The one about…a magical Easter

The days are getting longer and so much warmer. The March winds have subsided, making way for the April showers and now sunshine; Spring is well and truly here. The earth is responding. Blossom is falling, daffodils have all but been and gone, the bluebells are resounding as they carpet floor of the woods, the dawn chorus is echoing and new green shoots are sprouting in every tree and bush; the world around us is coming back to life and it’s magical!

Magic: the power of apparently influencing events by using mysterious or supernatural forces. Magic must be at work out there because there is something mysterious and supernatural about the way nature seemingly dies during autumn and resurrects in the spring! Ok, so if I’d paid more attention in A level biology maybe it wouldn’t seem so mysterious and I’m not sure if nature can be supernatural so maybe magic isn’t the right word but in the same way that a good magician creates awe and wonder, so does nature when we stop, look and listen!

I read a book during lent, written by a magician called Nate Staniforth, his book is called Real Magic. If you can afford it, buy it, if you can’t ask me and you can borrow my copy. It’s awesome!

Nate tells a story of a performance he gave to a hostile audience, inviting the most aggressive looking member, a guy called Marcus, to hold a wallet containing a lottery ticket with pre-chosen numbers printed. He then chooses six unknown people at random, not pre warned, to give him a number between 1 and 50…I guess you see where this going! The numbers given by the audience match the numbers on the ticket in the wallet. This is how he described the moment the brutish guy holding the wallet reacts:

“Get the f*** out of here, man. What the f***?” The audience is watching Marcus ascend to a sort of crazed delirium….I want you to see his face. I want you to see the joy, the open, unaffected joy. It’s the kind of joy that reminds you that what you mistook for dull, uninspired brutishness a moment before was actually just weight-the weight of worry, of pain, of anxiety, of the world-and for a moment it has gone, and the face that shines without it is extraordinary.

The universal truth of this particular story is that we all need, want, maybe even crave those moments where we lose the weight of the world and experience the wonder of it.

What if that’s what Easter offers? What if a story about death and resurrection offers us that moment of, as Nate describes;

“not knowing, a moment of wonderment, of joy, and of innocence. It reminds us that it’s ok not to have all the answers or all the information-that we can move on with our lives anyway. And that we should, because we will never have enough information.”

What if the debate about the facts, the ‘information’ about whether Jesus actually rises from the dead, misses the point as much as the debate about how the magician hid the coin, knew the numbers or seemingly sliced through the body! What if that debate isn’t where it’s at? What if instead Easter invites us deeper into awe and wonder? What if Easter invites us to lose ourselves, our worries, our insecurities, our fears and move, for a while, into the wonder of it all before stepping back into reality, still shaking our head in disbelief but with a new found sense of, what if that’s true? What if resurrection is real, what if there is hope? What if we all were able to live from that place rather than a place of doubt and despair? What if the Jesus story invites us to believe, not in the accuracies of historical events, but in wonder, possibility and a preferred future? What if Jesus invites us all to live with the wonder of resurrection knowing that whatever deaths we face there is always hope? What if Easter opens the doors of possibility to something bigger, inexplicable and seemingly impossible, leaving us all hoping that the resurrection is for real!

The one about…the necessary wildness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The one about…why I write!

The human body is extraordinary!

  • An adult human body is made up of about 7 octillion atoms. To give you an idea of the size of an atom apparently there are more atoms in a glass of water than there are glasses of water in all of the oceans put together! They’re quite small!*
  • There are ten times more bacteria cells in your body than human cells! Nice!
  • In an adult human, blood circulates about 12,000 miles a day, that’s like travelling from the UK to Hong Kong and back every day!
  • You get a new top layer of skin every 30 days so if you don’t see someone for a month technically you’ve not seen them before!
  • The human body contains over 35 trillion cells. Earth has about 7 billion people, which means that there are 5,000 times more cells in one body than there are people on the planet.**

It’s not just the human body that’s remarkable. The wonder echoes throughout nature, apparently trees send distress signals about drought and disease, or insect attacks, and other trees alter their behavior when they receive these messages. Scientists call these mycorrhizal networks.*** The scientific facts, phrases, discoveries and explanations about human beings, their world and the universe are mind blowing. Sub-atomic theorising leaves even the most intelligent scientists baffled at times! We have oceanography, palaeontology, astronomy, geology, meteorology, quantum physics, to mention a few, and all present their own formulas, theories and equations as a way of giving meaning and understanding to their field.

