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!

The one about…the necessary wildness.

The markings on the ground suggested that the place had once known civilisation. The concrete giving way to the green shoots of life as they pushed their way through. The faded paint marks were covered in moss and mud while the brambles entwined around the fallen metal poles that had once stood as the entrance to something. The bridge looked unnecessary, the entrance barred as the exit stopped abruptly in mid air, the steps down long since fallen, hard to decipher what it had once crossed. The edges of the concrete flooring blurred into the surrounding landscape and it was only a matter of time before nature completely reclaimed the space as its own.

It seems that, left to it’s own devices, the natural world is intent on restoring everything to what it once was.

I imagine something similar would happen to us if we weren’t so good at maintaining our civilised selves.

We often conform to the expectations of job, marriage or children. We so dutifully follow the well trodden route of school, study and career. We settle down, earn enough money to support the comfortable lifestyle that we expect to live and we raise children to do the same. Is that what it’s really all about? What happens if we stop, for a while, with the upkeep of this civilised existence and allow it all to degenerate? What if we allow the cracks to appear and the wildness of our inner being to take over? What if, just for a moment we allow ourselves to be reclaimed by nature?

It seems we put a lot of effort into fighting decay; exercise, healthy eating, not to mention the skin care regimes, Botox and hair colouring; all often an attempt to keep our bodies at the peak of condition or disguise the evidence of the toll time takes on us. We can’t really fight it though, nature always wins.

Maybe it’s important to acknowledge the natural course that life follows; to acknowledge that our bodies will change, decline and eventually be reclaimed back into the dust they were once a part of. Maybe as we do that we find that we’re able to hold life in a different way? What if we accept we can’t maintain our civilised existence forever and that one day we’ll all be reclaimed by soul or spirit into a mystery we are yet to comprehend?

The question is whether we’re willing to acknowledge the reality of our own decay and death. What if our wild, uncivilised selves long for a life that is authentic and honest instead of one that keeps us just far enough away from that reality? What if the maintenance of our lives too often comes at a cost and keeps us living at a distance from each other, too scared to admit to who we really are?

Maybe there’s a wisdom to the ancient concept of Shabbat or Sabbath, of a day set aside for rest and recreation. Maybe it’s important to take time to reconnect with ourselves, others and the Divine. It’s not easy to stop or slow down in a world that values busyness and production above all else. It sounds a little crazy to our 24/7/365 society but what if stepping aside from the everyday either for an hour, or an afternoon, or even a week or two allows us to see the beauty that we’d forgotten existed because we’re so busy maintaining what we have? What if that kind of rhythm to life is important if we’re going to embrace the wildness? What if the concept of Sabbath is an inspired approach to living which keeps us more in tune with our own heartbeat and more at peace with reality! What if, when we choose to immerse ourselves in stillness rather than busyness, we find there’s not such a distance between the wildness of our souls and our otherwise civilised existence.

The one about…expectation!

Life was spiralling out of control. It had been a year since she’d left home but her understanding of who she was and where her life was headed was not becoming any clearer. Her eating habits were becoming more erratic as she desperately tried to have control over something. She’d failed to gain a place at university for the second year in a row and she had sixteen rejection letters to prove it. As she neared the end of her ‘year out’ she was very aware that life wasn’t going as she’d expected, not only had she failed to meet her own expectations she knew she’d pretty much failed to meet everyone else’s. That’s when the cutting began.

Maybe no ones actually got it together, despite appearances. Maybe we’re all living with expectation in some form or another. We don’t expect relationships to require so much work, we’ve been brought up with the fairy tales full of “happy ever afters.” We expect that we’ll find a job we’ll succeed at and enjoy, after all we’ve spent so many years in the education system surely that’s what we’re entitled to. We don’t even expect our loved ones to die when they do, even though we know it will happen to us all eventually, we never really expect death. We’re not really prepared for what life expects of us and sometimes we don’t cope with that!

Maybe we should be taught to manage our expectations; maybe then we’d cope with those feelings of anger, grief, frustration, sadness, loneliness and fear a little better. I imagine though, if we did learn to manage our expectations, that we’d also manage out the joy, laughter, hope and excitement and life would become incredibly monotone or mundane. So we’re left living with the challenge of expectation! Maybe if we could understand expectation our understanding of what it means to cope, or not, would make more sense.

Often in the ordinariness of the everyday we deal with a whole range of emotions because that what life invites. What if intertwined somewhere in those ordinary emotions that we all experience we also juggle that set of expectations placed on us either by ourselves or by others? What if just below the surface of our lives, we’re constantly managing those expectations? Like the pressure from the media to look a certain way, eat certain food or shop in a certain place? Or the pressure from our own family, friends or belief system to live up to a particular way of being in the world. We expect, or are expected, to cope and when we don’t we’re left somewhere between bewildered and depressed.

I know many people grow up with a strongly ingrained set of beliefs and a fierce loyalty to family. When we break away from that and find ourselves “free” of parental control or tribal constraints we take on the challenge of living those expectations. There’s a whole new world to explore. Many of us carry with us throughout life the expectations of the family that raised us, it acts as our moral compass, our marker for how to be in the world! For some that’s intertwined with “religious” belief, for others it’s simply family values. The expectation we get a job, earn money, buy a house, find a partner maybe even have children. Even if we feel our family don’t expect much from us there’s still social expectations that we’ll supposedly conform to. Somehow we learn to cope with those expectations but sometimes we find the demands of them stifling.

Here’s the thing, what if there’s some value in not coping, in not conforming, at least for a while? What if mental or emotional lapses, where we “don’t cope” actually are moments where we discover more about ourselves? What if some breakdowns in stability, some rebellion against societal expectation, or some failure to meet familial goals, are opportunities to reconnect with ourselves, to actually discover who we really are?

It seems that some of the greatest musicians, lyricists, writers and artists often struggled with depression or other issues which compromised their mental health. Some of the most beautful, creative and inspiring work is borne out of that place of pain. What if not coping provides opportunity for creativity to flourish? What if in those moments there is a deeper connection with soul, with meaning and purpose?

What if to some extent we need to celebrate our inability to cope rather than rush to find a quick fix? What if, when the temptation to meet all those expectations takes hold along with the stark reality that we either can’t or simply don’t want to, instead of adopting our usual coping strategies we take time out, to listen to ourselves, to reconnect with who we are and learn from what we’re experiencing because it is actually teaching us something! What if that’s really the role of religion in the world; not to place more expectation on us but to provide spaces and places to reconnect with ourselves and others, to encounter something more and share in the story we find ourselves in. What if then we find we’re better placed to navigate all that life asks of us? What if there’s something about being more honest with ourselves and others that allows us all to realise everyone’s just figuring it out, no one is completely sorted and everyone else is doing today for the first time too?