The one about…the nothing?

If you’ve ever watched The NeverEnding Story then you’ll be familiar with ‘the nothing’, the darkness engulfing Fantasia and destroying everything in its path.

If you’ve lived a few years on planet earth you may well also be familiar with ‘the nothing’, the darkness that’s all too consuming; extinguishing hope and leaving humanity disillusioned, lethargic or lost.

The nothing takes many forms, slowly eradicating our lust for life. I know because I’ve battled with ‘the nothing’. There are days where I feel like I’m winning, regaining control and rediscovering hope but then there are other days where it seems as though ‘the nothing’ is gaining ground, rapidly. Hours flicking through social media or evenings watching mind-numbing reality TV, often at the same time, any opportunity to engage in someone else’s life so that I can avoid the reality of my own.

‘The nothing’ might not be social media or TV for you; movies, alcohol, holidays, anything that serves to numb the pain or allow us escape from our own uneasy reality, just for a while, because facing up to that reality is sometimes too painful or frightening or simply exhausting.

None of our escape routes are wrong or bad in and of themselves, life is far less black and white than we think. The escape routes we choose often start off harmless, with the best intentions, some even healthy, because we do need to stop every now and then, we do need to disengage and recharge. Yet when the temporary fixes we’ve turned to for respite take over and begin to consume us sometimes we find that the very things we’d used to distract us from life have become life itself.

What if there is an antidote to ‘the nothing’, a way of being that stops ‘the nothing’ in its tracks and allows us to have moments of rest, distraction and relaxation without being drawn into nothingness?

In Fantasia, hope is found in the faith of a human child, a boy that can bring salvation and restore Fantasia fully to life again. What if that’s where we find salvation too? What if we find life again in faith, belief and wonder? In having faith in something beyond ourselves yet equally found within us, by believing in a force or energy or higher power; a love, that can shine light and hope on seemingly dark and hopeless circumstances? By rediscovering the mystery in the mundanity of our lives, the awe in the ordinary and the wonder of this very moment? What if choosing to stop in this moment, right now and breathe, to inhale and exhale and simply be grateful for breath is the start to a life of gratitude, of not taking anything for granted but recognising that its all a gift and that it all belongs? That it all belongs no matter how painful, frightening or exhausting?

What if that means that we then don’t have to escape or distract or run from those difficult things, we can just allow them, simply allow reality to be; learn from it, learn to embrace all of our emotions and move through those experiences to a better place? What if all of that was possible, all from this moment, right now? Maybe there is a light in the darkness and something more than nothing.

The one about…let’s pretend?

🎵So can we pretend that I’m 22 today?

Dancin’ on the tables with you, oh yeah!

Can we pretend that we all end up okay?

I just wanna forget with you, oh yeah!

Can we pretend that we both like the president?

Can we pretend that I really like your shoes? Hell yeah!

Can we pretend? ‘Cause honestly, reality, it bores me,

Let’s pretend, oh, let’s make believe

Can we, can we pretend?🎵*

I remember being twenty two, vaguely! I also remember the time when the only photographic evidence of our lives appeared in truptint envelopes, taken on a film with a twenty four print exposure where it was pretty much guaranteed that seventeen of them were blurry representations of randomness, six others had managed to miss half of someone’s head and the only one that had come out was of you with an embarrassing hair style that you wish you hadn’t tried out that week.

I also remember days as a child playing in the back garden on orange space hoppers with my best friend who happened to live next door, wearing jelly shoes and NHS brown rimmed glasses. I remember my two year old brother jumping into the paddling pool fully dressed. I remember the feelings of freedom, mixed with fear and excitement, as I was first allowed “out” on my own, days spent in town perusing the music section of Woolworths to buy the latest single. Those were good days. I remember December 31st 1999, drunk in Greenwich as we watched the fireworks on the Heath and stumbled home in the early hours of 2000 wondering if the Millenium Bug had actually wiped out all of life! I remember meeting Sid and those early days where it was just us, nothing and no-one else seemed to matter, just us, together. I remember being pregnant with our first, finishing work, biking to the swimming pool and then coming home for a sleep…sometimes I’d like to return to those days, just for a while.

I think it’s called nostalgia, a yearning for the past, whimsical warm memories of the “good old days”.  Nostalgia provides a welcome escape from the realities of right now. The joys of reminiscing can distract us from thinking about the serious things we need to face up to today. So I can relate to the temptation to “pretend” to make believe that I’m twenty two again. Yet the truth is that nostalgia comes fully equipped with a filter for anything negative because in reality those days weren’t the mysterious magical memories that I picture when I reminisce, those moments I look back on so fondly were actually intertwined with all the usual cares and concerns that characterise everyday life.

Yet the desire to pretend can be strong, to pretend it all ends up ok, to pretend we like person running our country or our partners shoes (actually Sid does ok in footwear options!!) to pretend because reality bores us! Maybe reality does bore us? Maybe the mundane monotony of the everyday is all too dull?  What if it’s not boring though, what if the truth is that reality is actually sad, painful or frightening rather than boring? What if that’s the reason we get the urge to pretend we’re a version of our former selves, or have a desire to live a life of make-belief where we relive our past when life was good, simple and fun?

So here’s the question! What if one day we’ll look back on this day and have a yearning to be back here? What if the everyday moments we’re living right now are actually the magical memory making moments that nostalgia sweeps up into its data and stores for us in a cloud somewhere so that we can look back with a smile in a few years time? As humans we’re very good at looking back and very skilled at anticipating the future but we’re not so good at enjoying the now, of finding the joy in the journey and the magic in the mystery of the moment.

