The one about…our Christmas story.

Everyone’s talking about it, the shops are fully stocked, the music is playing, the trees are decorated, the lights are twinkling; people are busy planning, shopping, baking, dreaming and now the calendars are counting down. The world (or that’s what we’re led to believe) is getting ready for the big day!

The 25th of December (or for some the 24th) has become such a big event. One day where everything has to be ready; food prepared, presents bought, gifts wrapped, cards sent, houses tidied, people invited…all for one day, all for the illusion of the perfect Christmas. Thing is, it is an illusion, it’s rarely perfect, despite the stories we hear and the adverts we see – oh and of course those Christmas movies which create the perfect dream.

The reality is more likely to be about a child who changed their mind on 23rd December about what they wanted from Father Christmas, leaving the parents dreading the look of disappointment on Christmas morning; or about the mum who’s had to go into work so now Christmas dinner will be at 7pm rather than 1pm and it feels like the usual traditions are in question; there’s the sombre reality of the first Christmas without that loved one, leaving a hole way too huge, along with the return of the tears you thought you’d just got control of; there’s the dad trying to put a brave face on the fact he hasn’t got the kids until Boxing Day because they’re with their mum this year; there’s the newlyweds who can’t work out who they should spend Christmas with because either way one set of in-laws will be disappointed; there’s the widow down the road who’ll eat alone like any other day except for some reason Christmas Day feels even more lonely…like I say, it’s rarely perfect.

I guess part of the challenge is to stop seeing it as one ‘Big Day’, and instead to embrace the season of Christmas. It’s not easy when our chocolate calendars count us down, we measure the month by how many sleeps there are to go, and Facebook reminds us of how many shopping days we have left.

What if we were able to hold it all far more lightly though, to see Christmas as a season rather than a day and to make more space for the tears and disappointment in the midst of the laughter and the song. Christmas is truly beautiful, it is a reminder of hope but it’s also often a reminder of reality!

The first Christmas was real, not the fabricated “new baby delight”; it was a young Jewish couple, in violation of acceptable social conduct, giving birth to a Jewish baby in a land oppressed by a cruel regime that saw many of their fellow Jews being massacred for not adhering to Roman rule. It was a time of fear, of uncertainty and of decreasing hope that life would ever be OK again. These were real people, in a real place, in real time, facing the very real prospect of invasion, torture or death.

Jesus Christ was born during the time of, ‘Pax Romana’ – which stood for Roman Peace. A period which spanned approximately 200 years  and recorded as a time of peace. Yet Roman Peace was utterly consequential and incredibly brutal, all were required to bow to the Emperor, pledge  allegiance to the Crown, pay taxes and adhere to Roman rule which in turn allowed for the prospering of the elite in the Empire.

Imagine living with this, growing up with this kind of brutality. Into this reality a baby is born. Birth and new life represent hope, future, possibilities and this baby would grow up to create a new story in the world, or maybe more accurately to tell the true story of the world.

He would tell a story that spoke true love, unconditional love into the very depth of people’s beings, that spoke the hope of a different way into the systems that had been established, a story that spoke peace into a nation that had never experienced true peace, a baby that brought joy and celebration into a land that had very little to celebrate. A baby that would present the very real presence of a new Kingdom, a new way and ultimately a new King. The King began life on planet earth as a refugee seeking shelter but would later be the one who would welcome the outcasts in. His story shows that there is hope, joy and peace to be found in the unlikeliest of stories.

Our story is part of that story too, and despite the seeming setbacks, the disappointments, the confusion and the fear, despite the unlikely characters that play their parts, the story keeps unfolding, sometimes fun, sometimes sad, sometimes uncertain but always moving forward, always brimming with possibilities and promise.

So as schools and playgroups perform their nativity plays, as the carols are sung and the cards with all the smiling characters are sent, as the movies are watched, the drinks drunk and way too much food is eaten, what if we remember that Christmas is more than just one big day? What if we make the most of every day this season, find every opportunity we can to share with others, to welcome friends and family, to give to someone else, to remember and reflect?

What if we choose to see this as more than just a story of a baby in a crib but to see it as our story, because in the same way that Jesus Christ brought hope and peace into the world, our story can too.

The one about…light.

It’s incredible how a house becomes a home. Empty rooms, bare walls, a vacant unfurnished space, devoid of any real character takes on a personality and identity as it begins to fill with possessions and people. Our new house felt like home instantly, we all felt it (apart from the dog, but that’s another blog!)

It is perfect for us, size, space, layout, location, it all just works. It’s warm, it’s cosy and it’s light; the light floods in through the kitchen and through the patio doors to the lounge, an incredible contrast to the house we lived in before, tucked away, nestled in between other houses, a beautiful building but cold and dark in comparison to what we now have.

