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…love!

I’ve been reading a book called ‘Why are they so weird? What’s really going on in a teenagers brain.’* It’s a fascinating read and helpful as I attempt to navigate life with my tribe. The author of the book visits a well known neuroscientist who explains a little about what a developing brain needs.

To develop properly, she says, the brain must have certain experiences: good diet, exercise for good blood flow, challenges and love.
‘You know, I say that part about love in all my lectures and the men all laugh. They are scientists and they know t’s true, but they won’t say it,’ she said, as she carefully tucked the brain back in its tupperware bowl and closed the lid on the flowered hatbox. ‘Then, after the lectures, you know what those men want? They all want a hug,'”*

Love, it seems, is really quite important and the scientists agree. But what is love? What does love even look like? Is it that warm, fuzzy feeling we get when all is well in our “world”? Do I only feel it when the children are happy/ healthy/ behaving? Do they only feel loved when I say “I love you” or hug them or buy them something? I’m told God loves me and Sid says he loves me but what difference does that make when I’ve been yelled at about an unwashed PE kit, the missing script for the play, a forgotten water bottle and the inconvenience of putting shoes on, all in the space of half an hour! The barrage of abuse can leave you feeling drained, especially when your two year old wouldn’t sleep and you spent most of the night in bed with him. Where does love feature in that!? I’m feeling something but I’m not sure it’s love!

So what is this love thing? Does love change anything when your world is shaken or when the story that’s unfolding is not what you hoped for and it hurts? What does love look like and does it make a difference?

A guy called Pete Rollins writes a lot about love (and I mean a lot…he has such mind blowing philosophical theological way of attempting to understand life…read his books…honestly!) He wrote this:

Love is the crazy, mad, and perhaps ridiculous gesture of saying yes to life, of seeing it as worthy of our embrace and even worthy of our total sacrifice.**

What does it mean to say yes to life, to embrace life? Maybe we say “yes” when we get up, carry on, force a smile, stop and take a breath, slow down, make that phone call, change that plan, have that conversation, give that hug, write that message, mop that floor, open those curtains, the list could go on. I don’t know what saying “yes” looks like for you or how you embrace life but it often requires something more of us, we often have to dig deep and find an energy we didn’t know we had…and that energy? Love? What if there’s something powerful about saying yes to life, despite the tears, the fear, the uncertainty, because as we do, this force we call love transcends the moment?

What if love, actively choosing life, saying “yes” and embracing life, keeps these momentary (although sometimes seemingly eternal) problems, fears, frustrations, heartbreaks, in their place? In some senses all that we have is this moment, the past has gone and the future is unknown no matter how much we think we know. But what if we find that each ‘now’, each moment, features in a bigger story at work in the world, a story which is more than the now, a story bigger than any one moment, or person, or power, or government, or leader, or illness, or celebrity, or prisoner, or child, or mother, or father, or sister, or brother or even death? A story that is held by love, a story which has existed from the beginning and continues into forever. What if in that story love has the first and the final say, we just get to play our part, and our part makes the story interesting but it isn’t the whole story!

Love then is not something we own, or something we wait to receive. Love is not something that relies on there being another to love. Love certainly isn’t just a word.

What if love is not something that is given but rather is better understood as an action, or an attitude to life; and in that act of love we say yes to life, in that expression of love we recognise life as worthy of giving our deepest self to, sometimes in the inconvenience and the rethinking of plans because sometimes love requires us to sacrifice one way for a new way. As we love, as we give of ourselves to that moment and find ourselves in the bigger story, that’s when the mystery is manifest, the force, spirit, energy, divine otherness, God becomes more tangible, more real. What if that’s where we find “God’s love” really does make a difference and that “God’s love” changes everything because actually God is love.

*All credit to Barbara Strauch for her research and writing!
* The Idolatry of God: Breaking our addiction to certainty and satisfaction.

The one about…fear.

I knew it was going to be ‘one of those evenings’ when she said she couldn’t get to sleep! The wind was unusually strong, and eerily loud, especially through the huge yew trees which stood at the top of the garden.

“It’s just the wind”…I tried desperately to play it down but it didn’t help that last winter a large branch had fallen and narrowly missed the van parked on the driveway. I knew my attempts to convince her that it was ‘just a bit windy’ weren’t going to make any difference, no matter how many distraction techniques I tried!

I’d had about half an hour to myself, I don’t think I ask for much, just a little time to gather my thoughts, process the day and just be me once they’re all in bed…but best laid plans and all that! I took a breath and tried not to sound irritated, she was genuinely scared… “Ok, get into my bed, I’ll sit in there with you!” That was my evening gone!

I checked the oldest three were settled, and the rest were asleep. I put the dog to bed and texted Sid (he was out with friends) to warn him there was a child in his bed and he’d have to jump into hers when he returned, then I got into bed, the wind still howling…she took my hand and gripped it and then, within minutes I felt her grip loosen and her body relax, she slept…

It was the most beautiful moment. All my irritation and disappointment about “my time” melted away as I watched her sleep. The wind still howled, the trees still swayed and I was very aware that there’d be nothing I could do if they did fall on the house…but somehow I made her feel safe, somehow me being there was enough.

