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…that thought!

I’m going to die. I’m going to die and I’ve no idea when or how.”

The thought hit me like a bolt of lightening as it coursed through my body. I tried to calm myself taking deep soothing breaths as I stared blankly into the moonlit darkness of the camper I was sleeping in, or at least trying to sleep in.

Unlike some worries and fears this one wasn’t irrational or rooted in some crazy delusion this was true and unavoidable and it wasn’t just me, it would happen to the children, Sid, everyone.

Existential fears I think they’re called. The fears we wrestle with in the darkness that are way too big for our finite minds to comprehend.

It’s not the first time I’d played out this disturbing reality, although every time the thought hits me it does seem strangely like it’s news to my tiny mind. These fears always seem to taunt me most when life is relatively OK. Take this moment for example, camping in the walled garden of an old Manor, surrounded by family and friends. Lazy days spent in the pool, strolling through the meadow and exploring the woods. Hours swinging on tree swings or finding sticks to sharpen ready to toast marshmallows on the bonfire. Conversations over cups of tea, sharing life with people who were honest enough to admit they hadn’t got it all sorted and happy to laugh or cry about that reality. I honestly didn’t want to be anywhere else. I guess that’s the sign of a good holiday. The days had been hot which meant clear cooler nights which is why I lay there awake, slightly too cold to sleep, wrestling with the terror of my own mortality.

The truth is that I don’t really know what to do with those thoughts. My childhood faith had offered a strategy for being saved, but saved from what? Clearly not death, or at least not the physical death that would separate me from those I loved. So what do I do with those very real and inescapable fears?

I can’t believe I’m the only one to have ever realised the terrifying truth of my own mortal existence. We all know we’re going to die and we’re all good at avoiding thinking about it, until we really have to, which must be a good thing because I’m not sure life on planet earth would be much fun if we all lived with death at the forefront of our minds all of the time.

There are of course a number of responses to the reality of death. We can choose to distract ourselves from ever thinking about it with careful avoidance techniques, indulging in food, drink, sex, drugs or any other harmless or harmful addictions, anything to numb the pain of the reality we all face. We can choose denial, pushing death aside and focusing on our increasingly fast paced lives, filling every second with activity and leaving us no alone time to think.

Or we can choose to contend a little more bravely with the thoughts of death and separation? We can spend time addressing the issues within ourselves, reconnecting with our own soul and rediscovering an inner peace that comes from finding that being left alone with our own thoughts is actually quite a healthy place to be.

We might also find that there are some realities we do just have to accept we can’t answer, like the when and how of death, and at the same time admit that the terror which surrounds the actual truth of death is very real.

For me it was about admitting that the faith that told me I didn’t need to fear death didn’t quite add up in the way all of those around me seemed so convinced it did. I do have moments where death terrifies me, where the apparent fact that “death is defeated” seems to mean nothing when faced with my own death or the death of those I love. Yet I can’t write off my faith because there is something about wrestling with these thoughts that enables me to hold them. There’s is something about the surrender found in the Jesus story that inspires me, something about his submission to the rhythm of life, death and resurrection that does leave me knowing deep within that this whole concept is held by a force, an energy, a power, an ultimate reality, called love or God, or whatever name makes most sense, and that this source of being holds all of time and all of our stories. Somewhere in that I find a peace.

I find peace in believing that our stories matter but aren’t what holds it all together, that they are important but they’re not the whole story. Maybe if I’m able to keep in check the truth that my story is a humble part of the bigger story then my coming and going from this world is very gently held within that. Whilst death is sad and painful and a myriad of other emotions for those that are left to wait their turn, death becomes part of the story rather than the end.

So I’m left with the challenge of surrender, the challenge to relinquish control, to lay down my fears and instead choose to live the best life possible, to contribute to the story in a way that is good because I’m going to die and when I do I want to know I’ve lived life fully alive.

 

 

 

The one about…time.

