The one about…light and life.

The second part of the bible begins with four stories of the life of Jesus, written by four men Matthew, Mark, Luke and John who all write to different groups of people on different occasions. John however is the only one to start his story with an exploration of the origins of time. At the start his book we’re introduced to the concept of ‘the word’, he writes:

”In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

A word, defined as ‘a single, distinct meaningful element of speech or a command, a spoken pronouncement.’ I’m not sure who takes credit for the phrase ”words create new worlds”, it’s been attributed to philosophers including Heschel and Wittgenstein but in my experience, the more writing I do, it seems to be true and it also echoes of the opening chapter of the bible where the author writes ‘and God said’, right there at the beginning was the word, God used the word to speak. Whatever that looks like!
John, goes on to describe this word, this spoken phenomenon, or spirit, this undefinable origin of all things, as the ‘light and life of all of humanity’.

There’s something about the concept of life and light, a deep connection that we know exists and not just because of those days we spent studying GCSE or A level biology (or the equivalent!). Although, when I talk to my teenagers, they can both explain, in a round-about way, the need for sunlight to provide the energy for photosynthesis to take place, with that somewhat familiar formula 6CO2 + 6H2O + light energy = C6H12O6 + 6O2!. In words, the equation translates to the combining of water, carbon dioxide and light energy to produce glucose and oxygen. (Ironically oxygen is described as a waste product, released back into the air while glucose is the source of energy for the plant.)
Simply put though, light energy gives life.

How did John, a fisherman over 2000 years ago know that? I guess because we all sense the importance of light to our wellbeing, we see the effect of light on the world around us and we know it brings life. Maybe we didn’t need science to put it into a formula but as ever, science does help us make sense of it in a more logical fashion.

Light goes way further though than the visible rays that we see, there’s invisible light, infrared or ultraviolet light; wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum that are either too short or too long to be detected by the human eye. Scientists also talk of dark matter, which makes up around 80% of the universe matter that is unseen, made up of particles smaller than atoms, again something that we know exists but something that we can’t see.

Suddenly we’re into physics; wavelengths, spectrums, atoms, particles and all those other words that send a shudder of fear down my spine as I’m suddenly taken back to GCSE science exams not having a clue what to write! Yet there is something fascinating about those concepts, something intriguing about light that we can’t see, or invisible matter, or things that exist but are not visible to our eyes. In those things there’s awe and mystery and magic.

So when John talks about the light shining in the darkness, it seems that’s there is a multitude of levels on which the universe we live in is this beautiful dance between light and dark. In the scientific, the physical, the spiritual, the mental and emotional we all experience light and dark and we need both to really appreciate the other.

From these simple words that open up John’s understanding of the Jesus story we’ve found energy and light and life and matter, seen and unseen, visible and invisible, which is interesting because so far, other than direct bible quotes we haven’t used the word God. Yet what it all suggests is that there is a force at work, even before the beginning of time, that is creating and sustaining life and something that suggests even the darkness belongs and that what might seems dark can also offer light and energy and life.

Which links to the concept of words creating worlds. So often the word God has been held over us by those childhood stories, or the institutions to which we have belonged, both have in some way restricted our view of what and who ‘God’ is, and that word, has become a barrier to so many in exploring spirit, soul and meaning. So, what if, as Richard Rohr explains,

“John is actually describing a bigger life, a bigger light, from which we all draw. This is Consciousness—a pre-existent form that is the Eternal or One Light. This great Light or Consciousness is the source of our little piece of light, as it were.”

What if there’s something in rethinking possibilities in and around the word God and that as we explore what this might all be, we find more meaning and life and energy than we ever thought possible

The one about…soil and seeds.

I like to feel I’ve achieved something. I like those days where I feel successful, where I can measure what I’ve done, my success, my attainments. Which is great, it’s good to feel like I’ve done something with my day, but what about those days where all I’ve done is build a wooden train track only for it to be broken, picked up about 100 dinosaurs, only for the box to be tipped out again…made food, cleaned up, put washing on, only to have to repeat it all again the next day, and the next. I like the days where I can tick off my to-do list and feel satisfied but there are some days where I can’t quite work out if I’ve really accomplished anything. What if I’m missing something though, what if by being so keen to achieve, to ‘reap in the harvest’ I’ve forgotten the importance of the simple, of just ‘sowing the seed’. I heard a quote this week by Robert Louis Stevenson and it has really got me thinking.

