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…the summer!

I love writing my blog, I love thinking about soul, love and wonder and exploring what it means to be human as we embrace some of those mysteries. However, my crazy crew are all off school and the usual chaos of the summer holidays has resumed! It’s a good chaos, but a chaos that requires something more of me for a few weeks! So because of that beautiful reality instead of writing a new blog each week I’m going to use the summer to re-publish a selection of my favourite blogs, ones you might have missed or not read for a while. It just gives me a little more head space to be more present with my family whilst still putting the blog out there.

I have also recorded each one as an audio blog which can be found on our website: www.prodigalcollective.co.uk/home/#podcast

I hope you have a fabulous summer…enjoy!

The one about…another dimension.

We seem to have a remarkably good grasp of space and time. We use a calendar, wear a watch, keep a diary. We can see pretty much anywhere on google earth and if we input the right information into our SatNav we can find the way to our chosen location. We talk of historical events and place them in a specific space and time and we dream of the future and plan the next night out, holiday or adventure.

Spacetime is how we understand our world because all events occur in a particular place and time. Spacetime is the fusion of the three dimensions of space and the one dimension of time and these dimensions are inextricably linked. But what if there’s another way to understand our existence? What if there’s more to life than the three dimensions of space and our one dimension understanding of time? What if there’s something that exists outside of space and time?

There’s a novel called Flatland, written in 1884 by a ‘school master’ called Edwin Abbot. It’s the story of a two-dimensional world called Flatland, occupied by geometric figures. One day this world is visited by a three dimensional object (a sphere) who introduces the idea of a third dimension, in hopes of educating the inhabitants of Flatland of a third dimensional reality. The two dimensional beings are open to the idea of new dimensions, so the square visits one dimensional Lineland where he appears simply as a line. He then visits Spaceland where the circle he has met is seen as a sphere. As the concept of further dimensions are introduced he becomes fearful and incapable of comprehending such realities. Despite the best efforts of the sphere to convince him that there is something more, the square lives out his days within the comfort of his known Flatland.

That’s the synopsis of the last book I read! There’s a great quote, where the sphere talks to the square (because that’s what shapes do?!)

“When you entered the realm of Lineland you were compelled to manifest yourself to the King, not as a square but as a line, because that Linear Realm had not dimensions enough to represent the whole of you…your country of two dimensions is not spacious enough to represent me, a being of three, but can only exhibit a slice of me, which is what you call a circle.”

It’s fascinating because it opens up questions of realities beyond what we know to be true. What if there really are realities or dimensions beyond our own known consciousness and we are simply unable to comprehend reality outside our own known sphere? What if our use of language when we talk of wonder, cosmic energy or spirituality is exactly the same problem that the square experienced; that our understanding of dimension is not ‘spacious enough to represent’ the mystery? Which leads to the question of what if we had the ability to transcend the known reality and what if that allowed us, at least for a brief moment, to see life from a different perspective, to hold for a moment the view that time and space could offer so much more than we’d ever realised?

What if meditation, reflection, prayer, contemplation (whatever word we use) are all tools through which we’re able to transcend our known consciousness into a deeper connection outside of space and time? What if religion offers, or at least should offer, opportunities to experience moments of space and time outside of the normal, known Spacetime Continuum? What if religion allows us to place story and experiences within a larger story or collective experience that allows life to be understood more holistically, more fully? What if experiencing life, even for brief moments in another dimension, allows us to hold our own lives more lightly, to see the bigger picture and know that all life and even death is held and sacred? What if there is something else to all of this?

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’ Amber 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.