Some things just take time; like moving a family of nine to a new town, or settling into a new job or school, or understanding a new way of being in the world when something significant has changed. We live in a world of instant, fast and quick, we don’t always like the reality that some things just take time. We do however talk a lot about time; about not having enough time, or time running out. We talk about time being of the essence, we use words like ‘anytime’ and ‘sometimes’, we enjoy time off or time out and we work full time or part time. We have a good time, a hard time, a rough time and some things happen all in good time. Sometimes we’re in a race against time, living on borrowed time; or having a whale of a time, the time of our lives, wasting time, at the same time or ahead of time. Time; the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present and future regarded as a whole or a theoretical construct established by humanity to enable us to place or plan events in some kind of order? We make good use of the concept of time, yet across our world time is viewed very differently.

Some cultures don’t place anywhere near as much emphasis on time as we do in the West, or atleast they understand time so very differently. We are monochronic, we are time obsessed, schedule dictated and busy. I read a book* a few years back written by a son of American missionaries who spent much of his childhood in a small African village. His village was visited one day by Frenchmen (but they could have equally been British or American). These Frenchmen asked many questions of the villagers about the future of their village, questions which the village elders were unable to answer. The chief gave this explanation:

“We are not like them. To them, time is everything. Did you see those silver circles on their wrists? Those things measure the day into very little pieces….Frenchmen think that counting time is important. A day can be divided into twenty-four parts, and each of those parts can be divided into sixty smaller parts…the smaller the men can measure the day, the more angry they seem to be. For the Senufo, the movement of the sun is as much measurement of the passage of time as we need. We know when to get up. We know when to work the fields and when to hunt. We know when to rest in the shade. We know when to go home. We know when to sleep. Children, it is enough.”

We do not live in a small African village following the pattern of the sun. Instead as Green Day so eloquently summed up “time grabs us by the wrist, directs you where to go,” we are slaves to our calendars, diaries and schedules and we are often stressed. So is there any way to hold time differently?

What if we start by admitting that there’s something slightly mysterious about time? What if we start to see time as a gift? A tool for us to use but not to be controlled or defined by? What if we were able to literally make better use of time? It seems that time can offer us a lot of comfort as we negotiate some of the more difficult opportunities life throws our way, as though time does have mysterious healing properties. Given time, events that once felt raw, painful and insurmountable become less so, time seems to reduce the pain, intensity and impossibility of some of the circumstances we experience. Time is mysterious in other ways too. There are days where time seems to stand still and days where time seems to fly. Yet we believe time always passes at the same rate? How can some things seems like they happened yesterday when actually it was five years ago and other things seem a lifetime ago despite only a week having passed? There are those moments where time stands still, moments where we witness an incident but it all seems to happen outside of time, we can’t get there quick enough or move out of the way fast enough, its as though we’re not functioning within the usual parameters of time. It seems there’s so much more to time than our narrow one dimensional view, although I’ve heard it said that we actually live in a half dimension of time because we can only move from the present forwards.

Which raises the question of what if there’s something or someone that exists outside of our constraints of time; a being, force or energy that isn’t limited by our understanding of time. An entity that holds all time and sees our past, present and future as a whole? What if we were able to comprehend time in a different way? How would that affect our understanding of death and loss? How would that impact how we hold the present? What if there is mystery to engage in, mystery that enables us to begin to grasp that this isn’t all there is, that what we hold to so tightly isn’t as important as we believed it to be and as we begin to realise this we also begin to let go of some of the things that we thought mattered and begin to celebrate life, here and now, in this place, in this space because time and space are inextricably linked. Here and now will always be where the joy is because here and now are all we actually have.

*Too Small to Ignore, Dr W. Stafford pg 84-85

 

 

 

 

 

 

The one about…the space between!

There’s a space that exists, it’s a space some might describe as magical or enchanted; a sacred space outside of the noise and demands of our everyday.

Liminal space is not necessarily a physical place but it can be. Maybe an empty car park, a disused factory or a place where there was once life but where it now seems that nature has gradually started to reclaim. Maybe it’s something experienced whilst walking through the woods, or along the beach, a space we sense something of whilst climbing a mountain path or a wandering through a meadow? These places become moments where we tune out out of the sounds that require us to act and tune in to the sounds that allow us just to be. These are not always comfortable spaces. They are places between two worlds, the one we’ve stepped away from and the one we will return to.