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by seeds you plant.”

We’re quite removed from these earthy analogies; our lives have become far more sterile and distant from the soil on which we live.

Soil is more interesting than we often give it credit for. Did you know…

• There are more microorganisms in a handful of soil than there are people on earth.
• Soil is a living system.
• Soil acts as a filter for underground water, filtering out pollutants.
• Approximately 10% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions are stored in soil.
• It provides all the nutrients required for successful plant growth.
• Soil consists of 45% minerals, 25% water, 25% air & 5% organic matter for good garden soil.
• Worms enrich topsoil by feeding on organic material in the soil and converting it into nutrients for plants. As they move through the soil it becomes more absorbent and better aerated too.
• Soil is at the bottom of the food chain, yet it is the cornerstone of life on earth.*1

It seems that soil is pretty important! What’s also interesting, at least if you’re me, is that there are incredible health benefits to reconnecting with the soil. It’s called earthing and it is defined as:

Earthing (noun): The process of absorbing the earth’s free flowing electrons through the soles of ones feet.

Apparently, walking bare foot, among other things…

• Reduces inflammation
• Eases or eliminates pain
• Better Sleep
• Increases Energy
• Calms the Nervous System
• Lowers Stress
• Improves Mood
• Thins the blood and improves circulation and blood pressure
• Speeds healing and muscle repair
• Improves Glucose or Blood Sugar Regulation
• Prevents Calcium and Bone Density Loss. Reduces Indicators of Osteoporosis.
• Improves Cardiovascular function*2

Which makes sense to me. I see my boys playing in the garden, they love it, they love the mud and the mess, they love the feel of it, the creepy crawlies living in it, they love to fill containers, make potions and pies. The soil, that is the foundation of all of our villages, towns, and cities, its full of wonder and magic and mystery, especially if your 3 or 5! They also don’t have a to-do list.

I am too quick to lose the magic, its dirt, it’s mud, it’s trailed all over the kitchen floor! We, as a people have lost the magic, we’ve built homes, schools, hospitals, factories and shops, the whole of our modern day infrastructure all over it and sterilised it. We corner off little patches of it which so many of us cover in grass and put play equipment, sheds or seating on…soil is rare in our everyday experience yet it is the foundation of our very lives.

In Genesis 3, at the start of the Bible, there is a reminder of our origin and end, our connection with the soil; ‘for dust you are and to dust you will return.”….the human body is a mixture of elements, (it’s at this point that I wish I’d paid more attention in chemistry) we’re oxygen (65%), carbon (18%), hydrogen (10%), nitrogen (3%), calcium (1.5%), phosphorous (1%)..among others and those same elements are found in varying degrees in the soil on which we walk…we’re far more connected to the soil than we want to admit, not only in our make-up but also in the food we eat, even for those of us who are not vegetarians or vegans, the animals we eat also rely on the soil to provide their nutrition. Whatever you believe about the story that starts the bible, the fundamental connection to earth stands true.

So soil is essential to us yet we rarely acknowledge it unless we get it on our hands or clothes! Maybe there is something to be learnt from children, who are so quick to run barefoot outside, who naturally reconnect with the earth, who see the wonder in the dandelion seeds, the charm of the daisy and the mystery in the mud. (which by the way is the name of the crime thriller I’m working on!)

Reconnecting, earthing, grounding (whatever name we give it), reduces stress, brings healing; maybe not just because we absorb those electrons but maybe because by doing so we choose to stop being busy and instead engage with the great outdoors, instead of sitting in front of a screen in our air-conditioned environments, with artificial lighting eating processed food, comparing how busy we are and how much we’ve achieved. So maybe there is something to be learnt from a day spent playing, maybe it’s important to drop the to do list sometimes and reconnect with our own lives, whatever form that takes. Maybe getting out there and taking care of our planet actually helps us take care of ourselves in ways we never realised and that each day as we try to sow that seed of goodness, whether literally or metaphorically, we find we become more in tune with the now and less obsessed by misconstrued success. Maybe the writer of Genesis 3 knew that!