Science can tell us so much but what about that which can’t be explained by logic and reason? For example, how do you explain the feeling that stirs when you hear that particular song, the emotions that surface when you watch that movie or the connection you feel to that piece of art? How do we really give language to falling in love, or the grief we feel when someone we love dies? How do we explain how it feels to stand at the edge of the ocean or on the top of a mountain or walk through the trees and realise we’re quite small (imagine how the atom feels?!)! Some experiences need poetry, prose, music, mime, dance or drawing; some encounters do not come down to rational, scientific explanation. There is mystery, soul, and spirit alive in our world which are dancing with, working with and complementing scientific study.

There are many ways science helps us care for our minds and bodies, but what if there is also a need to care for, nurture and nourish our souls? What if to take a moment, in the midst of this awesome experience we call life, and connect back into that force or energy which sustains us deep within, is as necessary as a healthy diet, regular exercise and medical checkups? What if there is, within our culture, a growing awareness or experience of otherness, of another way of being, of a bigger story or consciousness that holds the whole narrative together?

What I find interesting is how a deeper understanding of self through science and soul allows for a deeper understanding of our connection to others and nature. Exploring these themes is one of the main reasons I write. What if this deeper understanding, connection and appreciation of soul changes how we live around, work with and relate to others in our world? What if a deeper respect for mystery allows us to hold other perspectives more openly? What if a greater reverence for love inspires action, a more practical care for those we would sometimes more readily dismiss? What if a stronger ability to appreciate beauty in the world around us energises us to work with the natural world rather than against it? Maybe an ability to embrace both science and soul could change the way we all share life on planet earth and open our eyes to what it really means to be human.

* Robcast Episode 5

**https://www.factretriever.com/karin-lehnardt

***www.smithsonian.com

The one about…expectation!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The one about…poverty.

Have you ever experienced being poor? The dictionary defines poor as:

lacking sufficient money to live at a standard considered comfortable or normal in a society.

Yet poverty isn’t just financial or material hardship. Poverty can take many forms. We can be physically or mentally disadvantaged, not capable of doing or processing life as we once could or the way others do.

We can be emotionally poor, those days or seasons where we go through the motions but emotionally we’re quite numb and disconnected. There are other times where we’ve been overwhelmed by emotion and we then feel drained, exhausted by what life demands of us. There are times where we lack the resources to function coherently in the world and we’re simply not able to relate to those around us in a life giving way. We might also describe this as spiritually poor, when we’re low in spirit, those times where we feel void of sparkle or vitality, somewhat bereft of energy and purpose.

Often it seems poverty is a comparable state. Maybe we compare our financial, physical, mental, emotional or spiritual wealth to what we perceive others to have or maybe we compare our wealth or lack of, to what we’ve previously experienced. Sometimes we simply measure our wealth against what we believe we’re entitled to and believe that it comes up short! That said, when we’re in a place of need the knowledge that there are people in the world with less might put things in perspective but often isn’t a huge comfort! Yet there must be something we can learn from the poverty we experience.

One thing all types of poverty seem to have in common is that those who are impoverished find themselves at the end of their own resources. Poverty, of whatever kind, can leave us helpless, at the mercy of others; be it the system, individuals or the universe.

There’s a book called “The End of Me” by Kyle Idleman, it’s a great read, I bought it because I liked the title. For me, the concept of “the end of me” sums up poverty quite well. That experience of being at the end of our own financial, emotional, mental, physical or spiritual resources. Have you ever felt like you’ve got to “the end” of yourself, as though if one more bad or difficult or trying event occurs you might actually fall apart? Do you ever dread checking your emails, or hearing the phone ring or waiting for the post to arrive because you’re so spent that if you’re required to do something else, pay one more bill, or sort one more disagreement you might just break down?

What if that’s a good place to be? What if experiencing poverty, requires us on some level to surrender control, to recognise we can’t hold it all, that we can’t keep going at that pace? To recognise that some “fixes” take time and we simply have to surrender to the moment, to the universe or to our need to dominate?

