The one about…spirit!

What comes to mind when you hear the word spirit? An energy or force? The life within someone or something?

Would you describe spirit as a ‘spark’, ‘zest’ or ‘fire’? Or do you see “spirit” as something even more ambiguous, an essence or an aura, sometimes linked to soul or life source, or even a life force, a ‘non-physical’ part of our humanity?

Whatever we understand ‘spirit’ to be, it could be argued that our spirit somewhat defines our character, somehow our spirit is who we are or maybe how we’re received by the world. We talk of children being spirited when they have a lot of energy and opinion! We describe people who live life a little on the edge of normal as free spirits. We talk about events or experiences that ‘lift our spirits’ and we talk of our ‘spirits being dampened’.

What is it though that affects our spirit? What causes us to be in “good spirits” and what causes us to feel ‘poor in spirit’?

Often our spirits are high when life is going as we intend; the job, the relationship, the children, all as we hoped it would be, or near enough. We almost don’t give much thought to the state of our spirit while we take for granted that life is good.
We seem to become more aware of the state our spirit is in when we lack the energy that usually sustains us. We might try to find enough distractions to boost our spirit but often the insane, incessant pace of life or the everyday, consistent demands on us can leave us feeling as though we’ve reached the end of our resources.

So how do we restore our spirit when it’s lacking the zest we’d like to have?

Maybe there’s something about recognising that the aim of life isn’t to always be ‘in high spirits’, that our ultimate goal isn’t to be consistently happy. What if a healthier aim is to be more connected to our spirit, more aware of what causes our spirit to soar and what causes it to feel lost and low? What if it’s more important to understand ourselves, to know what influences us than it is to try to force ourselves into feeling good? What if a little more self awareness allows us to respond rather than react to a situation? Which in turn helps us to be more the people we’d like to be, more consistent and real? What if being aware of what causes our spirits to fail and falter allows us to tread more lightly around certain circumstances or people? What if by treading more carefully we find we’re not so entrapped or entwined with events or individuals that cause our spirits to become low? What if that level of awareness means that even when spirits are low, we’re more able to journey through the moment, however long it lasts, learn from it and keep moving forwards?

All good thoughts, right, but what if there’s something more? What if “spirit” isn’t as individual a concept as we perhaps think? We often talk of community spirit, or the spirit of a company or team, as though it’s the ethos or the energy that drives a group of people. As individuals we can find that, while we may not be in a good place emotionally, mentally or even spiritually, when we’re with others, part of a collective, a group who together create community, our sense of spirit does thrive. When we find our spirits are connected to others we find that they are also lifted because of that connection, because of a sense of belonging. What if this has huge implications for how we choose to live. What if our spirit is most alive when in relationship with others, however that relationship is defined, whether its love, a ‘dance’ of conversation or experiences or a more intellectual sense of knowing? What if identity and purpose, our sense of who we are and why we’re here makes more sense when found in relation, association or attachment to others?

Which really does raise the question of whether our spiritual wellbeing thrives when we are part of something beyond or more than ourselves? Does our mental health benefit when we find a place to belong, or when we connect into community and find places that we are listened to and understood, places we can contribute to, give back to or just simply be known? What if finding those places and recognising what they offer and what we can offer to them, is what really makes our spirits sing and community spirit thrive.

 

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…autumnal truth!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*my favourite Richard Rohr quote!!

The one about…soul.

Have you ever sat beneath the night sky and wondered what it’s all about or stared out at the ocean and simply known that it’s all going to be ok, whatever ‘it’ is? Have you ever watched a movie and felt it connect to something deep within you? Or listened to music so hauntingly beautiful that it spoke to you of something more? When was the last time you read a book, unable to put it down because it seemed to be telling your story? Have you ever found yourself lost in a piece of art; a photo, a painting, a sculpture or a drawing?

How do you describe those moments where you lose yourself, yet find yourself in something beautiful? What language do you use to give that the meaning and honour it deserves? Sometimes we say it made ‘our heart sing’, other times we might talk about how it ‘just made sense’ or we ‘just knew’. It seems like sometimes it’s head, sometimes it’s heart, sometimes it’s both. Yet there are times when it’s something far deeper, far richer and far more a part of us than either head or heart! What is that? What language do we use to give that meaning?

Have you heard the phrase she put her ‘heart and soul into it?’ Or he was the ‘life and soul of the party?’ There’s soul music, we talk of finding a soul mate, the disappointments we experience can be ‘soul destroying’ and that friend we have who’s struggling to know what to do next we describe as a ‘lost soul’…some people ‘bare their soul’ and we describe others as having ‘sold their soul’! All these phrases, these synonyms, they’re all attempts at describing an event or action that’s something more than we’d usually experience. When we use the word soul, even in these quirky phrases, we’re attempting to describe something that’s bigger, deeper, more meaningful than what we think we know to be true.