*1 quickcrop blog – January 2014
*2 betterearthing .com

The one about…original goodness.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…God looked at what he had done. All of it was very good!”

That’s how the poem that opens the bible starts and ends; the God character creates something very good. Whether you see this as a literal account or a poetic description, a historical fact or figurative expression, the poem contains wisdom and truth and whatever word you would use for ‘God’ there’s a force present at the beginning of time, doing something good!

The Hebrew word used for ‘good’ is Tov, it means well crafted, well-formed and it seems that the whole of creation is well crafted, infused with life, given an ability to make more of itself, an ever changing, ever evolving force of nature that’s not static, its good, its well-formed but it’s not perfect.

Many people have been led to believe that the initial wrestle of the bible is between good and evil; a battle between heaven and hell, God and the Devil, vying for control of man, resulting in ‘the fall.’ Yet before any of that plays out there is another duel taking place, a whole different encounter; good vs perfect.

God, the divine, the original source of energy and power, that force, ultimate reality, love, creates and it’s not perfect, who knew! Perfection is a state of completion, something that is faultless or unblemished. Perfection is static, the ultimate achievement or attainment, we achieve, we attain but then what? Good, on the other hand, has room for growth, for change, for movement forwards. This is what the creation poem echoes of as day moves to night, as light becomes dark and then light again, as the seasons change and cold becomes warm, as the life giving seeds fall to the ground and die before giving birth to life; day/night, light/dark, warm/cold, life/death, it’s all good, it’s all part of it because it all belongs. This language of growth permeates the whole bible, the waiting, the trusting, the allowing for change, the all-encompassing embrace of ‘both/and’ not ‘either/or”. Even as the story progresses and the Jesus character talks of a Kingdom like no other, he uses the language of seeds and yeast and trees, all of which invite movement and growth and allow space for death and decay.

Along with the invitation to movement into the next chapter, the next part of the story, this poem that starts the bible also invites man into responsibility, ownership and accountability for this ever-evolving creation. Man is placed in a garden to work it and take care of it, a helper is sought for man, as he names each animal, an act of responsibility and relationship in itself, none of the animals are found to be a suitable helper. Instead woman is made from man’s flesh and the two walk the garden, naked and without shame. That is how their, and all our stories begin, naked and shameless. They begin without embarrassment, without humiliation or guilt, and without any feelings of worthlessness, we’re totally worthy and completely loved.

This is original goodness, it’s where all our stories start.

It’s a truth we lose as we get caught up in a world of original sin and a desire for perfection. Tov, gently reminds us that it all belongs, that we don’t have to be perfect, that life doesn’t have to be perfect, that things fall apart, that sometimes life hurts, that we’re not always as “successful” as we’d like to be and that actually, in reality, nobody else is either, despite what they project. What if ‘good’ keeps us moving forwards despite what we experience not because of it? What if ‘good’ allows us to love and own our stories with all their mess and imperfection and to keep moving forward into life? What would it look like if we stopped chasing ‘perfect’ and embraced ‘good’?

The one about…is it only me who…?

There are times when we all believe we’re the only ones to feel the way we do; sometimes because we’re so unbelievably happy, like at the birth of a child, or when we meet that person we know we want to spend forever with or when we get that promotion we’ve been hoping for. No-one can possibly feel so besotted, so in love or so ecstatic, and we don’t really want to believe anyone else could ever feel as happy as we do because what we’re experiencing is so amazing we want that to be just ours. Yet we get this inkling that possibly, just possibly other people do know what it’s like and that other people have felt very similar emotions. There’s something about these experiences being moments we talk about, experiences that we share and as we talk and share we discover a whole world of magic and mystery that others have journeyed into as they encountered these events in their story too.

Yet there are other occasions where we experience deep, intense emotion that breaks us, like the death of a loved one, the breakdown of a relationship or the loss of a job. We know other people must have experienced something similar but because the feelings that come with these experiences aren’t always easy to put into words we don’t share what it’s really like and we are left wondering if anyone else really understands.

