The one about…questions of identity.

‘You’re not my second choice, it was fifty fifty and my mind was everywhere. I was looking at you, I was looking at her with split seconds in between, it was a good date but I woke up this morning and realised I can’t put all my eggs in one basket…’

That was his basic argument, a great way to convince a girl you like her after the girl you really liked decided she preferred someone else! It seems that Lucie prefers Joe to Tommy so now Tommy wants to convince Amber he was never really that into Lucie while Joe is still slightly hurt that Lucie even agreed to the date with Tommy. Atleast that’s what was happening on Wednesday, who knows who’s with who now! I’ve only watched twenty minutes of Love Island but it’s enough…enough to know that there’s a question they’re all asking.

Who are you and why are you here?

It’s a good question and in the context of the show the answer seems obvious: ‘I’m Tommy and I’m here to find love’ but who are you really Tommy and why are you actually here?

There’s a story behind the question, it’s a story with a number of variations, but they all follow the same general pattern and it goes something like this:

Thousands of years ago there was man, a rabbi, a master teacher, a scholar; the kind of person you would go to when you were struggling with the deep mysteries and challenges of life.

One day this rabbi was walking to his home. While he was walking he was in deep thought, which you might expect from a master teacher. Since we was in deep thought he failed to take the path toward his village. Instead, he kept walking in the wrong direction. It wasn’t until he found himself at the gates of a Roman Military fortress that he realised he had missed a turn.

He then heard a soldier yelling at him from the the top of the gates. The solider asked, “Who are you? And, why are you here?” The rabbi needed to buy himself some time so he replied, “what?”

The solider repeated himself asking, “Who are you? And, why are you here?”

The Rabbi replied by asking, “How much do they pay you to ask that question?”

The solider replied, “Five drachmas a week.” The Rabbi responded, “I will pay you double that to stand outside the door of my house and ask me those two questions every single day.’

“Who are you? And, why are you here?”

It’s a question that probes our understanding of identity and purpose. It seems the more the question is asked the more difficult it becomes to answer.

I answered the ‘who are you’ question and it went something like this: I’m a wife, mum, daughter, sister, aunt and friend. I’m a runner and a blogger and I’m a little bit crazy.

Of course there’s a problem with my answer, a big problem. What happens if or when my relationships breakdown or end? What happens if I can’t run or write? That just leaves me crazy! (probably a clinically diagnosed crazy!) Do I lose my identity?

Yet all of our relationships, encounters and experiences feed into our understanding of identity, just as being ‘second choice’ shapes who Love Islands’ Ambers thinks she is. Our experiences and encounters all in some way define who we are and influence what we believe we can do. Sadly for some what we believe about who we are isn’t always positive and the two Love Island suicides are a sorry reminder. So how do we hold the stark reality that to be defined just by our relationships and abilities leaves us vulnerable to loss of identity as the seasons of life change, along with the knowledge that living through all those seasons has made us who we are?

Maybe who we are somehow needs to be rooted in something outside of ourselves, something that exists beyond our experiences and encounters, something that holds true even when what we thought was true fails us?

What if the ‘something’ that holds true is the story we find ourselves in, a love story, a metanarrative at work in the world which holds all things. A story bigger than our own that enables us to live our own story, one that enables us to experience each encounter and relationship while placing those experiences and encounters safely within a bigger narrative and validating their importance. In the same way that light ‘isn’t what we see but that which enables us to see’, so the bigger story isn’t our story to tell but the one that enables all stories to be told. It’s in this metanarrative that we find out who we really are because our story is able to continue within it even when relationships come and go, jobs change or people move away. This means that our identity can remain true, uncompromised and authentic no matter what we experience. It means we can have integrity as individuals no matter what encounters we face. We’re not defined by what we can do or who we know but by knowing that our story is held by the bigger story and that everything we experience simply becomes part of the bigger story and belongs.