Light; it brightens the room, lifts the mood and warms the space. Light is a gift. I’ve noticed something else about light too though, it shows up every little detail, every spec of dust in the air, every crumb on the work surface and every little piece of dirt on the floor. Light exposes everything.

Many of the world religions celebrate light, the triumph of good over evil represented by the dominance of light over darkness, light is seen as that which shows us the way, whether as in the Hindu tradition of Diwali with Rama and Sita returning home, the celebration of light, or the concept of Jesus as the light of the world, showing the way to live. Light is what guides, what illuminates the path, light is good.
What if three’s far more to light than that? What if in the same way that sunlight shows everything, when we use the word light in relation to religion, it’s there to illuminate everything too, good and bad? What if that’s what Jesus really meant when he said he was the light of the world? What if that kind of light illuminates what we’d rather wasn’t seen, those character traits that we’re not so proud of; our lack of patience, the thought about others that we know we shouldn’t have, the corners we cut or those thoughts we have about ourselves; the self-doubt or unbelief? What if the role of religion is to illuminate all those things for what they are, expose the truth, call it out and call us to be more who we’re capable of being?

Darkness and light both have their place, and sometimes it’s easier to live in the darkness, hiding ourselves away from the realities that we know light would expose. Maybe living in a dualistic world where we have good or bad, light or dark, those who are in or those who are out, isn’t actually healthy for us, maybe a subtle shift in understanding from ‘or’ to ‘and’ would help us see that it all belongs, that there are far more shades of grey in all these areas than the stark contrasts we often box others and ourselves into. Maybe instead of attempting to defeat the darkness we need embrace it and decorate it.

What if to spend time in the light is to make peace with the not so perfect parts of who we are, to accept that it does all belong, to accept that there are elements of our character which aren’t perfect and could be better, aspects that we know we’d like to work on but that we recognise might take a lifetime? What if to spend time in the light, however we do that*, connects us with the way of love, with a higher force or power, something more…what if that in turn connects us more deeply with ourselves, with our soul?

As we get closer to Christmas, as even more lights shine, and we’re reminded of that baby who came as a light to the world; what if we chose to stop, to look at the lights and be reminded that who we are is OK? What if we allow the innocence of that baby to contrast with those characteristics and quirks that we’re not so proud of and allow love to do it’s thing? What if as the light shines on the whole of who we are, we say yes to that love and embrace every detail of ourselves, allowing love and light to show us how we could be yet also learning that to accept ourselves as we are is the only starting point for real growth.
*a walk in the wood, a quiet space at home, church, coffee with a friend, music, art, film, a good book…maybe time in the light is different for everyone!

The one about…moving the dog!

I didn’t expect the dog to be the problem…the move went so well, and we’re so incredibly grateful to all those friends and family that helped; providing boxes, beds, moving boxes, lifting sofas, bringing a trailer, loading the trailer, carrying chairs and wardrobes and desks, entertaining children, taking washing and gently reminding us that it will all be ok! We’re in and it feels like home, more like home than where we were before (but then I do remember that house feeling like that when we moved there). The children have been incredible; building beds, unpacking clothes, filling draws, taking a breath and smiling when I can’t quite remember where I put their favourite toy and being patient when the cooker took longer to cook dinner than I expected. They have genuinely been there for each other in those moments where the tears fell, when it all felt a little strange and those times that we all just needed to know that no matter what else happened we had each other…they have rocked this move!

Then there’s the dog…the first night the children all settled, they all slept through, but not the dog! No, the dog woke at 4:40am and whimpered, then the whimper turned to a whine and the whine to a bark until desperate Deb got up with a spare duvet and lay on the sofa next to him, not because she wanted the dog to feel better but because she didn’t want him to wake the children or the new neighbours! Last night was a slight improvement but Sid still had to go to him twice and I gave in and got up at 5:50 just so that he would JUST BE QUIET!

I just didn’t see that coming, I didn’t expect the dog to be a problem but he is. Hopefully, given a few days he will settle down but in the meantime it’s serving as a timely reminder that I need to learn to love the dog,

My fundamental inability to have any feelings of compassion whatsoever towards him,is somewhat problematic. I don’t like the dog. I don’t love the dog. There are many reasons why I feel the way I do, reasons I justify on a regular basis. The dog is ridiculously needy in a desperate kind of way, which I just find irritating, does he not know that there are dogs on this planet that live in the wild, that fend for themselves, finding food, shelter and water while he is at times, quite simply, pathetic. He’s inappropriate, totally incapable of reading situations, like when I’m playing trains with Ez on the floor and he thinks I’m sitting there to play with him. He also only seems to learn what he wants to learn, for example, he can read the clues for a walk but he can’t stay on his bed at mealtime despite being told to go there repeatedly. He thinks everything is about him, because, of course me putting shoes on always means I’m going to take him out…NO IT DOESN’T! He makes work, a lot of work, as if there’s not enough, oh and he smells, of dog, and he always has to put his slobbery face on me if I try to show him affection and he doesn’t ever wipe his feet, I could go on…