Yet, what about those other less extreme experiences, the day to day realities that niggle us, get us down and cause us to retreat just that little bit more into ourselves. These experiences aren’t as acute as death and loss or as awesome as birth and success, they’re the everyday thoughts and encounters that play on our mind, like how we feel about our weight, our inability to hold down a job, our obsessive behaviours, our fear of death, that anxiety we can’t describe, the difficulties of parenting that child or being married, and a myriad more issues and concerns that often convince us that we really are on our own and leave us believing that we are the only ones to feel the way we do. We generally don’t even dare to acknowledge that anyone else has ever felt like we do because they might look at us like we’re insane, or laugh at us or even worse pity us. So often we believe we’re the only one struggling, the only one having to put a brave face on or hide behind that mask or the only one not coping, terrified of the responsibility of being alive!

What if it’s not only me that wrestles with these thoughts and feelings? What if we’re not the only ones to feel those things? What if we realised that our experiences are often filled with emotions, fears, truths and concerns that are universal the world over.

I guess the question is how do we know? How do we dare to believe that other people share similar emotions or fears to us? It’s not always easy to talk about our thoughts and feelings, not everyone has that best friend they share everything with?

For some people the act of meditation, prayer, mindfulness or other contemplative practise centre them just enough to find a peace within themselves and allow them at least for a while, to accept who they are and where they’re at. These practices are being rediscovered in our 24/7/365 culture but they are an art form, something that needs practise, not always activities we find ourselves naturally disposed to and for so many it’s hard to know where to start. What if there’s a way in to meditation or contemplation that begins by simply becoming more aware in the day to day of what the universe is actually saying. What if the truths about who we are, how we’re wired and what’s normal actually echo out from all around us, and if we simply stopped to listen for long enough, we’d find that we’re not going crazy after all.

What if there’s something in the way certain song lyrics resonate, like Memories by Maroon 5 or Photograph by Ed Sheeran, what if there’s some deep truth in the words these and others write which is why certain songs sell. What if comedians like Michael Mcintytre make us laugh because he calls out the truth that all of us know, like what we all do when we have the opportunity to explore google earth!* What if the character in a movie speaks lines we could never have thought of yet sums up what we feel? What if all of these artists are prophets in their own way, calling out the truths of our humanity. What if we choose to listen to the truths around us, to stop, just for a moment and hear that reminder and let it work on us, even when that reminder is said through Ed Sheeran or Michael Mcintyre? What if the words they, and many many others use connect with our story in some way and simply by taking time to really listen we find that we’re not as crazy as we thought, that others have similar fears, similar doubts, have been hurt, or let down, or go through similar encounters and experiences.

What if to actually apply that to life means we start to listen to the repeated themes in the conversations we have or the situations we’re exposed to? What if as that track plays on the radio and that one line connects, we find five minutes to listen to it again in the quiet and stillness and just allowed it to work on us, to figure out what it’s saying? What if we wrote down some of those one liners, or quotes that we read as we scroll through Facebook or hear in a film and just re-read them a few times when we got a moment, would we find that this was a way in to reconnecting with ourselves and rediscovering that we’re not alone, the beginnings of prayer or meditation, of awareness. Maybe then we’d feel more equipped to take the next step but more on that next week…

*Michael Mckintyre: https://youtu.be/q38RT3JvKw8

Photograph by Ed Sheeran: https://youtu.be/nSDgHBxUbVQ

The one about…a thought on grief.

I first met grief when I was eleven. My dad died of cancer, six surreal weeks from diagnosis to death. Five days after his death, on the 19th December, the night after my dad’s funeral, my grandad, who was staying with us, died in his sleep. Somehow we ‘celebrated’ Christmas, and then at the beginning of January my mum found my dad’s uncle hanging from a wardrobe, and we found ourselves staring at a coffin again.

I remember some of it so vividly and other moments just blur, leaving me unable to comprehend how we actually got through those days, weeks and months. We did, but I didn’t do it alone, grief began to journey with me.

