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…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…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…a spiritual force.

There’s a relationship of energy that runs through the universe, a force that courses through all the systems, networks and connections in existence, driving them to continually go beyond themselves, to keep becoming something more.

The bible, in all its poetic, pre-scientific understanding seemed to grasp something of the concept of spirit; a force or energy at work in the world continually moving humanity beyond its current understanding. We often use the word God. The ancient biblical manuscript defines God as spirit and love. Love can therefore be understood as a divine energy or a supernatural force. Love is ultimate reality. Love guides us, love shows us the way, love holds us, love wins, love overcomes, love forgives, love accepts, love welcomes, love gives of itself but never runs out, love finds us, love overwhelms us, love says you are enough, love is patient, love is kind, love does not envy, love does not boast, love does not dishonor others, love is not self-seeking, love is not easily angered, love keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.*

Love has always existed, in the beginning love was and love will always be.

What if we really believed in love? Would that have the capacity to change how we relate to those around us? Would love bring to life all those qualities we associate with it like joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and gentleness? What if love enables us to live out the qualities and characteristics that bring us together, that enable humanity to get along? What if all these characteristics bring unity?

So it follows that characteristics which aren’t loving; like distrust, hatred, jealousy, envy, theft, pride or immorality; that these are ways of being in the world that cause us to stagnate, to retreat back within ourselves or to be ashamed. These are ways of being that cause division. They are not qualities that move us forwards towards unity but actually are qualities that tear us apart and cause us to isolate ourselves from the rest of humanity.

What if love, in response, has the ability to meet us in those places and spaces that we’re finding difficult? What if love meets us in moments of shame, fear or isolation? What if love call us out of those circumstances that are causing us to disconnect? What if love is present in whatever we’re battling with; self harm, depression, alcohol, unemployment, lack of identity or purpose, the mundane, children, or just the everyday, and what if love has the ability to call us on, through, beyond those experiences or moments and offer us a different way of being in the world?

What if love really does move us forwards? What if God really is love? What if you go back an re-read this blog changing the word “love” to “God”?

What if God then becomes a force for good rather than a force that causes division or a concept that creates arguments? What if God stops being someone or something certain groups have a monopoly over or something we’re obliged to pacify? What if God could actually unite us? What if God could be a force that inspires us or a way of life that we’d choose to follow?

What if God and love become more interchangeable in our understanding of the universe and of ourselves?

N/b What if you spend hours working on a blog and then your husband reads you a quote from Richard Rohrs daily meditations:

Raimon Panikkar’s word cosmotheandric is the fusion of cosmos (world), theos (God), and andros (man) and suggests a continuous intercirculation among these three distinct planes of existence in a single motion of self-communicating love. —Cynthia Bourgeault

What if there really is something in all of this?

*some of this taken from 1 Corinthians 13…one of the most popular wedding bible readings!

The one about…moving forward

However you understand the beginning of the universe there is general concensus among scientists and poets alike that the universe is expanding; that there is some form of ongoing creation, evolution and emergence as the universe is drawn onwards in a forwards motion.

It all began over thirteen billion years ago and a slightly oversimplified explanation goes something like: particles bond with other particles to form atoms; atoms bond with other atoms to form molecules; and then cells are formed (by molecules bonding with molecules) to create organic cellular life, these then progress to more complex life systems (like animals) and then eventually humans appear on the scene, quite a few billion years into the life of the universe. We’re quite a late addition but we’re here and we’re awesome. There is a general understanding that human consciousness did not exist in the earliest specailes of humans (which is why the phrase “he acted like a Neanderthal” makes complete sense!) Our ability to use reason or rational arguments, to express and engage with the vast range of human emotions, is an even newer concept within the universe than humanity itself.

The universe has been moving forwards, becoming more complex and increasingly unified since it began. It could be argued we’re still on that trajectory.

There is a widespread belief that there is a force at work in the universe driving this forwards movement. An energy, or a relationship of energy that holds the motion and draws it on. This energy has been named by some as God, for some that name isn’t helpful so it might be that “love” makes more sense as a name for the force that moves us forwards.

The bible, one of the most famous collections of historical writings, describes God as love. This collection of books also details human history over thousands of years and within its pages there is a very similar call to an onwards motion, a journey towards unity.

I don’t know enough about world history to present a definitive argument for continual forward motion but it does seem that there is progress to be seen, albeit sometimes slower than we’d like. Slavery has been abolished, but still human trafficking is an issue. The Rwandan genocide, the rise of Isis, mass shootings in schools; humanity is still capable of awful actions against fellow human beings. Whilst as a world we’re not rid of all atrocities we as a collective humanity are increasingly speaking up against the evil that we see. As a whole, humanity is moving forwards into a better way of being. British history is a great example, Henry V111 had six wives and he beheaded two of them, the monarchy doesn’t do that anymore. Children used to be forced to work in appalling conditions from a very young age, we don’t do that anymore either and we are increasingly aware of the countries that still do. There are complex issues but more and more western consumers are asking questions about the conditions others are working in and the wages they are being paid. I’m not naïve enough to believe progress is made everywhere or arrogant enough to suggest what progress should look like but I do believe that its happening.

Why is this important?

For me it’s important on two levels, firstly because I think it makes sense of so many of our experiences. When we’re jealous or envious of another person, when we feel angry with someone, when we say things that hurt someone else we know it’s not good, we don’t feel good because we’re going against the direction of the universe, those actions, thoughts and feelings are not bringing unity between us or within us. They don’t move us forwards.

This forward motion also makes sense of why we know we can’t go back to the ‘good old days’, why we know we get that feeling we shouldn’t return to that relationship or move back to that place, because even if we do “go back” we’ve changed, we’ve moved on and while sometimes going back works, it perhaps only does so with the acknowledgment that all involved have moved on, changed and progressed. Maybe we never really do go back.

Then there’s death. Death seems to hit us hard. Death does not feel like progress, death does not feel like movement forwards. Death feels like stumbling, falling, stopping. Death feels like a fog preventing us seeing the way, death doesn’t allow movement, death is static and final. Which is why it doesn’t make sense to us, which is why we don’t embrace it, welcome it or aspire to it. Death doesn’t seem to belong in the way the universe is moving.

The other reason I find this forward motion interesting is because there’s an implied suggestion that it’s all headed somewhere. What if there is a preferred future, an ultimate state, a better way; some space time continuum that we are being called on and into by love? What if in that place there is enough to go round, there is no more war, no more death, no more tears? What if we are actually headed towards togetherness, to a way of being in the world that brings peace, understanding and love. The bible calls it the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven. Maybe there’s something in that?!

(Inspired so much by Rob Bell who does a whole show about this on YouTube ‘Everything is Spiritual’…worth a watch!)