolling through the meadow and exploring the woods. Hours swinging on tree swings or finding sticks to sharpen ready to toast marshmallows on the bonfire. Conversations over cups of tea, sharing life with people who were honest enough to admit they hadn’t got it all sorted and happy to laugh or cry about that reality. I honestly didn’t want to be anywhere else. I guess that’s the sign of a good holiday. The days had been hot which meant clear cooler nights which is why I lay there awake, slightly too cold to sleep, wrestling with the terror of my own mortality.

The truth is that I don’t really know what to do with those thoughts. My childhood faith had offered a strategy for being saved, but saved from what? Clearly not death, or at least not the physical death that would separate me from those I loved. So what do I do with those very real and inescapable fears?

I can’t believe I’m the only one to have ever realised the terrifying truth of my own mortal existence. We all know we’re going to die and we’re all good at avoiding thinking about it, until we really have to, which must be a good thing because I’m not sure life on planet earth would be much fun if we all lived with death at the forefront of our minds all of the time.

There are of course a number of responses to the reality of death. We can choose to distract ourselves from ever thinking about it with careful avoidance techniques, indulging in food, drink, sex, drugs or any other harmless or harmful addictions, anything to numb the pain of the reality we all face. We can choose denial, pushing death aside and focusing on our increasingly fast paced lives, filling every second with activity and leaving us no alone time to think.

Or we can choose to contend a little more bravely with the thoughts of death and separation? We can spend time addressing the issues within ourselves, reconnecting with our own soul and rediscovering an inner peace that comes from finding that being left alone with our own thoughts is actually quite a healthy place to be.

We might also find that there are some realities we do just have to accept we can’t answer, like the when and how of death, and at the same time admit that the terror which surrounds the actual truth of death is very real.

For me it was about admitting that the faith that told me I didn’t need to fear death didn’t quite add up in the way all of those around me seemed so convinced it did. I do have moments where death terrifies me, where the apparent fact that “death is defeated” seems to mean nothing when faced with my own death or the death of those I love. Yet I can’t write off my faith because there is something about wrestling with these thoughts that enables me to hold them. There’s is something about the surrender found in the Jesus story that inspires me, something about his submission to the rhythm of life, death and resurrection that does leave me knowing deep within that this whole concept is held by a force, an energy, a power, an ultimate reality, called love or God, or whatever name makes most sense, and that this source of being holds all of time and all of our stories. Somewhere in that I find a peace.

I find peace in believing that our stories matter but aren’t what holds it all together, that they are important but they’re not the whole story. Maybe if I’m able to keep in check the truth that my story is a humble part of the bigger story then my coming and going from this world is very gently held within that. Whilst death is sad and painful and a myriad of other emotions for those that are left to wait their turn, death becomes part of the story rather than the end.

So I’m left with the challenge of surrender, the challenge to relinquish control, to lay down my fears and instead choose to live the best life possible, to contribute to the story in a way that is good because I’m going to die and when I do I want to know I’ve lived life fully alive.

 

 

 

The one about…soul.

Have you ever sat beneath the night sky and wondered what it’s all about or stared out at the ocean and simply known that it’s all going to be ok, whatever ‘it’ is? Have you ever watched a movie and felt it connect to something deep within you? Or listened to music so hauntingly beautiful that it spoke to you of something more? When was the last time you read a book, unable to put it down because it seemed to be telling your story? Have you ever found yourself lost in a piece of art; a photo, a painting, a sculpture or a drawing?

How do you describe those moments where you lose yourself, yet find yourself in something beautiful? What language do you use to give that the meaning and honour it deserves? Sometimes we say it made ‘our heart sing’, other times we might talk about how it ‘just made sense’ or we ‘just knew’. It seems like sometimes it’s head, sometimes it’s heart, sometimes it’s both. Yet there are times when it’s something far deeper, far richer and far more a part of us than either head or heart! What is that? What language do we use to give that meaning?

Have you heard the phrase she put her ‘heart and soul into it?’ Or he was the ‘life and soul of the party?’ There’s soul music, we talk of finding a soul mate, the disappointments we experience can be ‘soul destroying’ and that friend we have who’s struggling to know what to do next we describe as a ‘lost soul’…some people ‘bare their soul’ and we describe others as having ‘sold their soul’! All these phrases, these synonyms, they’re all attempts at describing an event or action that’s something more than we’d usually experience. When we use the word soul, even in these quirky phrases, we’re attempting to describe something that’s bigger, deeper, more meaningful than what we think we know to be true.

