The one about…is it only me who…?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The one about…after Christmas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!!