We can also find ourselves caught between two worlds whilst present amongst the noise and activity of our children, our colleagues or our friends, in the noise of the high street or public transport; we’re there physically but not really present because the real us is somewhere else.

Liminal space also exists when we’re caught between two realities; as we move from one job to another, as we move house or as we experience the death of someone we love. Liminal space exists when discover we are no longer able to live in the familiar but are yet to create a new familiar; when we’re caught in the space between what we knew to be and what we know will become.

Liminal space can be bewildering, it can leave us feeling lost or as though we don’t belong in the world in the way we used to. Liminal space makes us vulnerable. Yet it can also can be an opportunity to embrace moments that don’t make sense and allow them just to be.

Liminal space is an opportunity to be present in the moment without passing judgement. It’s a chance to reevaluate what’s important and to ask those bigger questions of life that we know need to be asked but so often don’t get a voice. Liminal space offers us rest, just for a while, from ourselves and from others. It offers us the opportunity to choose a new path or the opportunity to see a fresh perspective of what was.

Liminal space is a gift. What if liminal space offers us a window into our soul, our true selves? What if as we dwell in this space between two realities we find a deeper understanding of who we are, beyond everything else that’s always defined us? What if liminal space suggests that there is something more to what we’ve always believed to be true? What if liminal space invites us to step outside of time and takes us deeper into an unknown dimension, a space or place that our minds can’t fully comprehend yet sense something of? What if liminal space is actually a place where our true humanity meets the divine? Maybe liminal space is a place we should seek out and dwell in whenever we can.

The one about…moving forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is this important?

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

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

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

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

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

The one about…a week ago.

Time is a strange phenomenon. On Easter Sunday afternoon Ani, Zeb and Ez splashed happily in the paddling pool, armed with water squirters, as they tried to dislodge each other from the body boards they were standing on. Summer had arrived, it was only April but it was good. The warm, dry and sunny bank holiday, a relatively rare experience in the UK, came and went so quickly and now the children are back at school, Easter seems a long time ago..

Easter Sunday has always been a significant day in my story; a day of celebration, on a par with Christmas. There are gifts, usually of a chocolate nature, followed by church and a roast dinner, shared with family; a celebration of death defeated and sin overcome. I’m not sure I hold to the theology in quite the same way anymore but I do believe there’s a reason for celebration. Like any marker or reference point an annual celebration is significant and holds meaning for all who associate with it. Celebrating Easter offers a renewed opportunity to be reminded of the rhythm of life, death and resurrection and silence.

Silence, the silence is important because sometimes there aren’t the words and sometimes we need that space, we need the silence, to process what’s going on around us, work out what we think and find a way to respond.

It’s been nearly a week since over 200 people were killed in bomb attacks in Sri Lanka as many of them sat in church, celebrating resurrection.

To announce the news ‘He has risen’, seemed somehow lost in the atrocity that had occurred. Death was not defeated; death was visible, raw and very very real. To celebrate resurrection seemed irrelevant to those who haven’t risen this week and returned to be with those they loved.

So where does that leave the “good news” of Easter, especially after all the eggs are eaten, the bank holiday is over and ‘normality’ returns.

I’ve walked the dog a few times this week pondering the hope of Easter.  I’ve wandered through a church yard, looking at the gravestones, some clearly tended to with flowers while others looked unvisited, maybe forgotten. I’ve seen daffodils that had once flowered now standing withered and the blossom that had brightened the trees now falling. Death is all around us. Death always is. We try to pretend it’s not but it is, we can’t escape it.

Death remains as unknown and mysterious as it always has. We can attempt a more positive spin when we talk of people having had a good life or dying ‘doing what they loved’ but really death can’t be appeased like that, even less so when death seems so unnecessary, wasteful and atrocious.

Many look to religion for answers often finding religion to seemingly be the cause. What should offer life and peace instead divides and condemns. True religion, genuine spirituality, can be found in anyone and maybe it’s in those moments, where the only honest response to death is silence, that we need to look within for a way forward.