Grief is hard to comprehend, there are many well intentioned words that attempt to appease it and far too many clichés, or offers of advice, which all too often only serve to create even more distance from the reality we once knew, making us feel even more isolated and alone. As an attempt to begin to unpack some thoughts on grief I wrote the following:

‘Grief cannot be ignored or put on hold, grief cannot be fixed, it does not fit in a box or respond in an ‘appropriate’ way. Grief is not a problem to be solved. Grief is real, it is unpredictable, and overwhelming, it is intense and powerful; grief needs to find expression, to have a voice, to be heard.

Grief forges its own path, taking us in a different direction to the one we perhaps thought we’d walk. Grief journeys with us, sometimes loudly and sometimes in silence, sometimes holding us back, sometimes pushing us on. Grief is full of contradiction, a swirl of anger and love and fear and laughter and tears, of strength and weakness, causing us to run away and to run home, to turn others aside and to draw them close, a mix of inconsistent and extreme emotion.

Over time, somehow,  it releases its grip a little, changing its tack, becoming softer, more malleable, perhaps reminding us more gently of those memories and moments that brought us to this place. Yet it remains, a subtle interruption to the life we’re trying to live, whispering words of fear, taunting us with the darkness of despair just enough to leave us feeling uneasy, with a sense of foreboding, like a menacing cloud that hangs at the periphery of our vision.

It seems that grief will always have a part to play, leaving us with the challenge of discovering how to allow it to live alongside us, while we rediscover a life that feels authentic and real. As we learn to live this way, we find ourselves with opportunities to use our grief as a force for good, to channel the creative energy that grief has awoken because grief, whatever form it takes, is simply an expression of love and love holds all things, even death.’

I wrote this reflective piece about grief, born out of experience but also in response to some of what Sid and I find ourselves in the midst of, as we do the work we do. We would really appreciate comments and contributions based on your experiences of grief, appreciating that there is no right or wrong expression and that words can sometimes be limiting, whilst acknowledging that we all have different experiences of grief and we’re all at different stages in our encounter with it.

What we hope is that by sharing our thoughts we might inspire and encourage each other as we journey through life and that some of the thoughts shared might really help someone else. Thanks in advance…oh and feel free to share. Deb x

 

The one about…a brand new year!

The children must be getting older because for the first time in our married life Sid and I stayed up to see the New Year in! Usually the need for sleep far outweighs any desire to stay awake beyond 10pm. I don’t like feeling tired, I’m irritable, impatient and vacant and with seven of them who exhibit similar qualities to me when they’ve not had enough sleep it makes life interesting. Therefore it usually means that on New Year’s Eve we shoe-horn them off to bed at the usual time while Sid and I crawl into bed not long after, waking briefly when we hear fireworks at midnight, whilst murmuring happy new year before drifting back to sleep, hoping that noise outside will not wake the children.

This year however, with our five eldest, some friends and neighbours, take away Chinese, mulled wine and few other tipples, not forgetting the homemade mince pies, oh and an accompaniment of some of the best 80’s classics (but no fancy dress in sight!) we made it to the fireworks awake and sang our own garbled rendition of Auld Langsyne complete with usual tradition of standing in a circle holding crossed hands (a rather bizarre concept for some of the younger members of the party)! We met the new year with smiles and laughter. A great start to the new decade.

So now the new year is here and it brings with it a plethora of good intentions; exercise more, eat well, a good deed a day, less screen time, no alcohol (at least for a month), read more, shout less. All a heady mix of self-improvement and don’t get me wrong, I’m as keen as anyone to “be the best me” to give myself a fresh start, to be happier, more fulfilled, more who I am meant to be. But it got I’m thinking (of course I might just be tired, I tend to over think when I’m tired) but why do we make new year’s resolutions? What is it about being human that means we crave a fresh start? Why is it that we want to be a better version of ourselves? Surely its more than just the pursuit of happiness?

What if new year resolutions speak into some deep void within us, the haunting knowledge that there is a gap between who we are and who we could be? A seeming separation between where we are and where we want to be? It’s a gap that we endlessly try to fill with all sorts of things; drink, food, films, work, money, sex, fame, children, friends, church, golf, exercise, music; some good some not so good, some OK in moderation but none of them really fill the gap, so when new year comes, or that milestone birthday or a significant event we grasp at the opportunity for a fresh start, for a new beginning, a moment to be better because this time, maybe, it will all make sense. Yet it rarely does, within a matter of weeks we’re resorting to all to familiar behaviours, slightly disheartened, feeling a little more lost but still clinging to the hope of next time, next month, next year.