There were many things I thought about in that moment. I wondered why I’d got so precious about my time? Did I think I deserved an evening to myself, like it was something I’d earnt! Did I think I could clock out of parenting at 8:30pm because most of them were in bed? Had I learnt nothing in fifteen years!! There’s always another evening and I do know parenting is 24/7… it’s not like our youngest let’s me forget that!

I think the thing that bemused me most was the trust my daughter had in me, she found security and safety, not because I could change anything, but just because she knew I loved her. It was almost as if, in that moment, love overcame fear; as if love drove the fear out; as if love left no room for fear to exist.

I know that much of the fear in our world could be overcome if we learnt to love others rather than hate or distrust them. I know that some fear is irrational and can be negated by logic and self-talk. But what about the fears that are deeply personal, the fears that haunt us about who we are, where we’re going and how this is all going to end? How do we face those fears?

It seems sometimes we distract ourselves from those fears; we shop, we work, we socialise, we watch TV, we read books, we flick through social media, the list could go on and none of the things we do are wrong or bad in moderation, but they can become avoidance techniques and in the long run they’re about as useful as me trying to play the ‘Greatest Showman’ soundtrack to my daughter to drown out the wind!

The fear doesn’t go, it might be numbed or hushed for a while but often, deep within, our soul is still troubled, still uneasy, still fearful, no matter how much we try to avoid it.

Admitting fear exists is painful, it leaves us vulnerable. Maybe acknowledging that our soul needs to be held; that what’s deepest within us needs to connect to someone or something else; that our truest reality needs to know love, is the start to working with that fear.

Maybe that’s why the bible talks of God as love.

What if in that moment where I held my daughter’s hand, the mystery that we call God; that divine force; that love; became a very present reality? What if it’s love that both awakens and calms our soul? What if love is one way we experience the something that is outside of us, something we know to be true but can’t always define? What if God really is love and love really does exist!

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…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…moving.

Sid has been offered job. It has been a long, emotional journey, full of unexpected turns and strangely surprising outcomes, so it’s no surprise that people keep congratulating us on the good news. While I’m sure it must be ‘good news’, right now it feels more like ‘news’, which isn’t really how I think I should feel or how I expected to feel but I do remember similar feelings surfacing just over fifteen years ago when our first child was born.

I can picture myself standing in the tiny lounge of our quirky Victorian terraced house in Northampton, reading the ‘Congratulations on Your New Baby’ cards. I was standing because the tiny baby boy I was holding seemed to cry every time I hovered anywhere near a chair. I distinctly remember reading and re-reading the cards, desperately trying to fathom what on earth everyone was congratulating us for. The ‘new arrival’ did not let me sleep, he fed at least every three hours, sometimes for an hour; day and night. My nipples bled, other parts of my anatomy had been subjected to damage severe enough to warrant stitches, so even if he would let me sit down it wasn’t actually comfortable and then there was the affect the whole experience had inflicted on my marriage. My husband, whose eyes had once sparkled with playful attraction, now didn’t dare look at me; partly because the disturbing images of birth that he’d just witnessed tormented his mind whenever he saw me and partly because we both knew that if he looked at me the wrong way there was no guarantee I would respond as a loving wife should. A combination of sleep deprivation, hormonal overload and genuine fear of the tiny human in my arms left my mood somewhat unpredictable and not in a good way!  Yet there we both were, standing at a safe distance from each other, wondering if there would ever be such a thing as a safe distance from the baby, reading cards that spoke of happiness, joy and love…none of it made any sense.

The reality was that the people who designed those cards, and the people who bought them, knew that the arrival of a new baby was good news. There was an awareness that the seemingly demanding little person would bring us so much joy, laughter and happiness; all which would out weigh any drama surrounding his arrival, any need for sleep and anything else difficult, painful or just simply sad that we would inevitably experiecne at various points in our lives with him. They knew that this new life was good, and they were right. Our baby was and is a cause for celebration and we’ve had six more causes for celebration since, each with their own unique birth dramas, each with their own attempt at sleep deprivation as a form of torture and over the years, each with their own ‘moments’ where we’ve had to take a breath and just hold them through it, whatever it was. All of these moments have been totally worth every second of the craziness that is our life together.

So as I sit here, trying hard to comprehend that the news of a new job is in fact ‘good news’, I am reminded of those first time parent feelings. I’m reminded that in those early days where I felt lost and lonely and overwhelmed I was held and loved and somehow carried through. I’m reminded that all I ever had to do was take the next step, the next breath, change the next nappy! So while I’m apprehensive about how the next few weeks are going to play out, I do know that leaving a people and a place that I love will eventually be OK and that embracing a ‘new life’ together will be a great adventure. I know that despite my fears, despite the seemingly inordinate amount of details there are to sort out and despite the tears and the tension of trying to carry all of the emotions involved, including my own, that we are moving forwards. I also know that all I actually have to do is take the next step, whatever that is, because that’s all any of us can do. So while some steps might be more tentative than others, and some steps might bring tears and confusion, and while sometimes it might feel as though I’m going round in circles I know that ultimately this is all headed somewhere and that the somewhere is good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?