What if this means that, as we look back through history we see billions of people who, through their own story, have shaped the meta narrative; people who have moved the whole story of humanity forward towards unity? What if every individual who has ever existed has, in some way, contributed to the unfolding story of humanity? It seems that some stories have been more prominent, for good and for bad, and that they, in their own way, have influenced what we know to be true. Yet the majority of stories go unseen; individuals living out their lives seeking ways to bring unity and peace, to love others and the planet and see something good occur in the world. Billions of people who have raised children, taught children, cared for relatives, cared for the sick, grown a business or worked tirelessly in offices, factories and fields to contribute something towards the good of humanity. Billions of people who have smiled at a stranger, held the door open, offered help, welcomed, included, shared, given, simply been there, all living out their story, doing their “thing” while encouraging others. What if that is what this thing we call life is actually all about? Some people, in doing their ‘thing’ have made money, or acquired fame and power; this has sometimes been used for good, but sometimes has been used to exploit others or make them feel inferior. It seems that even those who have acquired the most wealth, power or influence still don’t get out of here alive which demands the bigger question: ‘why are you here?’ Reality TV might have us all believe we’re here to acquire wealth, status, power or fame but what if our real purpose has more to do with seeking out peace, finding ways of increasing  understanding, hope and joy? What if experiencing love, a true love that’s more about others and our planet than about competition or comparison, is what were here to discover? Maybe that’s more interesting, maybe that’s something we can all take part in, maybe that’s something that moves the whole of the story forwards towards ultimate peace and goodness. Maybe that’s something worth living, and even dying for.

You can find my interview asking ‘Who are a you and why are you here?’ on the Prodigal Collective web page www.prodigalcollective.co.uk or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/theprodigalcollective

 

 

The one about…beginning to ask?

Across the globe, tribes and cultures tell stories of the origins of their species. Oral narratives exist wherever people are found, a way of understanding and explaining the beginnings of time.
One of the most dominant stories told has been passed through generations and recorded in the ancient Hebrew writings of The Torah.
This story tells of a divine force or energy that brought the world into being. For some this creation story is a literal explanation, a seven day description of the origins of the world. Yet the account is more easily read as a piece of poetic prose offering an insight into humanities’ connection with something or someone beyond itself; a consciousness which exists outside of space or time and ultimately holds all that we know to be true. Some call this a divine spirit, others recognise an ‘ultimate reality’ and others might use the name God.
This spirit, force or being talks of our humanity as good. This poem recognises the core of who we are, the very essence of our being, as worthy.
It is from this place that the story unfolds. A story that can be traced back thousands of years. The ever evolving story of humanity. This is the story we find ourselves in.
Every story that’s ever been told finds it origin in this story. Every fairy-tale, every moral fable, every myth, every movie ever made speaks of this story, of what it is to be human and every story ever told is an attempt by humanity to give a voice to the passion, love, loss, pain and purpose we all experience.

We too have a story. Our story is often told to us by our parents or our immediate family. Our story has been told for generations before us; it is reinforced by our tribe, our community; the people we grew up around. The story defines who we think we are, it holds what we believe we can be and it is replayed just enough to remind us who we have been.
The story, more often than not, isn’t a bad story, it usually begins as a love story, the coming together of two people who desire to see something good birthed in the world. As with many love stories, reality plays its part and love can be hard to give and receive when those involved are slightly damaged by their own realities. So often we find ourselves entwined in a story, obliged to continue it, as though it’s a generational mantel that we must carry forward.

Our story is a story that has held us, one that has enabled us to carve out a path in the world yet it might also be a story that has hindered us, a story that has held us back and stopped us being all that we can be. It might have been a story told with the best of intentions but what if the way we explain it or the way we replay it isn’t actually how it really is? What if there’s another way to understand our story? What if we’ve always focussed on one way of telling it at the expense of another interpretation? What if we were to take a step back from our story and review what it is we believe about ourselves?