However, this is not helping me to like him and neither have the last two nights, yet somehow I just can’t get away from the reality that I need to love the dog. I need to love him because all the time I don’t, there’s something within me that’s just not sitting right, not at peace and while it is just a dog, it symbolises so much more than that, a connection to all that’s hard to love, all that I don’t like, all that I find irritating or would rather not face. To learn to love the dog would be a step towards learning to love all of creation and all of humanity more deeply.

Richard Rohr once said that ‘authentic love is of one piece. How you love anything is how you love everything.’*

What if that is true? What if how I love the dog is indicative of how I love myself, others, everyone? What if love cannot be divided out into lots and given to only that which we deem lovely? What if to love means we have to choose to love the unlovely, whether that’s the unlovely within ourselves, within others or even within the dog. What if love grows as we choose to do this, because as we learn to extend the boundaries of what we thought we could love, our ability to love increases? Or maybe, as our hearts overflow, we find that love can, naturally of its own accord, extend wider, until it encompasses caring for all things, and connection to everything—until our love becomes Love itself, the very flow and force of the universe.*

So maybe the disturbed nights and the early mornings are a gift, an opportunity to learn, a gentle reminder of what I need to remember, an opportunity to be grateful and an opportunity to learn what it really means to love…because that’s one thing the dog does so beautifully; no matter how much we ignore him, or tell him off or send him to his bed, he is consistently faithful, completely devoted and inexhaustibly loving.

*www.cac.org/Giving Ourselves Monday, June 24, 2019 Fr. Richard Rohr.

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…spiritual wellbeing!

🎵I believe in you
You know the door to my very soul
You’re the light in my deepest darkest hour
You’re my savior when I fall!🎵

I sang the BeeGees out loud on my way to school, much to my daughters annoyance and embarrassment. I could argue it was the Michael Buble version but I’m not sure that would have made it any more credible!

I looked at my eight year old as I sang, her eyes shining, laughing at me but also wiling me to be quiet, it was one of those moments, almost impossible to describe but as her eyes sparkled it was as though she became that ‘door to my soul’, there are moments where all my children are that door, moments where they release something deep in me that makes complete sense yet is also completely incomprehensible.

There are other occasions too where I find that my soul is stirred, awake, alive; that the door is open and something in me can be set free. Those moments when the words of a book seem to race with excitement and anticipation as though they’re written just to me, or the lyrics of a song connect so deeply, making sense of something I otherwise couldn’t have put into words. My soul comes alive in the simplest of experiences too, finding a conker still wrapped in its casing or an acorn with its little ‘hat’ on, a moment by the sea, the sheer volume, vastness that speaks without words; a walk in the woods as the rays of sun filter through, the colours of the sunset, catching the look in a friends eye and knowing you’re known, all these for me are soul moments. They are moments where I know there’s something more, that there’s a connection to the universe, a higher power, another, a love that holds all of what I think is true, they leave me with that deep sense of wellbeing that makes me sigh with contentment.

This feeling is even more heightened, even more real, when I share those moments with others, when I have conversations that are about more than just the weather, or what the teacher said about that child, or what I did at the weekend. Those conversations have their place but the conversations about what it means to be human, about what we’re fearful of or excited about, conversations where those participating dare to be a little more vulnerable and honest, that’s where the energy is for me.

The reality is that those conversations, those moments, are fleeting. It seems they’re there, they happen and then they’re gone. I guess something in me changes slightly each time but then life takes over again and to be honest its easier sometimes to cope with life by simply keeping busy, going for a run, scrolling facebook, shopping for trainers, looking forward to a glass of wine on a Friday night or a weekend away. None of these ways of coping are bad in and of themselves but cumulatively they can serve as a continuous distraction which stops me from discovering soul moments.

What if we could find a way to embrace soul moments more often? What if we could discover how to nourish our souls, to feed them, to wake them up? What if we were to pay attention to our spiritual wellbeing? Physical and mental health are on the agenda, and rightly so, but what if spiritual health, spiritual wellbeing needs to be on the agenda too? What if spiritual wellbeing takes us further than our own individual health and wellbeing and leads us towards connection, belonging and community?