The soul itself however is not often talked about, yet it’s there, hidden, not just in our language but in the very depth of who we are. So when we talk of those things that connect deeply within us; or the things that stir those feelings that have become buried under all that is life; or those interactions that spark into flame fresh ideas of how it could be, what if we’re not talking about head or heart but soul?

What if we could reconnect with our soul? There are ancient teachings, ancient ways of being, like the teaching and the way of Jesus, which connected with people in a way that the rest of life didn’t. The teachings of Jesus were teachings that offered something new, more or different and inspired people to live a new or different way. Those teachings spoke to the soul! Teachings about not worrying, teachings about forgiveness. Teachings about true peace not the forced peace they lived with. Jesus taught about being blessed in times of grief, loss and misunderstanding. Jesus teachings took what people thought to be true and turned it upside down. There’s something about a way that challenges the status quo, a way that calls into question how it is and offers an alternative way; a way that is richer, better, fuller than anything previously experienced, that awakens our souls and invites us to dare to dream and to really live!

What if we dared to delve deeper into the wisdom we find in some of these ancient writings? What if within these ancient ways there is an invitation to rediscover our soul? What if we took time to listen to and appreciate the wonder of the world around us and started to see creation itself as an invitation to reconnect with ourselves, others and the divine? What if we took time to nourish our soul, to allow it thrive, to really hear what it’s saying to us or calling us on to? Maybe we’re being invited to continually discover more of who we are, to find our true self? What if in doing that we were to find a deeper understanding, respect and love for others, the world and that force which is outside of ourselves? What if an awakened soul is where real life is found?

The one about…love!

I’ve been reading a book called ‘Why are they so weird? What’s really going on in a teenagers brain.’* It’s a fascinating read and helpful as I attempt to navigate life with my tribe. The author of the book visits a well known neuroscientist who explains a little about what a developing brain needs.

To develop properly, she says, the brain must have certain experiences: good diet, exercise for good blood flow, challenges and love.
‘You know, I say that part about love in all my lectures and the men all laugh. They are scientists and they know t’s true, but they won’t say it,’ she said, as she carefully tucked the brain back in its tupperware bowl and closed the lid on the flowered hatbox. ‘Then, after the lectures, you know what those men want? They all want a hug,'”*

Love, it seems, is really quite important and the scientists agree. But what is love? What does love even look like? Is it that warm, fuzzy feeling we get when all is well in our “world”? Do I only feel it when the children are happy/ healthy/ behaving? Do they only feel loved when I say “I love you” or hug them or buy them something? I’m told God loves me and Sid says he loves me but what difference does that make when I’ve been yelled at about an unwashed PE kit, the missing script for the play, a forgotten water bottle and the inconvenience of putting shoes on, all in the space of half an hour! The barrage of abuse can leave you feeling drained, especially when your two year old wouldn’t sleep and you spent most of the night in bed with him. Where does love feature in that!? I’m feeling something but I’m not sure it’s love!

So what is this love thing? Does love change anything when your world is shaken or when the story that’s unfolding is not what you hoped for and it hurts? What does love look like and does it make a difference?

A guy called Pete Rollins writes a lot about love (and I mean a lot…he has such mind blowing philosophical theological way of attempting to understand life…read his books…honestly!) He wrote this:

Love is the crazy, mad, and perhaps ridiculous gesture of saying yes to life, of seeing it as worthy of our embrace and even worthy of our total sacrifice.**

What does it mean to say yes to life, to embrace life? Maybe we say “yes” when we get up, carry on, force a smile, stop and take a breath, slow down, make that phone call, change that plan, have that conversation, give that hug, write that message, mop that floor, open those curtains, the list could go on. I don’t know what saying “yes” looks like for you or how you embrace life but it often requires something more of us, we often have to dig deep and find an energy we didn’t know we had…and that energy? Love? What if there’s something powerful about saying yes to life, despite the tears, the fear, the uncertainty, because as we do, this force we call love transcends the moment?

What if love, actively choosing life, saying “yes” and embracing life, keeps these momentary (although sometimes seemingly eternal) problems, fears, frustrations, heartbreaks, in their place? In some senses all that we have is this moment, the past has gone and the future is unknown no matter how much we think we know. But what if we find that each ‘now’, each moment, features in a bigger story at work in the world, a story which is more than the now, a story bigger than any one moment, or person, or power, or government, or leader, or illness, or celebrity, or prisoner, or child, or mother, or father, or sister, or brother or even death? A story that is held by love, a story which has existed from the beginning and continues into forever. What if in that story love has the first and the final say, we just get to play our part, and our part makes the story interesting but it isn’t the whole story!