What if we were to start to ask the question “who am I and why am I here?” What if we were to answer that question for ourselves rather than with the answers our family, our community or our culture insist are the answers? What if, in starting to think about that question we start to ask some bigger questions about what it means to be alive; about our real identity and our true purpose? What if it’s OK for that question to be a tricky one to answer and we find that there are multiple layers of answers to identity and purpose and that those answers change depending on the season of life we’re in? What if there is no wrong answer but instead the question actually needs multiple answers from everyone in order for us to catch a glimpse of what it really means to be human and share life on planet earth? What if one person isn’t ever going to have the definitive to answer? What if it’s only together that we can make more sense of life? What if it takes a collective humanity to give meaning to our experiences? What if we need unity and unity really is the direction we’re headed in?

(You can how follow the “Who are you and why are you here? project on the Prodigal Collective website http://www.prodigalcollective.co.uk by clicking on ‘vlog’)

The one about…the space between!

There’s a space that exists, it’s a space some might describe as magical or enchanted; a sacred space outside of the noise and demands of our everyday.

Liminal space is not necessarily a physical place but it can be. Maybe an empty car park, a disused factory or a place where there was once life but where it now seems that nature has gradually started to reclaim. Maybe it’s something experienced whilst walking through the woods, or along the beach, a space we sense something of whilst climbing a mountain path or a wandering through a meadow? These places become moments where we tune out out of the sounds that require us to act and tune in to the sounds that allow us just to be. These are not always comfortable spaces. They are places between two worlds, the one we’ve stepped away from and the one we will return to.

We can also find ourselves caught between two worlds whilst present amongst the noise and activity of our children, our colleagues or our friends, in the noise of the high street or public transport; we’re there physically but not really present because the real us is somewhere else.

Liminal space also exists when we’re caught between two realities; as we move from one job to another, as we move house or as we experience the death of someone we love. Liminal space exists when discover we are no longer able to live in the familiar but are yet to create a new familiar; when we’re caught in the space between what we knew to be and what we know will become.

Liminal space can be bewildering, it can leave us feeling lost or as though we don’t belong in the world in the way we used to. Liminal space makes us vulnerable. Yet it can also can be an opportunity to embrace moments that don’t make sense and allow them just to be.

Liminal space is an opportunity to be present in the moment without passing judgement. It’s a chance to reevaluate what’s important and to ask those bigger questions of life that we know need to be asked but so often don’t get a voice. Liminal space offers us rest, just for a while, from ourselves and from others. It offers us the opportunity to choose a new path or the opportunity to see a fresh perspective of what was.

Liminal space is a gift. What if liminal space offers us a window into our soul, our true selves? What if as we dwell in this space between two realities we find a deeper understanding of who we are, beyond everything else that’s always defined us? What if liminal space suggests that there is something more to what we’ve always believed to be true? What if liminal space invites us to step outside of time and takes us deeper into an unknown dimension, a space or place that our minds can’t fully comprehend yet sense something of? What if liminal space is actually a place where our true humanity meets the divine? Maybe liminal space is a place we should seek out and dwell in whenever we can.

The one about…a spiritual force.

There’s a relationship of energy that runs through the universe, a force that courses through all the systems, networks and connections in existence, driving them to continually go beyond themselves, to keep becoming something more.

The bible, in all its poetic, pre-scientific understanding seemed to grasp something of the concept of spirit; a force or energy at work in the world continually moving humanity beyond its current understanding. We often use the word God. The ancient biblical manuscript defines God as spirit and love. Love can therefore be understood as a divine energy or a supernatural force. Love is ultimate reality. Love guides us, love shows us the way, love holds us, love wins, love overcomes, love forgives, love accepts, love welcomes, love gives of itself but never runs out, love finds us, love overwhelms us, love says you are enough, love is patient, love is kind, love does not envy, love does not boast, love does not dishonor others, love is not self-seeking, love is not easily angered, love keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.*

Love has always existed, in the beginning love was and love will always be.

What if we really believed in love? Would that have the capacity to change how we relate to those around us? Would love bring to life all those qualities we associate with it like joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and gentleness? What if love enables us to live out the qualities and characteristics that bring us together, that enable humanity to get along? What if all these characteristics bring unity?

