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…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…that thought!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

The one about…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…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?