Love then is not something we own, or something we wait to receive. Love is not something that relies on there being another to love. Love certainly isn’t just a word.

What if love is not something that is given but rather is better understood as an action, or an attitude to life; and in that act of love we say yes to life, in that expression of love we recognise life as worthy of giving our deepest self to, sometimes in the inconvenience and the rethinking of plans because sometimes love requires us to sacrifice one way for a new way. As we love, as we give of ourselves to that moment and find ourselves in the bigger story, that’s when the mystery is manifest, the force, spirit, energy, divine otherness, God becomes more tangible, more real. What if that’s where we find “God’s love” really does make a difference and that “God’s love” changes everything because actually God is love.

*All credit to Barbara Strauch for her research and writing!
* The Idolatry of God: Breaking our addiction to certainty and satisfaction.

The one about…fear.

I knew it was going to be ‘one of those evenings’ when she said she couldn’t get to sleep! The wind was unusually strong, and eerily loud, especially through the huge yew trees which stood at the top of the garden.

“It’s just the wind”…I tried desperately to play it down but it didn’t help that last winter a large branch had fallen and narrowly missed the van parked on the driveway. I knew my attempts to convince her that it was ‘just a bit windy’ weren’t going to make any difference, no matter how many distraction techniques I tried!

I’d had about half an hour to myself, I don’t think I ask for much, just a little time to gather my thoughts, process the day and just be me once they’re all in bed…but best laid plans and all that! I took a breath and tried not to sound irritated, she was genuinely scared… “Ok, get into my bed, I’ll sit in there with you!” That was my evening gone!

I checked the oldest three were settled, and the rest were asleep. I put the dog to bed and texted Sid (he was out with friends) to warn him there was a child in his bed and he’d have to jump into hers when he returned, then I got into bed, the wind still howling…she took my hand and gripped it and then, within minutes I felt her grip loosen and her body relax, she slept…

It was the most beautiful moment. All my irritation and disappointment about “my time” melted away as I watched her sleep. The wind still howled, the trees still swayed and I was very aware that there’d be nothing I could do if they did fall on the house…but somehow I made her feel safe, somehow me being there was enough.

There were many things I thought about in that moment. I wondered why I’d got so precious about my time? Did I think I deserved an evening to myself, like it was something I’d earnt! Did I think I could clock out of parenting at 8:30pm because most of them were in bed? Had I learnt nothing in fifteen years!! There’s always another evening and I do know parenting is 24/7… it’s not like our youngest let’s me forget that!

I think the thing that bemused me most was the trust my daughter had in me, she found security and safety, not because I could change anything, but just because she knew I loved her. It was almost as if, in that moment, love overcame fear; as if love drove the fear out; as if love left no room for fear to exist.

I know that much of the fear in our world could be overcome if we learnt to love others rather than hate or distrust them. I know that some fear is irrational and can be negated by logic and self-talk. But what about the fears that are deeply personal, the fears that haunt us about who we are, where we’re going and how this is all going to end? How do we face those fears?

It seems sometimes we distract ourselves from those fears; we shop, we work, we socialise, we watch TV, we read books, we flick through social media, the list could go on and none of the things we do are wrong or bad in moderation, but they can become avoidance techniques and in the long run they’re about as useful as me trying to play the ‘Greatest Showman’ soundtrack to my daughter to drown out the wind!

The fear doesn’t go, it might be numbed or hushed for a while but often, deep within, our soul is still troubled, still uneasy, still fearful, no matter how much we try to avoid it.

Admitting fear exists is painful, it leaves us vulnerable. Maybe acknowledging that our soul needs to be held; that what’s deepest within us needs to connect to someone or something else; that our truest reality needs to know love, is the start to working with that fear.

Maybe that’s why the bible talks of God as love.

What if in that moment where I held my daughter’s hand, the mystery that we call God; that divine force; that love; became a very present reality? What if it’s love that both awakens and calms our soul? What if love is one way we experience the something that is outside of us, something we know to be true but can’t always define? What if God really is love and love really does exist!

The one about…an immoral Jesus?

People often describe him as a good man, regardless of belief in his divinity or the resurrection. There is something compelling about him, people were drawn to him 2000 years ago and talk of what he said and did has continued for centuries. His existence as a good moral teacher is widely recognised, I often talk to people who say he had a good moral code or words to that effect. But did he? Were his stories, actions and behaviour morally acceptable?! Or is there a case for an immoral Jesus!?