What if being fully alive means we become more capable of all these things? What if we become more able to enjoy time reminiscing and of dreaming about the future but also capable of living in the moment? What if we can learn to be fully present with ourselves, our families and our friends because right now is actually where life is and right now is where we experience love? So, whilst right now might not be easy, whilst right now might be asking some big questions or demanding a little too much, right now belongs, because right now was once just a dream and one day will be just a memory. Right now we get to experience life in all its fullness and to be anywhere else is just an illusion of life and love.

*Pink, Can we pretend.

 

 

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…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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The one about…another dimension.

We seem to have a remarkably good grasp of space and time. We use a calendar, wear a watch, keep a diary. We can see pretty much anywhere on google earth and if we input the right information into our SatNav we can find the way to our chosen location. We talk of historical events and place them in a specific space and time and we dream of the future and plan the next night out, holiday or adventure.

Spacetime is how we understand our world because all events occur in a particular place and time. Spacetime is the fusion of the three dimensions of space and the one dimension of time and these dimensions are inextricably linked. But what if there’s another way to understand our existence? What if there’s more to life than the three dimensions of space and our one dimension understanding of time? What if there’s something that exists outside of space and time?

There’s a novel called Flatland, written in 1884 by a ‘school master’ called Edwin Abbot. It’s the story of a two-dimensional world called Flatland, occupied by geometric figures. One day this world is visited by a three dimensional object (a sphere) who introduces the idea of a third dimension, in hopes of educating the inhabitants of Flatland of a third dimensional reality. The two dimensional beings are open to the idea of new dimensions, so the square visits one dimensional Lineland where he appears simply as a line. He then visits Spaceland where the circle he has met is seen as a sphere. As the concept of further dimensions are introduced he becomes fearful and incapable of comprehending such realities. Despite the best efforts of the sphere to convince him that there is something more, the square lives out his days within the comfort of his known Flatland.

That’s the synopsis of the last book I read! There’s a great quote, where the sphere talks to the square (because that’s what shapes do?!)

“When you entered the realm of Lineland you were compelled to manifest yourself to the King, not as a square but as a line, because that Linear Realm had not dimensions enough to represent the whole of you…your country of two dimensions is not spacious enough to represent me, a being of three, but can only exhibit a slice of me, which is what you call a circle.”

It’s fascinating because it opens up questions of realities beyond what we know to be true. What if there really are realities or dimensions beyond our own known consciousness and we are simply unable to comprehend reality outside our own known sphere? What if our use of language when we talk of wonder, cosmic energy or spirituality is exactly the same problem that the square experienced; that our understanding of dimension is not ‘spacious enough to represent’ the mystery? Which leads to the question of what if we had the ability to transcend the known reality and what if that allowed us, at least for a brief moment, to see life from a different perspective, to hold for a moment the view that time and space could offer so much more than we’d ever realised?

What if meditation, reflection, prayer, contemplation (whatever word we use) are all tools through which we’re able to transcend our known consciousness into a deeper connection outside of space and time? What if religion offers, or at least should offer, opportunities to experience moments of space and time outside of the normal, known Spacetime Continuum? What if religion allows us to place story and experiences within a larger story or collective experience that allows life to be understood more holistically, more fully? What if experiencing life, even for brief moments in another dimension, allows us to hold our own lives more lightly, to see the bigger picture and know that all life and even death is held and sacred? What if there is something else to all of this?

The one about…the moon!

Belief, it’s an interesting concept, something we often dismiss because we’d rather understand and control; we’d rather have proof and logic than just seemingly ‘whimsical’ belief.

It’s fifty years since man first landed on the moon. There are people who don’t believe it to be true. There are whole websites, probably books, maybe some peoples’ life’s work devoted to the arguments for and against the first moon landing; conspiracy theorists looking to prove it a hoax and Nasa scientists devoted to proving it true.

My mum was twenty six when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. She was working nights, listening to the news broadcast on the radio in the nurses station as she and her colleagues staffed the maternity ward. She tells me that she remembers that night so vividly, looking out of the window into the darkness, seeing the glow of the moon and whispering “they’re walking on you right now”. She describes the wonder, the awe, the incredulity of the momentous occasion taking place. She believes. As that incredible event took place, around 238,855 miles away from where she stood, right there in the rooms around her women were giving birth to tiny human beings that they had grown themselves, hidden for months in the womb and then released into life on planet earth, to eventually take their first steps on our incredible planet. We’re not short of things to believe in.

Sure enough both the moon landing and childbirth can be explained in rational scientific terms, some would say its not rocket science but one of them clearly is and the other possibly requires a nursing degree to fully understand the intricacies of the finer details of conception, growth and birth. We can talk about each event in a rational, logical way but there’s something about our logical, reasoned explorations into space and our ability to reproduce that is overridden at some point, for most people, by sheer awe, wonder, mystery and magnificence. What if it’s in those moments of mystery we find that joy and hope are rekindled?

So as we watch the replays of the moon landing this week and are reminded of that ‘one small step for man’ let’s not lose sight of the gift that it is to believe. Perhaps over the next few days, as we catch a glimpse of the moon for ourselves we too might stop and just for a moment lose ourselves in the mystery and the wonder. What if we were to find joy in choosing to simply believe? What if there are more opportunities for belief than we’ve ever really appreciated? What if the rediscovery of belief, wonder and ultimately hope is the ‘giant leap’ mankind now needs to take.