So it follows that characteristics which aren’t loving; like distrust, hatred, jealousy, envy, theft, pride or immorality; that these are ways of being in the world that cause us to stagnate, to retreat back within ourselves or to be ashamed. These are ways of being that cause division. They are not qualities that move us forwards towards unity but actually are qualities that tear us apart and cause us to isolate ourselves from the rest of humanity.

What if love, in response, has the ability to meet us in those places and spaces that we’re finding difficult? What if love meets us in moments of shame, fear or isolation? What if love call us out of those circumstances that are causing us to disconnect? What if love is present in whatever we’re battling with; self harm, depression, alcohol, unemployment, lack of identity or purpose, the mundane, children, or just the everyday, and what if love has the ability to call us on, through, beyond those experiences or moments and offer us a different way of being in the world?

What if love really does move us forwards? What if God really is love? What if you go back an re-read this blog changing the word “love” to “God”?

What if God then becomes a force for good rather than a force that causes division or a concept that creates arguments? What if God stops being someone or something certain groups have a monopoly over or something we’re obliged to pacify? What if God could actually unite us? What if God could be a force that inspires us or a way of life that we’d choose to follow?

What if God and love become more interchangeable in our understanding of the universe and of ourselves?

N/b What if you spend hours working on a blog and then your husband reads you a quote from Richard Rohrs daily meditations:

Raimon Panikkar’s word cosmotheandric is the fusion of cosmos (world), theos (God), and andros (man) and suggests a continuous intercirculation among these three distinct planes of existence in a single motion of self-communicating love. —Cynthia Bourgeault

What if there really is something in all of this?

*some of this taken from 1 Corinthians 13…one of the most popular wedding bible readings!

The one about…it meaning something!

“I can’t do this anymore”. I lay down, closed my eyes and stared intensely at the back of my own eyelids hoping for inspiration; a picture, an image, an idea…nothing, just darkness. I sighed and rolled over. It was going to be a long night.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt trapped like this, don’t get me wrong, it’s not an awful place to be trapped, we’re ok, we’re living life. We can’t stay where we are though and we still can’t see a way forward. It feels a little like I’m in one of those horror movies where there’s no way out and the space is slowly filling with water; something has to make sense soon or I am going to drown.

There are occasional glimmers of hope, possibilities that might come to something but nothing ever seems to be straightforward. Yet in the midst of all the job applications, interviews and conversations about our future, the ‘everyday’ takes place; the real demands, joys and sorrows of raising children, seeing friends and sharing life with each other happens; life happens.

It’s easy just to sit and write about love and hope and adventure; to be passionate about the divine, soul and mystery; it’s at this point though that it has to mean something. It has to mean something when life is hard, when there isn’t a plan, when you can see those around you hurting and you can’t fix it. That’s when all the whimsical theological theorising actually has to be true.

This is where I have to believe that this story, the one I find myself living in, makes sense in a bigger story.

This is where I have to decide to love; to be kind and patient with those around me even though other feelings overwhelm me. This is where I also have to choose to love and forgive myself when I don’t love others as I would like to.

This is where, when fear taunts me, I acknowledge it’s existence but I don’t let it take the steering wheel. It’s where, when grief engulfs me, I allow it to do it’s work but I also take a deep breath and dare to keep hoping.

This is where I have to acknowledge that I can’t meet all the expectations placed on me by myself and others, where I admit I don’t even want to meet some of those expectations. This I where I accept that I don’t always cope and that it’s OK not to.

This is also where the tension between science and soul exists, where the logical reasoned approach to life meets the mysterious whisper of what could be and leaves me torn, not really knowing which route to take. This is where I’m left clinging to the belief that it will all make sense despite the fact that sometimes all I really want to do is hide under the duvet and stare at the inside of my eyelids!

So, this is where I choose to believe in the Divine; in a force that holds all things and where I admit that I believe that same force will renew, restore, refresh and resurrect all things, even my story.

This is where what I write means something. Right here, right now!

The one about…the story we’re telling ourselves!