The soul itself however is not often talked about, yet it’s there, hidden, not just in our language but in the very depth of who we are. So when we talk of those things that connect deeply within us; or the things that stir those feelings that have become buried under all that is life; or those interactions that spark into flame fresh ideas of how it could be, what if we’re not talking about head or heart but soul?

What if we could reconnect with our soul? There are ancient teachings, ancient ways of being, like the teaching and the way of Jesus, which connected with people in a way that the rest of life didn’t. The teachings of Jesus were teachings that offered something new, more or different and inspired people to live a new or different way. Those teachings spoke to the soul! Teachings about not worrying, teachings about forgiveness. Teachings about true peace not the forced peace they lived with. Jesus taught about being blessed in times of grief, loss and misunderstanding. Jesus teachings took what people thought to be true and turned it upside down. There’s something about a way that challenges the status quo, a way that calls into question how it is and offers an alternative way; a way that is richer, better, fuller than anything previously experienced, that awakens our souls and invites us to dare to dream and to really live!

What if we dared to delve deeper into the wisdom we find in some of these ancient writings? What if within these ancient ways there is an invitation to rediscover our soul? What if we took time to listen to and appreciate the wonder of the world around us and started to see creation itself as an invitation to reconnect with ourselves, others and the divine? What if we took time to nourish our soul, to allow it thrive, to really hear what it’s saying to us or calling us on to? Maybe we’re being invited to continually discover more of who we are, to find our true self? What if in doing that we were to find a deeper understanding, respect and love for others, the world and that force which is outside of ourselves? What if an awakened soul is where real life is found?

The one about…moving (part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

The one about…words that create.

Abraham Joshua Heschel once said that “words create worlds” and God said “let their be light”.

It seems that words change things. But does the Divine actually speak?

The interview with Jesus last week got me thinking. What does conversation with the Divine sound like? There’s a song I’ve been listening to and some of the lyrics go like this:

🎵You say I am loved when I don’t feel a thing. You say I am strong when I think I am weak. You say I am held when I am falling short. When I don’t belong, You say I am Yours.🎵(Lauren Diagle-You Say)

Which is very similar the lyrics of another song which asks:

🎵Could you take care of a broken soul? Will you hold me now? Will you take me home?🎵(Jess Glynne-Take Me Home)

Both songs speak into what it is to feel lost and helpless, to need rescuing, to be held by something or someone who can be trusted, who can offer safety, hope and a future. There are many songs written that echo this, the thoughts aren’t new. These thoughts are also the basic plot of every fairytale ever told, almost as though through the stories the heroes and heroines are asking the questions of our deep human desire to find love, belonging and security.

It seems that throughout the centuries humanity has called out to something or someone that will listen. Through music, art and literature, or simply from within the depths of their own being, people have asked questions and looked to a higher force, a greater power, something or someone seemingly stronger than themselves for answers. It also seems that there are moments for all of us where life doesn’t make sense, where fear takes over no matter how much we try to reason with it, where the unanswered questions seem endless and we just need to know someone or something has got this because we’re not sure we have.

I’d call that ‘something’ God, but spirit, energy, ultimate reality and love work just as well as words to capture that something more. Whatever word we use though it doesn’t really answer the question of whether God (or that force of love) answers humanity in those moments. It doesn’t actually make sense of how we’re told we’re loved, held, strong or that we belong? I guess that’s where it needs to stop being some whimsical wish and become more tangible.

What if ‘God’ does speak? What if belonging is spoken of throughout all of nature, suggesting that nothing’s really wasted but everyting plays its part. What if love and strength are spoken of through the couple dancing in the falling blossom, the baby cradled in its mothers arms, the safe silence between the couple married for fifty years as they sit on the park bench or the lady walking her two rescue dogs? What if love and strength are seen in the sibling lifting her younger brother up to the post box to post the letter, the three year old picking daisies and putting them in an envelope to his grandma or the son holding his mum who’s just signed all responsibility for her life over to him? Love and strength whisper throughout our world in so many ways and somehow remind us that we are loved and held regardless of how we feel. Love, belonging and strength, they are all there to be seen in nature, community and the everyday; almost as if it is about what you choose to focus on, about choosing to take time to stop and listen because its all there to be seen, to be noticed and all there to become a part of.

