The one about…demons.

The ‘Good Place’, the ultimate afterlife destination, a heaven like utopia for the elite of humanity, an eternal paradise for those that are good enough or so you’d think…but things aren’t always as they seem and the Good Place is actually an experimental neighbourhood designed specifically for four particular human beings as part of an exploration into alternative torture; hosted by a demonic architect called Michael, the four humans are tortured; not with the more traditional fire and brimstones but instead simply by being, well, human.
It’s another one of those Netflix shows that sounds a little far-fetched and it probably is, the ‘frozen yoghurt in heaven’ concept clearly suggesting that the plot is not rooted in any kind of reality! Yet what if there’s more truth to be found in the ideas it does present, what if the theories it conceptualises are not as far from reality as we might think.
We all hold some thoughts about the afterlife; so whether we dismiss it completely, opting for a huge void of nothingness, or whether we calm our existential fears with thoughts of angels, harps and clouds (or a range of options in between) it’s a subject that we have no definitive answer to no matter how strong our religious (or non-religious) convictions are.
Heaven and hell; literal places we descend or ascend to when our time on earth is over or a metaphorical allegory (is that even a thing?) providing meaning to that which we can’t explain? Angels, demons, an omnipotent judge like character? It sounds the stuff of fiction and fable, more at place in a Phillip Pullman novel or as a plot in Good Omens; but what if demons are more common than we think?
Life isn’t always easy and even when it’s going well, we can battle some pretty tough thoughts in our mind. Those “demons” that taunt us about how we don’t deserve to be happy, who whisper horror over that new lump or bump that’s appeared or the way that mole has changed; demons that talk you into one more drink because really, what’s the harm? Demons that make you doubt anyone really likes you, that you were only invited because they were being polite and it probably would be best to send that text to say you’re not going to make it because you don’t want to spend the whole evening feeling like you don’t belong. Demons that torment you with all the bad decisions you’ve made whilst trying to parent that child, that tell you the reason she does that is because of what you did. Demons that tease you about your ideas for that presentation, that suggest its not good enough and that you won’t get the promotion so it’s best to give up now. Demons that laugh at your attempt at a costume for your child, reminding you of your own childhood humiliation at school plays and mufti days. Demons that haunt you with and uneasy paranoia about who you are and what you’re capable of. Demons that go out of their way to show you how you’ve failed, that remind you you’re not the wife, mother, daughter, friend, sister (or husband, father, son, brother) or maybe just not the person that you would like to be.
Demons can take all shapes and sizes and they can creep up on us out of nowhere, just chipping away at our confidence, at our self-worth, at our belief that we are enough and that we are doing OK.
Shawn from the ‘Good Place’ bad place might well just be a cleverly characterised attempt at mimicking Lucifer, the bad place might host some weird and wonderfully designed demons and it might all seem a little too far from the truth but what if there is something in the way humans are used to torture themselves that is quite close to the truth? What if we do actually create our own hell in the thoughts we believe and the way we respond, not only on a personal level but on a national and international level too? What if the concept of hell isn’t something reserved for the afterlife but a very present phenomenon right now? What if all this suggests that if we can create our own hell maybe creating heaven on earth isn’t as impossible as we think.

The one about…redefining Brexit!

Brexit…well, I’m not sure what’s happening with the British exit of the European Union so I thought I’d fill you in on the Bridges exit instead!

We’re on the move! It has been nearly three years since we started looking at jobs in the Church of England, knowing that Sid’s curacy would end and we’d potentially need to take up a post elsewhere. It’s been a rollercoaster of emotion; applications, interviews, emails and conversations, all an attempt to discern what we should be doing and where we should be doing it. Soul searching I think it’s sometimes called, although to be honest I always imagined soul searching to be a little more like walking along a beach pondering some deep, meaningful thoughts; but these years have been brutal, exhausting, real and raw, hopeful, exhilarating, energising, draining and a whole host of other somewhat conflicting emotions! Some moments have nearly broken us, as individuals, as a couple and as family; some very dark, seemingly hopeless experiences followed by glimmers of hope, anticipation and intrigue only to find out it’s not to be. We’ve taken jobs and turned jobs down, we’ve applied and then pulled out of interview, we’ve applied and not been called for interview, we’ve been interviewed and not appointed; but each experience, however random or seemingly nonsensical, has taught us something, something more of who we are and why we’re here. We can both honestly say that while that has been ridiculously hard at times, we’ve learnt things about ourselves that we could only learn by living this way.