Yet, what if there is no gap? What if this urge for self-improvement is all a hoax, a cleverly crafted lie fed to us by a combination of the media, our culture, the story we’ve inherited and the worldview we live within? What if we already have all we need? What if, within us, maybe deep within our soul is the truth that we are enough, loved, whole, complete, and that we belong, that we are accepted and have an essential contribution to make to the world, just as we are? What if the challenge is to not fill the gap but to realise that there isn’t one? To realise that no matter who we are, or aren’t, what we have or don’t have, were all capable of love and we are all loved and that realisation negatives any perceived void. So this year, as we journey into the months ahead, maybe we’re invited to move from this moment into the next, discovering the awe in the ordinary, the magic in the mundane and the energy in the everyday knowing that love holds all things and that it all belongs.

The one about…after Christmas.

What do you do when it’s all over? When everything you’ve prepared for, shopped for, anticipated, dreamt about and looked forward to is all done and all that’s left is crumpled paper, cold potatoes and that feeling that you might have over indulged just a little?

Do you sit back and smile, replaying the best moments in your mind? Do you breathe a sigh of relief because it all came together? Do you look ahead to the new year with anticipation wondering what new adventures await, or with a slight sense of dread, a little unsure of how it’s going to be? Do you drink a little bit more in the hope it will stave off reality for a little longer? Do you stare blankly at the TV trying to ignore all those things you have to face up to in the coming weeks? Or do you just simply enjoy the moment?

This time between Christmas and New Year, known apparently as Twixtmas or the Crimbo Limbo, invites us into a time between, it offers an opportunity to reminisce of Christmas past, to smile, laugh or cry about what was and to relive the year gone by. It also invites us to plan ahead, to discuss resolutions for the New Year, to dream of what we hope to do and the plans we hope will take shape.

Or maybe this week between invites us into a time of waiting, a lull before the storm. For some, this week is a gentle easing back into the familiar rhythms of life, for others it’s a more brutal return to reality as the alarm sounds before the sunrises and a bleary eyed drive to work is embarked upon. Either way reality has to return. The email has to be sent. The phone calls has to be made. The PE kit has to be packed. The uniform has to be ironed. The food has to be ordered. The dog has to be walked. The bathroom has to be cleaned.

It can feel as though the return to reality is quite overwhelming but what if reality never actually left. What if the build up to Christmas, full of anticipation, hope and wonder, is reality? What if Christmas Eve, as we fall asleep caught up in the magic, minds brimming with possibilities and potential is reality? What if Christmas Day with family, food and all the festivities is reality? What if that rather sad, ‘was that it’ kind of feeling that murmurs within as Christmas Day draws to a close is also reality? What if the simplicity of Boxing Day, where the pace slows and as my mum says “nothing normal happens” is reality too? What if the crazy New Year’s Eve or the quiet one, the surreal dawning of a new day and a new year rolled into one (which happens every day of we choose to see it) is reality as well?

There’s so much said about living in the now, about being present in the moment and appreciating the reality that is. There is something about seeing ‘reality’ as the moment we are currently in, for me, writing this, sat on the sofa at my in-laws while the children play and my brother-in-law cooks food, this is reality, it’s my reality right now but all my ‘right now’s’ make up my story, my reality, just as all your moments of reality make up your story too. ‘Now’ is essential, however we’re still shaped by our past, it has made us who we are and it should be celebrated and we also need the hope that the future offers us, the gift of looking forwards, of dreaming, hoping, planning; both past and future feeding into ‘right now’ and shaping who we are and the decisions we make.

So as we live these days before the new year dawns may we know what it is to embrace right now, may we enjoy life at a different pace, caught up in those twelve days and the peace that they offer. May we see every moment as reality and live it, not dreading the return of reality nor waiting for the next opportunity to escape it. May we know what it is to embrace where we’ve come from and find that looking ahead fills us with hope, and then as the new year comes, may we live each day, embracing reality, living our story, fully alive.