There are no easy answers to the evil that took place in Sri Lanka. It is not ok. Yet the unrest, jealousy and ignorance within ourselves is not ok either. Until we begin to find ways within our own sphere of influence to be people who look to always love rather than hate, to always forgive rather than seek revenge, to always pursue peace rather than justification, to always welcome rather than judge, the world will not move forwards. So when we look at the injustice in our world and feel helpless to respond we need to be creative about what we can do.

Resurrection will only mean something if we begin to look for ways to bring hope, new life, new energy and new possibilities to those around us.

Death will always be held within mystery and maybe we need to allow it to be held, until at the right time, in the right ways, we can embrace resurrection. What often looks and feels like the end rarely is, life finds a way. What if there is always resurrection? What if it takes time; what if it can’t be rushed or forced? What if instead it could be welcomed, spoken of and celebrated? What if we become people who choose to celebrate resurrection wherever and whenever we find it and in doing so show the world that the ‘good news’ of Easter is for real, all year round.

The one about…a magical Easter

The days are getting longer and so much warmer. The March winds have subsided, making way for the April showers and now sunshine; Spring is well and truly here. The earth is responding. Blossom is falling, daffodils have all but been and gone, the bluebells are resounding as they carpet floor of the woods, the dawn chorus is echoing and new green shoots are sprouting in every tree and bush; the world around us is coming back to life and it’s magical!

Magic: the power of apparently influencing events by using mysterious or supernatural forces. Magic must be at work out there because there is something mysterious and supernatural about the way nature seemingly dies during autumn and resurrects in the spring! Ok, so if I’d paid more attention in A level biology maybe it wouldn’t seem so mysterious and I’m not sure if nature can be supernatural so maybe magic isn’t the right word but in the same way that a good magician creates awe and wonder, so does nature when we stop, look and listen!

I read a book during lent, written by a magician called Nate Staniforth, his book is called Real Magic. If you can afford it, buy it, if you can’t ask me and you can borrow my copy. It’s awesome!

Nate tells a story of a performance he gave to a hostile audience, inviting the most aggressive looking member, a guy called Marcus, to hold a wallet containing a lottery ticket with pre-chosen numbers printed. He then chooses six unknown people at random, not pre warned, to give him a number between 1 and 50…I guess you see where this going! The numbers given by the audience match the numbers on the ticket in the wallet. This is how he described the moment the brutish guy holding the wallet reacts:

“Get the f*** out of here, man. What the f***?” The audience is watching Marcus ascend to a sort of crazed delirium….I want you to see his face. I want you to see the joy, the open, unaffected joy. It’s the kind of joy that reminds you that what you mistook for dull, uninspired brutishness a moment before was actually just weight-the weight of worry, of pain, of anxiety, of the world-and for a moment it has gone, and the face that shines without it is extraordinary.

The universal truth of this particular story is that we all need, want, maybe even crave those moments where we lose the weight of the world and experience the wonder of it.

What if that’s what Easter offers? What if a story about death and resurrection offers us that moment of, as Nate describes;

“not knowing, a moment of wonderment, of joy, and of innocence. It reminds us that it’s ok not to have all the answers or all the information-that we can move on with our lives anyway. And that we should, because we will never have enough information.”

What if the debate about the facts, the ‘information’ about whether Jesus actually rises from the dead, misses the point as much as the debate about how the magician hid the coin, knew the numbers or seemingly sliced through the body! What if that debate isn’t where it’s at? What if instead Easter invites us deeper into awe and wonder? What if Easter invites us to lose ourselves, our worries, our insecurities, our fears and move, for a while, into the wonder of it all before stepping back into reality, still shaking our head in disbelief but with a new found sense of, what if that’s true? What if resurrection is real, what if there is hope? What if we all were able to live from that place rather than a place of doubt and despair? What if the Jesus story invites us to believe, not in the accuracies of historical events, but in wonder, possibility and a preferred future? What if Jesus invites us all to live with the wonder of resurrection knowing that whatever deaths we face there is always hope? What if Easter opens the doors of possibility to something bigger, inexplicable and seemingly impossible, leaving us all hoping that the resurrection is for real!