It’s probably important at this point to define the word “moral”, so a quick Google exploration reveals the definition as:

standards of behaviour; principles of right and wrong

So Jesus had good standards of behaviour? He held to high principles of proper conduct? Did he? I’m not convinced!

Jesus spoke to women, talked to them as if they were interesting, as if they had value. The thing was that in first century Palestine women were not valued outside of the home, they had their place, at home! Zhava Glaser, an expert in Jewish history writes:

By publicly including women in his ministry, Jesus shattered the prejudicial customs of his day. Why was it unusual for Jesus to speak with women? Nothing in the Mosaic Law prevented men and women from conversing with one another! Yet the society of Jesus’ day, with custom dictated by rabbinic Judaism, differed strikingly from the Old Testament social order…women were not allowed to testify in court. In effect, this categorized them with Gentiles, minors, deaf-mutes and “undesirables” such as gamblers, the insane, usurers, and pigeon-racers, who were also denied that privilege.

It wasn’t just women that Jesus’ engagement with was questionable; one of his disciples, one of the people closest to him, was a tax collector. Tax collectors were Jews who worked for the Roman Empire, the oppressive regime occupying the Jewish land. Tax collectors collaborated with this evil force, they took money from fellow Jews and gave it to the Romans, actions seen as somewhat traitorous. Tax collectors kept money for themselves so were also known to be liars and cheats, untrustworthy individuals, not people to befriend. So to hang out with tax collectors was also questionable behaviour.

I’m reading a fascinating book* about Jewish culture in the time of Jesus, the author describes Jesus’ interactions with tax collectors:

“Imagine, for instance, how it would of felt to follow Jesus through the door of Matthews house, eating with tax collectors, sinners who were considered the stooges of Rome…for the disciples to eat with such despicable men would of been scandalous.”

That’s who Jesus ate with, laughed with…maybe his morals should be in question! It wasn’t just who he ate with, it was also the stories he told about who shared meals; like the father who prepared a feast for the son who’d wished him dead, or the story about the great feast which some guests refused an invitation to which ‘the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame on the street’ were instead invited, people you wouldn’t eat with, people who wouldn’t eat together! Eating together was significant.

“Jeramias notes that in the east, even today, to invite someone to a meal was to extend an honour, an offering of peace, trust, forgiveness. Jesus meals with sinners weren’t merely social revenues or just signs of his empathy for the lowly, though he was compassionate. “*

Did Jesus take compassion too far? He allowed a prostitute to pour oil over his feet, and wipe them with her hair…imagine it, a rabbi and a prostitute? Really?

His compassion also extended to Samaritans both in person and in parable. He talked with a Samaritan woman at the well and he told the now very famous story of the ‘Good Samaritan’, as Rob Bell identifies, the phrase good Samaritan was an “impossibility”!**

The Samaritans were hated by the Jews, considered unclean as half Jew/ half Gentile(non Jewish) people with their own understanding of Jewish law and their own expression of worship, the division went back hundreds of years. So this story of the good Samaritan was ‘brilliant, clever, subversive’!**

Jesus taunted, almost mocked the Pharisees, the keepers of the law. He provoked them with his radical teaching and he worked on the Sabbath. He was accused of blasphemy, his seemingly immoral behaviour and constant challenge to the religious system and those who ran it, along with his refusal to conform to the empire which occupied the land all led to his death! Just a good bloke? I’m not so sure!

These are not the actions of just another good moral teacher, they are more the actions of a subversive rebel. Jesus would probably be more at home on ‘Have I got news for you?’ than ‘Songs of praise’! What if so many of us miss the revolutionary, radical, controversial teaching of this first century Rabbi! What if far too easily Jesus gets written off as a long haired, Swedish looking hippie with some good ideas rather than the religious and political threat he actually was? What if that’s why they killed him?

So where does that leave us? Do we keep Jesus locked in a box with the Tooth Fairy, Father Christmas and the Easter Bunny (although that would make a fab film!?) Do we write him off as a historical figure of some note but now not so relevant? Do we place him on a golden cross at a safe distance and respectfully bow the knee? Or do we find a way to re-read what he taught, seeing it for the life giving, energizing, hope filled news that it was and actually still is? Do we allow what he said, how he lived, who he was to shape who we are and how we live today? Could his questionable moral actions 2000 years ago have significantly shaped morality of society today? Do we acknowledge that within all the Jesus talk, there is mystery and wonder and awe? Do we acknowledge that within us, all those things exist too because that’s part of what it means to be human? What if there there really is something to the whole Jesus thing?

*Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus, Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg.

**What is the Bible? Rob Bell.

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