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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www.prodigalcollective.co.uk/home/#podcast

The one about…the summer!

I love writing my blog, I love thinking about soul, love and wonder and exploring what it means to be human as we embrace some of those mysteries. However, my crazy crew are all off school and the usual chaos of the summer holidays has resumed! It’s a good chaos, but a chaos that requires something more of me for a few weeks! So because of that beautiful reality instead of writing a new blog each week I’m going to use the summer to re-publish a selection of my favourite blogs, ones you might have missed or not read for a while. It just gives me a little more head space to be more present with my family whilst still putting the blog out there.

I have also recorded each one as an audio blog which can be found on our website: www.prodigalcollective.co.uk/home/#podcast

I hope you have a fabulous summer…enjoy!

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.