Hearing the Divine is also about choosing not to find distractions to ‘numb the pain’ or ‘help us escape’ (Lewis Capaldi-Someone You Loved) but instead about choosing opportunities that help us feel alive, choosing the experiences and encounters that wake us up to reality, however hard that is, because it’s only in waking up, being present and living now that we truly experience and receive love, belonging and strength. To live numb or distant is to not know how loved and held you really are. To not really know how much you belong and to not discover the strength of identity.

What if that’s how the divine speaks, what if it’s in those moments where we choose to listen that we find truth, love and hope whispered over us and we know something bigger than us is holding all of this? What if it’s in those moments where we stop and connect with the world around, read a book, engage in conversation or listen to music, what if we’re attentive, noticing the small incidents that often go unnoticed? What if the divine speaks in our own thoughts and musings if only we would just pay attention to ourselves and really hear? What if the word has been speaking since the beginning and continues to speak today, all of the time? What if we just need to learn to listen? What if in the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God?

The one about…asking Jesus that question?

Me: Jesus, hi, thanks for agreeing to do this. I’ve just got a couple of questions. I’m not used to doing the interview, it’s usually Sid so if it’s ok with you we’ll just get on with it! Tell me, who are you and why are you here?

Jesus: Hi, yes, love that you wanted me to do this, it’s a good question, something many people have tried to answer. Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

Me (slightly flustered): erm, some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets. Your mate Peter said ‘the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ But I was actually hoping for your answer.

Jesus (smiling serenely): I know, but what about you? Who do you say I am?”

Me (even more flustered): Er, God? Well, God in human form. The manifestation of love? The embodiment of mystery? Tangible spirit? Corporeal reality? Life? But your answer would be helpful. You know you should have been a politician, your ability to avoid the actual answer to a question is like some divine gift. Anyway, we’ve lost focus slightly…so, who are you?

Jesus (laughing): Ok, I’m the Light, the bread, the door, the way, the truth, the life; I’m the resurrection, the vine, the good shepherd. I’m life.

Me: right, yep, great; that’s quite a list. Tell me, why are you here?

Jesus: I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they have ever dreamed of.

Me: that’s interesting. You claim to be ‘bread’ as well as be here to provide; to be ‘the door’ or ‘the light’ or ‘the way’ and be here to show the way; to be ‘truth’ and to tell the truth; to be ‘the resurrection and the life’ and be here to bring life? It seems that your identity and purpose are inextricably linked. Which raises the question of whether the two questions can actually be asked separately. What if who we are is also why we’re here? What if we’re here to be who we are? What do you think?

Jesus: I think I fancy fish for tea, you up for a picnic on the beach? Talking of fish, did you watch the documentary on BBC2 about the four families who tried out being fisherman, I’m not sure but I think it was the BBC’s attempt at Love Island?

As it happens I did catch the end of a couple of episodes of that documentary. I didn’t watch the whole series (seems I never do!), but I was reminded that life at the turn of the century was hard. They worked just to survive, there was no making a little extra so that they could enjoy a night away or take the kids to a theme park. Life back then was simply about survival. Answering the question who are you and why are you here would have been almost nonsensical, they were fishermen and they were here to be fishermen.

The same reality stands true today in many cultures across our world. There are people who don’t have the luxury of wondering why they’re here, their lives too immersed in producing food for themselves and their families, providng shelter and sustaining life. They find identity in their purpose and their purpose is their identity. Their purpose is to live.

Maybe its not a luxury to wonder why we’re here. What if we were healthier mentally and spiritually when our purpose was simply to be alive. What if our “developed world” with celebrity culture, rich lists and our desire for more success, wealth and notoriety means we find ourselves losing sight of who we are, becoming caught up in unhealthy notions of who we could be, which stop us being fully present now? What if the leisure time we think we deserve, the ‘little extras’ we believe we earn actually detract from our abilty to know who we are and stifle our ability to genuinely share life with others?

What if knowing who we are could negate the need for comparison or competition? What if knowing our identity and our purpose enabled us to live from a place where we could celebrate the success of others more readily and smile at their joy? Maybe if all of us were able to know who we are and focus on living right now we’d find that community could flourish. We’d find a reliance, a generosity and a genuine need for each other that was far from superficial.

What if the reason we’re here is to simply be who we are? What if we fully understood that we are unique, that no one else can bring what we bring to our families, friends, communities or the world? What if we are here to be fully alive, to truly live, to share ourselves as a good gift to the world? What if it is as simple as that?

Me: Jesus, just one more thing, the being life and bringing life, that’s quite a mind blowing concept!

Jesus: you know Christ isn’t actually my surname?

Me: 🤔