What if finding ourselves at the end of our own reserves means we’re in a place where we’re instead ready to receive? Maybe running out of our own resources means we have to look to others or other sources?

What if in that place of poverty there is more room for “otherness” (if you need a word, make it up!), more space for something or someone else? Maybe in a place of poverty there’s more space for creativity, for new ideas to be birthed? What if in that place we’re more willing to try new methods or adopt a different outlook and then those occasions, where we feel we’re at the mercy of the universe, actually become opportunities for something new to occur? What if it’s in that place that we find a whole wealth of story, of possibility and of life? What if that’s where the adventure really begins!

The one about…believing!

It’s Christmas! It really is!! The music, the lights, the tinsel; the presents wrapped, food bought, cards written, nativity plays done, stockings hung…and now the final details come together to create the magic we love to believe in, as we wait to see what unfolds.

We watched a movie about two siblings experiencing Christmas after the death of their dad; the girl trying desperately to hold onto the magic while her older brother gets in with the wrong crowd and becomes angry, distant and cold. That is until they meet Santa. The theme that underpins the whole movie is “belief” and at Christmas there is so much to believe in…cheeky little elves who choose a family to spend December with, flying reindeer and of course the jolly bearded man himself. Then there’s all the details; the reindeer eating carrots and glittered oats, Father Christmas nibbling mince pies and drinking the milk or whisky! There’s the questions of how he gets it all done in one night and of how he gets in, even if you have a chimney! The whole thing is encapsulated in awe, wonder and mystery!

The Christmas experience requires belief. Even if we don’t “believe” anymore it seems that somehow, in some mysterious way, we do believe; we believe in the love that’s shared, the joy and delight it brings or at the very least we believe in creating the magic for others. We believe in Christmas!

Children are good at believing all year; the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, the God character, heaven and hell…they immerse themselves in believing! Yet as adults we’re often quick to dismiss those things as childhood fantasies or ideologies we outgrew. But what if believing isn’t some childish, immature craze that we grow out of but a skill, an art form, an ability we should hone, one that is fundamental to human flourishing!

In ‘The Christmas Chronicles’, Santa Claus declares that:

People need Christmas to remind themselves of how good they can be.

I see what he’s saying, and I’d never want to contradict the big man but what if we need Christmas not just to be reminded of how good we can be but to be reminded of how good life can be?

There’s something about choosing to believe in the good that enables us to overcome doubt and suspicion. At Christmas we seem to make that choice more readily. We all know that that the reality of life is often brutal and painful. There’s way too much sadness and hopelessness in our world. We read it in the news, we see it in our communities and we know it within ourselves. Yet the choice to believe allows us, even if only for brief moments, to dream; to hope; to live.

What if, when we believe, the world becomes alive with possibilities? Some of the things we believed in as children we know to be from a world of fantasty yet what if to dismiss all of it leaves us sceptical, suspicious and somewhat sad. What if to loose that sense of mystery and magic means we loose our ability to see beyond what ‘is’ into what ‘could be’? What if so often we parcel up all thoughts of soul and spirit, of awe and wonder and put them away with the Christmas decorations as though they are only allowed to dance when Santa and his elves make an appearance?

What if as we shift our focus towards that baby born as a refugee, living his first years with a very real threat of death we see within his unfolding story a way of life that brought reconciliation, restoration, hope and love? What if we believe that the birth of that baby, at the very least, is symbolic of life, new beginnings and new possibilities?

What if Christmas is God’s way of saying “I believe in humanity”?What if at Christmas we hear the universe whisper “I believe in you”? What if knowing someone or something believes in us changes everything? What if Christmas is a reminder to us of how life could be if we believed in the mystery, and the magic; in love, in the goodness of others and in ourselves? What if believing in ourselves and others is how we’re then inspired to bring light to the world?

The one about…the elf that helps!

We have an elf, he’s called Elfie! He helps! He arrived on December 1st with seven advent calendars and a note that read:

My Dear Children,

It is with great delight that I send Elfie to your house to help you prepare for the arrival of Father Christmas. Elves are known for being highly mischievous and causing all sorts of pre-Christmas chaos. HOWEVER, Elfie is a special elf and chooses to only do that which is good, helpful and kind.