Yet all of it eventually had to culminate in something, a decison had to be made, and the decision was not just about one person or even two, any decision had huge implications for our children too, it would impact their friendships, their education and their lifestyle; it would impact who they are and who they would become, for better or for worse. We moved here with only five of them and now there are seven, and while playgroup and primary were our only consideration five years ago we’re now well into secondary school, GCSE’s and considering the crazy world of post-16 too. Decisions can’t be made lightly!

The decision has been made and now we find ourselves surrounded by boxes, lists and cluttered piles of “stuff” headed for rubbish, recycling or the next charity shop collection. It is somewhat monumental, the reality of moving nine of us, somewhat surreal, as we look around the house and walk the streets of our neighbourhood where we’ve lived life together, through all its ups and downs. It seems strange to think that this chapter of our life is over yet we know that the beauty is found in turning the page and beginning the next.

So we move, not far away, neighbours will change but much of what we know will stay the same and the work we’re called to do, well that’s what’s giving us the energy and inspirtaion to pack up and move on. We knew we had to find work, vocation and a lifestyle that made our hearts and souls sing. We’re so excited by what we’re doing that all of the past confusion and hurt and disappointments pale into insignificance as we look to what we get to do each day.*

There’s so much that we have learnt and are continuing to learn from this journey but there’s something about the name Prodigal that is so important, more important than we realised when we created ‘Prodigal Collective’ nearly a year ago. ‘Prodigal’ was inspired by the story known as ‘the Prodigal Son’, found in the bible. For so many, ‘Prodigal’ conjures up images of a wayward child, squandering inheritance, reckless and extravagant and maybe that’s how some people see us!? For us though, ‘Prodigal’ defines the father, the God character, the divine source, energy or being that holds the whole story. ‘Prodigal’ is recklessly extravagant in all the right ways, a universe that lacks nothing, an ultimate reality that is wired in favour of humanity…prodigal is generous, unstinting, bountiful and abundant and that is what we have experienced as we’ve journeyed. That does not mean that every day we’re skipping along without a care in the world, the belief that the universe is wired in our favour hasn’t fully stopped the tears and the pain, it hasn’t completely removed the fear or prevented the sleepless nights but it has enabled us to move through all of those emotions knowing that they belong, that we’re held and that this is all headed somewhere good. Our understanding of Prodigal is what makes life worth it, it’s what inspires us and keeps us hopeful of good times even through the difficult ones. Our understanding of Prodigal is what enables us to do each day, it’s what’s teaching us to celebrate all that we do have and it’s showing us how to live life to the full.

 

If you’d like to know more about what we’re up to then check out our website: www.prodigal.org.uk

 

 

The one about…letting go.

I know I’m holding on too tight, scared that if I let go I’ll end up in free fall, out of control, spiralling downwards.

Holding on isn’t always a bad thing, it can be the right thing to do; like holding to a dream because you know it will come good, or holding on to a relationship through some difficult times because you know it’s meant to be and it will work out, or holding on to the truth of who you are when other people are questioning your integrity. There are times where I’ve held on because it’s been the right thing to do; times where clinging on has been life giving and good, because some things do require time and patience, some moments require us to wait, and those moments need to be nurtured until they become all we know they can be.

