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…comparison.

“Don’t worry about what he’s doing, just enjoy what you’re doing and let him do his thing!”

I listened to the advice I was giving to my squabbling children and laughed to myself at my own inability to follow it!

I’m good at comparison, which sucks because it doesn’t actually do me any good. It destroys any healthy perspective I have of my own life and skews the view the lives of those around me. It seems I’m often unable to see the awesome truths about my own world because I’m so busy looking at everyone else’s. It’s almost as if the more I compare the more I need to compare until I find a comparison that makes me feel better about myself!

I’d love to live from a place of security, knowing that I was good enough, clever enough, pretty enough, successful enough, rich enough; that who I was and all I had was enough. Regardless of how that measured up to Facebook, Instagram, my neighbours or even my husband; whatever scale I’m currently choosing to compare my life to! Imagine if I was able to live life content with who I am and what I have.

I often wonder why I have a problem with comparison. Maybe it’s a simple lack of self esteem or maybe it’s born out of dissatisfaction with where my life is at. I had a friend share a quote she’d heard which basically said “dissatisfaction is key to our evolution” and I guess maybe there’s something about a state of discontent that does drive us forward into new things. I guess it’s OK to be discontent with how things are and allow that to inspire change, that must be different from a comparison to how others are which makes you want to change?

It seems that so often I live life from a place of lack or scarcity rather than abundance and generosity. The religion I grew up with started from a point of lack, loss, failure and separation; as though humanity was birthed into scarcity. Stories of generosity and extravagance had been retold focussing on what was lost or what was missing. The role of religion was generally to remind you that you weren’t enough, that you lacked something; that ultimately you had fallen short of perfection and weren’t good enough for God! What I’m learning is that actually true religion starts from a place of extravagance, prodigality, abundance and generosity. I’m slowly realising that there’s a force, an energy, a Divine Spirit at work in the universe which cries out “I am always with you and all I have is yours”, that phrase echoes through creation, it’s evident in every season, which means that I don’t need to worry about having enough or being enough because there is always enough. It’s not just material wealth like money and possessions that I become fearful or possessive about but also love and joy and fun and laughter. What if I’m reluctant to celebrate the success and happiness of others because deep within I believe that there’s a limit to the amount of joy there is to go around? What if I’m jealous of the success of others because in some strange way I think that their success restricts the success that might come my way! Sounds a little crazy?! Maybe, but why else would I feel a little envious that they got to buy that house together, or that he got that job, or that she gets to go to that party? What is it that stops me being simply happy for others in their moments of excitement and happiness? If I genuinely begin to believe in a benevolent universe, a Divine being that is totally for humanity, then my need to compare or measure myself against others will diminish because I’ll know that I have access to all I need and that I am enough!

That’s my bag! But as a wise person said earlier this week:

The particular is always universal, it’s like you’re hearing this person talk about the situation they’re in and you realise ‘oh lots of people know what this is about’, it’s like if you go far enough into yourself you find everybody!*

So while this is where I’m at, maybe it’s not just me!

*Rob Bell on The Robcast Episode 231: An Anatomy of Restlesness!

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…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…Religion!

I met someone who’s building an extension on his house himself, he’s been working on it for months and we’ve chatted a few times as I’ve wandered past with various children and/or the dog! We’ve talked about the new layout, steel beams, scaffolding placement, underfloor heating, he’s even tried to explain the millimetre tolerances some of the work was out by and the effect that would have. I find it all fascinating but it seems even my vast Kevin McCloud Grand Design knowledge still left me in the dark, smiling but not completely getting it!! Somewhere in the conversation we talked about church, about how hard it is to find the right place to move to and why we can’t stay here, he talked of going to church as a child but how he wasn’t religious. I found myself saying “I’m not religious either, I’m totally into the whole spirituality, soul, deeper meaning thing. I use the word God because for me that’s the word that best fits with what I understand a higher power to be but I love the other words like universe, force or mystery!” I think maybe he decided I was slightly crazy, but he smiled with a definite look of ‘I’m not quite sure how to respond to that’ and suggested there’s something about good moral teaching! Thinking I’d probably said enough I changed the subject to the doors he was making for his house and we were back to me being the one slightly bemused!

The conversation made me think about religion, and as I relayed it to Sid he rememberd a conversation we’d had a while ago about the meaning of the word religion.

‘Religion’ literally means to reconnect, the prefix “re” means “again” or “back”, and then the root word from the Latin “ligare” means connect or unite. Therefore true religion is about connecting again or connecting back into something. Religion is about uniting ourselves again with the divine, others, our world and ourselves, connecting back to something humanity once knew.

Yet so often religion has been used to divide, to separate, to say who’s in and who’s out. So much war and terrorism has been, and is being, carried out in the name of religion, I can see why people don’t see themselves as religious!

There’s a guy in the bible called James and he defines religion as:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

So for James religion was first and foremost about connecting with others, about caring for those in need, the marginalised in society, those that had no-one else looking out for them.

Secondly it was about knowing who you truly were, about keeping yourself from being polluted by the world. The Greek word for polluted is ‘unspotted’ or ‘unblemished’, which is a nod to the sacrificial system James would of known where only perfect, unblemished sacrifices could be presented to God.

So what does it mean to be unblemished? Is James suggesting we should be like those sacrifices? Or should we all take holy orders as an attempt to ensure we’re not polluted! It all begins to sound awkwardly religious if not a little pious!

The truth within the Jesus story is that Jesus lived in the world, fully engaged with the people around him. He ate and drank with prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers and women; the marginalised, undesirable outcasts of society. He also talked with religious leaders and political rulers, he worked, he cried, he got angry, he joked, he had friends and family who he loved, he was fully human, fully able to be who he was without allowing “the world” to tell him who he should be!

What if being unblemished, unpolluted is not about being perfect, or about being “sinless” but instead about knowing who you are? What if religion is about creating opportunities to rediscover your true identity and reconnect with the truth that you are enough?

The conversation Sid reminded me of was about a quote we’d read that said:

The root, ‘re ligio’ (latin) rebinding re-ligamenting is not doing its job if it only reminds you of your distance, your unworthiness, your sinfulness, and your inadequacy before God’s greatness.

If religion only tells us we’re not perfect, that our lives are polluted or blemished then maybe we need to rethink our religion!

What if instead of telling us what we’re not, religion simply offers us the opportunity to rediscover the truth about who we are, truths about ourselves that we’ve forgotten. What if practising religion is about taking time out from the crazy pace of life to reflect on where we’re at, where we’re going and who we want to be? What if in doing that we realise we’re all connected, that how and who we are impacts others in our family, in our community and in the wider world? What if in taking that time out we find that we’re held by something or someone outside of who we are, a bigger force that is for us, maybe even loves us, maybe is love itself?

If that’s religion then I’m all in religious!