There’s an old hymn with the line, “it is well, it is well with my soul” but what does soul wellness look like? I’m not sure I subscribe to the lyrics of the hymn but I get the concept of peace, a peace that exists despite the circumstances of life not instead of them, that kind of peace intrigues me. The truth is that life throws crazy swerve balls at us all of the time and those moments where we catch glimpses of goodness, what I call soul moments, are great but often far too short. Even when we get a longer time to ‘simply be’ we still eventually have to pick up the monotony of the rat race again. Maybe those moments, however long they last, do enable us to face the next moment and gain a new perspective for a while but what if spiritual wellbeing takes that thought even further and becomes about discovering a peace that exists in the midst of the crazy, not just when we step aside from it?

What if peace, that fresh perspective, that centred contentment that comes from having our own soul moments is heightened in experiencing connection to others, to belonging to and contributing to community? What if peace, that concept of a contented soul, comes from knowing we’re held by something outside of us too? What if it offers us the sense that there is something more and that our story, with all its ups and downs, finds more meaning when it connects to others and the bigger, ongoing narrative of humanity? What if that means those moments where we’re not OK are then actually OK because it does all belong? What if starting to explore thoughts of spirit and soul is the start to experiencing spiritual wellbeing and spiritual wellbeing is about our soul becoming more alive than ever as we embrace all that life is? What if it’s then that the light shines, even in the deepest darkest hour!

The one about…let’s pretend?

🎵So can we pretend that I’m 22 today?

Dancin’ on the tables with you, oh yeah!

Can we pretend that we all end up okay?

I just wanna forget with you, oh yeah!

Can we pretend that we both like the president?

Can we pretend that I really like your shoes? Hell yeah!

Can we pretend? ‘Cause honestly, reality, it bores me,

Let’s pretend, oh, let’s make believe

Can we, can we pretend?🎵*

I remember being twenty two, vaguely! I also remember the time when the only photographic evidence of our lives appeared in truptint envelopes, taken on a film with a twenty four print exposure where it was pretty much guaranteed that seventeen of them were blurry representations of randomness, six others had managed to miss half of someone’s head and the only one that had come out was of you with an embarrassing hair style that you wish you hadn’t tried out that week.

I also remember days as a child playing in the back garden on orange space hoppers with my best friend who happened to live next door, wearing jelly shoes and NHS brown rimmed glasses. I remember my two year old brother jumping into the paddling pool fully dressed. I remember the feelings of freedom, mixed with fear and excitement, as I was first allowed “out” on my own, days spent in town perusing the music section of Woolworths to buy the latest single. Those were good days. I remember December 31st 1999, drunk in Greenwich as we watched the fireworks on the Heath and stumbled home in the early hours of 2000 wondering if the Millenium Bug had actually wiped out all of life! I remember meeting Sid and those early days where it was just us, nothing and no-one else seemed to matter, just us, together. I remember being pregnant with our first, finishing work, biking to the swimming pool and then coming home for a sleep…sometimes I’d like to return to those days, just for a while.

I think it’s called nostalgia, a yearning for the past, whimsical warm memories of the “good old days”.  Nostalgia provides a welcome escape from the realities of right now. The joys of reminiscing can distract us from thinking about the serious things we need to face up to today. So I can relate to the temptation to “pretend” to make believe that I’m twenty two again. Yet the truth is that nostalgia comes fully equipped with a filter for anything negative because in reality those days weren’t the mysterious magical memories that I picture when I reminisce, those moments I look back on so fondly were actually intertwined with all the usual cares and concerns that characterise everyday life.

Yet the desire to pretend can be strong, to pretend it all ends up ok, to pretend we like person running our country or our partners shoes (actually Sid does ok in footwear options!!) to pretend because reality bores us! Maybe reality does bore us? Maybe the mundane monotony of the everyday is all too dull?  What if it’s not boring though, what if the truth is that reality is actually sad, painful or frightening rather than boring? What if that’s the reason we get the urge to pretend we’re a version of our former selves, or have a desire to live a life of make-belief where we relive our past when life was good, simple and fun?

So here’s the question! What if one day we’ll look back on this day and have a yearning to be back here? What if the everyday moments we’re living right now are actually the magical memory making moments that nostalgia sweeps up into its data and stores for us in a cloud somewhere so that we can look back with a smile in a few years time? As humans we’re very good at looking back and very skilled at anticipating the future but we’re not so good at enjoying the now, of finding the joy in the journey and the magic in the mystery of the moment.

What if being fully alive means we become more capable of all these things? What if we become more able to enjoy time reminiscing and of dreaming about the future but also capable of living in the moment? What if we can learn to be fully present with ourselves, our families and our friends because right now is actually where life is and right now is where we experience love? So, whilst right now might not be easy, whilst right now might be asking some big questions or demanding a little too much, right now belongs, because right now was once just a dream and one day will be just a memory. Right now we get to experience life in all its fullness and to be anywhere else is just an illusion of life and love.

*Pink, Can we pretend.

 

 

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”.