“You’re already telling yourself a story so tell yourself a better one!” The words jumped out at me and everything else seemed muffled or irrelevant. What if he’s right? What if it’s that simple? The thought stayed with me.

Psychologists talk about the “tapes” we play.* Sometimes it’s called self- talk, it can be positive or negative but at its very essence it’s the story we tell ourselves about our lives and it’s influenced by every encounter and experience we’ve had, good or bad.

We all have accounts we can relay of moments that have stayed with us, words spoken over us, experiences that have impacted us or memorable occasions that have changed us. There are millions of other encounters and conversations that we don’t remember but are stored somewhere deep within us. We all have parents, teachers, siblings, colleagues, peers, who have influenced us subtly and sometimes not so subtly. They’ve created a frame for how we see ourselves and what or how we believe our lives should be. We’re also influenced immensely by the dominant culture that surrounds us, music, news, film, literature; all shape what we believe to be true about ourselves.

Some people have had mostly positive messages spoken over them, others are better at filtering the negatives like Jack in the film Titanic who, when he’s asked if he enjoys his “rootless existence” replies:

Well yes ma’am I do…I mean I got everything I need right here with me. I’ve got the air in my lungs and a few blank sheets of paper. I love waking up in the morning not knowing what’s going to happen or who I’m going to meet…Just the other night I was sleeping under a bridge and now, here I am on the grandest ship in the world having champagne with you fine people.”

Oh to interpret a story with such positivity!

Yet for others, the message they’ve received has damaged them and their ability to really know who they are and the tapes they play aren’t positive or necessarily even true.

What if it’s possible to start telling yourself a different story?

Whatever your opinion or understanding of the bible what the book does is continually take the story being told to a nation, tribe or individual and tell a better one. So slaves are told they are a people, the childless are told they will grow a nation, prisoners are told they will be free, women are told they have value, prostitutes are told they are loved, the outcasts are told they are welcome, the illiterate and uneducated are told they’ll change the world! Stories are re-told. Even the ones we read as primitive and barbaric are often actually a step forward for those people, in that time, in the way they interact with the world!** The work of the divine has always been to tell a better story.

Which takes us back to the question what if our stories can be retold? Maybe you don’t need it retelling, maybe you’re able to hold a positive, authentic, humble opinion of yourself with integrity constantly. What if though, there are times that challenge us, that daunt us, that leave us feeling less than capable? What if at times we feel anxious, insecure, bitter or frustrated and the story we tell ourselves just feeds deeper into those emotions? What if we’re able to take a step back, to review the story, to ask why we believe that about ourselves? What if we to dare to believe there’s a better story, another view, an alternative path, which that particular story can follow?

What if we choose to focus on what we can do rather than what we can’t, who we are instead of who we aren’t? What if we change the negative talk about that person and start seeing them as the more fragile human we know ourselves to be? What if we choose to believe we can do good in this world and as a result, in every interaction, we seek to record a positive message onto someone else’s tape? What if there’s a true story at work in the world that we can be part of? What if we’re all telling ourselves a story and it really is possible to tell ourselves a better one!

* tapes, a throwback to how life was but also a recognised psychological term!!! Maybe now we’d just have it all stored in our “cloud”??

** you’ll see what I mean!!! In “What is the Bible?” Rob Bell writes:

Does it surprise you when someone in the bible wins a battle and then gives their gods the credit? That’s what people did at that time.

Does it surprise you when after, winning, they wiped out the women and children and then said their gods told them to do it? That’s what people did at that time.

Does it surprise you when they won and then let no one escape but put everyone to the sword, and then said they did it with their gods power? That’s what people did at that time….

You find these stories violent and repulsive and barbaric because they are.

If you didn’t find them shocking and awful and confusing, something is wrong with you.

The violence isn’t that surprising; what’s surprising is that among all that violence there are new ideas about serving and blessing and nonviolence….What you find in the bible are stories accurately reflecting the dominant consciousness of the day, and yet right in among and sometimes even within those very same violent stories, you find radically new ideas about freedom, equality, justice, compassion and love.

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