This isn’t that kind of holding on, this clasp, this fists clenched grasp, is suffocating, stifling; whatever it is I’m holding, I’m holding it too tight.
Sometimes it’s obvious what we’re clinging to; status, wealth, youth, identity, security, sometimes we chase these things, we believe we’ve caught them, we think we have a good grasp and so we cling to them, believing that if we let go we’ll lose something of who we are.
Maybe, for me, it’s an element of all these things, holding onto a season of life that I’ve loved, with small children, in a house and a role that I like, with an identity that I have embraced. Maybe, as it all changes around me, I find myself strengthening my grip, in a futile attempt to hold on. I know it’s futile but I’m struggling to loosen my grip. Instead I fill my days with activity, distracting myself from the nagging reminders that something isn’t right, hoping that those feelings will go away. It’s very easy to find things that distract, obsessively watching sloth videos on Facebook, taking on more overtime, upping the miles on the running route, enjoying a little more, or a little less, to drink or eat, so many methods of numbing the pain of existence or escaping the everyday realities, just for a while. Yet, the underlying sense that something’s wrong doesn’t go, the cloud doesn’t lift no matter how many distraction techniques are employed and the only real solution, the only actual way forwards, is to let go.
Letting go means relinquishing control, admitting that we’re powerless to prevent life moving on. Letting go means surrendering to the future and allowing all that will be to…simply…be.
There’s a quote that says ‘the opposite of faith isn’t doubt, it’s control’. What if having faith isn’t about employing a belief system that is religiously adhered to but more about surrendering control and allowing wonder and mystery to thrive? What if the way to freedom is to dare to believe that life could actually be OK, that the new stage of life could be as good, or maybe even better than anything experienced so far? What if faith means daring to step forwards, not forever looking back at what was, but instead fully rooting each step in what is, right now?
It might mean that everyday we have to choose to let go, that everyday we have to choose to loosen the grip and surrender because our natural inclination is to intensify our hold. What if in those moments where we want to hold on tightly to how life was, instead we very carefully relax our hands, and our hearts, even our souls, and let go? Maybe then instead of spiralling out of control, downwards into freefall we’ll find that we fly.

The one about…Kadosh

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

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

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

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

The one about…autumnal truth!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*my favourite Richard Rohr quote!!

The one about…moving (part 2)

It’s hard not to be overwhelmed by details. The primary school doesn’t have places for two of the three children that need to go there and while the secondary school can offer places to our three secondary aged children, it can’t offer two of the GCSEs that our eldest has been studying for the last two years.
It seems that nothing is ever “easy”, maybe life would be dull if it was but sometimes I’d like to be given the opportunity to find out. Sometimes I’d like to at least be given the option of ‘easy’, or maybe I wouldn’t, I’m not actually that good at decsions. It’s safe to say that I don’t really know what I want, so I tried to write a list.

  • I want to live by the sea.
  • I want to live in Peterborough.
  • I want to run.
  • I want to sit and read.
  • I want to stay up late and lie in.
  • I want to get up early and write.
  • I want to live in a tiny cottage.
  • I want to raise my family.
  • I want to only buy clothes from charity shops.
  • I want to recreate my wardrobe completely from H and M.
  • I want the children to stay little.
  • I want the joy of watching the children grow up.
  • I want everything to stay the same.
  • I want to be living an adventure.

Do you see what I mean? I don’t know what I want and I don’t even want the same thing all of the time and sometimes I want two opposing things at the same time. Complicated? Confusing? There are a few directions my thoughts have gone as I wrestle with the confusion.

Firstly, I do want to be a full time mum, it’s all I’ve ever really wanted. I remember telling Sid that fact the second time we went out together and then getting home and wondering if it was the right thing to say to a guy I’d only just met?! I’m so blessed to have not had to work since we had children. We’ve never had two incomes; when Sid was a student I worked full time, then we had children and he’s worked, and because of that we’ve never taken on a lifestyle that we can’t sustain. That does however mean that my identity has become completely absorbed in family and as they grow up I’m left with less confidence and belief in who I am and what I can do. I’m sure I’m not the only full time mum to feel like this; to feel vulnerable, confused and scared of re-imagining life as the children begin to need me less or in different ways. I’ve been parenting preschoolers for over fifteen years, that’s a long career to have to stand down from, especially when I don’t really want to. Then we plan to move to a new area, for Sid to start a new job, as our youngest starts playgroup, and I’m left slightly bereft of a life I’ve loved and slightly unsure of who I am in it all.

The second thought my exploration of “I” led me to was a reminder that although I am still Deb, sixteen years ago I chose to be ‘Sid and Deb’, we got married and my ‘I’ became a ‘we’. That means that any decision I make now needs to be made in light of the promises I made then. Over time “we” has expanded to the nine of “us” and I can’t just do what I want, instead I do what we think is best for all of us. So, while we all maintain a right to our individuality, we are also family and I know that sometimes decisions have to be made that are for the good of ‘us’ not just for one individual. Marriage, family, and individual identities within that are hard to navigate and lately my “I” has been shouting loudly and stomping its feet, asking “what about me?” and that’s hard, that leads to tears and confusion and that is hard to reconcile when the life that we have created is being changed, relocated and redefined when there’s so much about it that you just want to keep the same.