Elfie wants you all to enjoy Christmas and although it is unlikely that he’ll spend Christmas Day with you he’s very excited to be with you for advent and to enjoy all that this season offers. To be fair you wouldn’t want him there on Christmas Day as he eats all the sprouts (he thinks that’s the most helpful thing to do as it saves you having to eat them) they give him very bad wind and elf wind REALLY SMELLS!

So enjoy having your little friend to play and remember to also do that which is good, helpful and kind – the elf way is the best way!

Have a very happy advent,

Yours,

Pepper Minstix

Acting Head Elf

So far Elfie has moved the toys to make way for the Christmas tree, dusted the bookcase, swept the floor, cleaned the loo, tried to hang the washing, sorted out the felt tip pens that work from those that don’t, tidied the bookshelf and walked the dog. All because Elfie only does that which is good, helpful and kind!

What’s most interesting about this elf is the way his behaviour is influencing the children’s behaviour! Our seven year old put a box of toys away because “that’s what the elf would do”! She also filled in her “Elf book” finishing the sentence “my elf also likes…” with the word “HELPING!” Our four year old sat with the elf and told him “I’m helping you with your writing” and then encouraged the said elf by saying “well done Elf, you did it!” It does seem that one little elf is having a positive impact on the family!

I read somewhere that ‘the big thing is the accumulation of all the small things’. It reminded me of that phone company tag line “you’re every one to one you’ve ever had”!

The problem is that we live in a world that doesn’t value the small things, a culture that doesn’t recognise the importance of the mundane.

Our culture is very much into event. We celebrated Halloween, closely followed by bonfire night; then the more solemn occasion of remembrance day and now all energies are fully focused on advent, Christmas and New Year. All in less than eight weeks! By the time we’ve thrown in a few birthdays, Valentine’s Day, mothering Sunday and fathers day, oh and Easter we’ll have moved pretty seamlessly from one event to another and before we know it summer will be over and the fireworks will start again!

Somewhere in the midst all of that life goes on. The small things have to take place; the email has to be sent, the washing has to be hung, the beds have to be changed, the dog has to be walked, the dinner has to be cooked, the cake has to be baked, the paperwork has to be signed, the mundane things have to take place. It’s easy to look at other people’s lives and forget they live with the mundane too. It’s even easier to read a book like the bible and forget that the great characters lived through the small things as well as making their notable contributions to life: Jonah and the Whale or Jonah, Daniel in the Lions Den, Moses and the burning bush, Joseph and that technicolor dream coat; they all had days, weeks, years where nothing…much…happened.

It’s especially easy at Christmas to forget the gritty reality of the mundane; sleepless nights, changing nappies, endless feeding, entertaining guests when you’re exhausted! Jesus was a real baby! It’s easy to overlook Jesus childhood and teenage years; we don’t often think of him as a twenty something. Jesus lived the small things, the normal; he played, he studied, he did chores, he went to the temple, he may have even mastered his fathers trade. He ate, walked, slept; the big thing he did was the accumulation of all the small things. Even in the three years of his life recorded in the bible the mundane is often ommitted but the everyday, routine chores must of been carried out, most likely in a way that complimented the bigger story he was living.

Why is this relevant? Christmas will come, there will be food, family and friends. There will be presents and parties. The celebrations for most will continue through until New Year but then for most of us they will end, we’ll all be left wondering where Christmas went whilst facing the cold realities of January and February! Maybe that sounds a little bleak, the New Year is an opportunity for fresh starts and positive thinking but within that there is often some adjusting necessary to enable us to embrace “normality”. What if the challenge is to have integrity during those more mundane days, to see the small things we do each day as an opportunity to shape who we are? What if every one to one encounter shapes those involved? What if we accept that it’s not healthy to live for the next event, and instead of filling our time with plans for ‘the next big thing’ we take time to think about how we do the small things?

What if we also choose to stop once in a while and acknowledge the gift of the mundane? What if the normal, sometimes dull, maybe boring, really is a gift? What if that’s where we get to discover who we really are and find that the bigger picture, the one the world sees, is the accumulation of all those smaller moments that have taken place?

What if the appearance of one little elf really can inspire us to celebrate the whole of life and live it in a way that inspires others! As for why we were sent a good elf, some things remain a mystery!