My final thought was about how the ” I/we/us” concept also, for me, includes a spiritual element and that somewhere in all my musings the God character features. I was reminded of a quote by Paula D’arcy, she said, “God comes to you disguised as your life.” Could that possibly be true and what would that really look like? How would God, love, that force, that cosmic energy, the otherness I look for to help me reframe and reconnect with myself and ultimate reality, appear as my life? What if ‘God’ appears as those instances, people or events that seem to disrupt my otherwise comfortable, ordered existence? What if this somewhat painful exploration of where I’m at in life is in fact the divine breaking in to remind me that there’s always more. What if in the midst of all the fears and worries, the attempts to make sense of who I am, ‘God’ is simply saying through people, music and moments that “this all belongs”. What if I don’t have to worry about the future, or know exactly what it will look like because today I know what I have to do, today I have all I need and every time “today” appears again I find the same to be true. So while there are days where I’m overwhelmed by the details, days where I’m fearful and unsure and days where I want to hide out in a cottage by the sea, there are also days where I remember how blessed I am. There are days where I’m able to hold it all in perspective and days where the light seems to shine a little brighter than the day before and somehow I know that this will all make sense.

The one about…moving.

Sid has been offered job. It has been a long, emotional journey, full of unexpected turns and strangely surprising outcomes, so it’s no surprise that people keep congratulating us on the good news. While I’m sure it must be ‘good news’, right now it feels more like ‘news’, which isn’t really how I think I should feel or how I expected to feel but I do remember similar feelings surfacing just over fifteen years ago when our first child was born.

I can picture myself standing in the tiny lounge of our quirky Victorian terraced house in Northampton, reading the ‘Congratulations on Your New Baby’ cards. I was standing because the tiny baby boy I was holding seemed to cry every time I hovered anywhere near a chair. I distinctly remember reading and re-reading the cards, desperately trying to fathom what on earth everyone was congratulating us for. The ‘new arrival’ did not let me sleep, he fed at least every three hours, sometimes for an hour; day and night. My nipples bled, other parts of my anatomy had been subjected to damage severe enough to warrant stitches, so even if he would let me sit down it wasn’t actually comfortable and then there was the affect the whole experience had inflicted on my marriage. My husband, whose eyes had once sparkled with playful attraction, now didn’t dare look at me; partly because the disturbing images of birth that he’d just witnessed tormented his mind whenever he saw me and partly because we both knew that if he looked at me the wrong way there was no guarantee I would respond as a loving wife should. A combination of sleep deprivation, hormonal overload and genuine fear of the tiny human in my arms left my mood somewhat unpredictable and not in a good way!  Yet there we both were, standing at a safe distance from each other, wondering if there would ever be such a thing as a safe distance from the baby, reading cards that spoke of happiness, joy and love…none of it made any sense.

The reality was that the people who designed those cards, and the people who bought them, knew that the arrival of a new baby was good news. There was an awareness that the seemingly demanding little person would bring us so much joy, laughter and happiness; all which would out weigh any drama surrounding his arrival, any need for sleep and anything else difficult, painful or just simply sad that we would inevitably experiecne at various points in our lives with him. They knew that this new life was good, and they were right. Our baby was and is a cause for celebration and we’ve had six more causes for celebration since, each with their own unique birth dramas, each with their own attempt at sleep deprivation as a form of torture and over the years, each with their own ‘moments’ where we’ve had to take a breath and just hold them through it, whatever it was. All of these moments have been totally worth every second of the craziness that is our life together.

So as I sit here, trying hard to comprehend that the news of a new job is in fact ‘good news’, I am reminded of those first time parent feelings. I’m reminded that in those early days where I felt lost and lonely and overwhelmed I was held and loved and somehow carried through. I’m reminded that all I ever had to do was take the next step, the next breath, change the next nappy! So while I’m apprehensive about how the next few weeks are going to play out, I do know that leaving a people and a place that I love will eventually be OK and that embracing a ‘new life’ together will be a great adventure. I know that despite my fears, despite the seemingly inordinate amount of details there are to sort out and despite the tears and the tension of trying to carry all of the emotions involved, including my own, that we are moving forwards. I also know that all I actually have to do is take the next step, whatever that is, because that’s all any of us can do. So while some steps might be more tentative than others, and some steps might bring tears and confusion, and while sometimes it might feel as though I’m going round in circles I know that ultimately this is all headed somewhere and that the somewhere is good.