The one about…incarnation.

I listened to a podcast this week by Common Thread Church (it’s the church I’d go to if I lived slightly nearer the USA!) They’re on an incredible journey to discover the common thread of the divine which runs throughout all of history. I won’t do it justice but this is a snippet of their thoughts this week…they discussed the idea that we can’t actually think about God, that “God is a cloud of unknowing”…a mind bending concept but let’s go with it for now:

“God on a throne out there in heaven is a story, a story that doesn’t capture God.

God here and now among us, is a story, it’s a story that does not capture God.

All we have are stories to imagine God…we can’t, with any kind of certainty think of God, or speak of God, so all we have are stories but we use stories because stories point us towards spiritual experience, and spiritual experience is profoundly and deeply enriching of the human being, it makes us better people.”*

So how do we grasp concepts of God, how do we encounter spiritual experiences that enrich our souls?

Which is interesting because I was already thinking about incarnation. ‘The embodying in flesh of a deity, spirit or quality’…this idea that God became known as a human so that humanity could know more of God.

Incarnation is the concept we generally apply to Jesus, a man who lived just over 2000 ago, who is believed by many to be God incarnate; the physical, human representation of the higher power or greater consciousness that existed before time. The one of which we can’t really speak…and the one of which John tried to encapsulate in his poetic prose at the start of his writing:

“The true light that shines
on everyone
was coming into the world.

The Word was in the world,
but no one knew him
though God had made the world
with his Word….

…The Word became
a human being
and lived here with us.
We saw his true glory,
the glory of the only Son
of the Father.

From him all the kindness
and all the truth of God
have come down to us.”**

The true light, that greater consciousness physically manifested itself in the world, ‘the word’ (as we talked about last week) already present but yet not seen, not known…so this word, this spirit, this abstract concept love, light, life took on human form and lived with us and because of that we can now see the magnificence, beauty, truth and kindness of that greater consciousness, something which otherwise would have just remained abstract and unreal.

Yet it goes so much further than that because incarnation is something we’re invited to participate in ourselves, this idea that we would take on the form of a specific quality in order to share in the world of another; to be present, to be there alongside, to know and be known, to be able to demonstrate grace to others and know the truth of life beyond our own; that’s what it is to love, to be love in human form.

Which means that whatever your belief about “god” taking on human form and making his dwelling among us, the concept is actually mind-blowingly simple because it’s something that happens everyday.

The Jesus story is, as Richard Rohr would describe, a blueprint for all of humanity…a blueprint; ‘an early plan or design that explains how something might be achieved’. So, there is this plan at work to “save” humanity, not from some devil or vengeful God character but from itself, and the blueprint demonstrates how that greater consciousness has a plan to redeem us from all the hate, hurt, competition, corruption, misconstrued power that we inflict on ourselves and each other.

To follow the blueprint means that we too become love incarnate; to choose to love despite the difficulty, to choose love even though it’s not what we would “naturally do” and to go beyond who we are and choose to bring joy, peace and hope to others. To follow the plan is to choose humility, to value the least, to turn our measures of success and importance upside down, inside out and to choose to love, when we do that, we take that abstract word “love” and we personify, embody, manifest love in the world, which is what John suggests Jesus did.

Which also means that we take that “story” of God and we tell a story that is present here and now in who we are and the way we act. We tell a story, and it will only ever be a story, of how the divine, that higher consciousness, the source of all life, ‘God” is at work in the world and how we experience his presence.

What if that’s incarnation, what if that’s what John was saying, what if that’s what Jesus showed and what if, as we reimagine our understanding of the God character we find there is a reality to these concepts that we otherwise can’t think about.

*. Common Thread Church Weekly Messages: Finding God in the Woods

** John 1, The Bible!

 

 

 

The one about…original goodness.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…God looked at what he had done. All of it was very good!”

That’s how the poem that opens the bible starts and ends; the God character creates something very good. Whether you see this as a literal account or a poetic description, a historical fact or figurative expression, the poem contains wisdom and truth and whatever word you would use for ‘God’ there’s a force present at the beginning of time, doing something good!

The Hebrew word used for ‘good’ is Tov, it means well crafted, well-formed and it seems that the whole of creation is well crafted, infused with life, given an ability to make more of itself, an ever changing, ever evolving force of nature that’s not static, its good, its well-formed but it’s not perfect.

Many people have been led to believe that the initial wrestle of the bible is between good and evil; a battle between heaven and hell, God and the Devil, vying for control of man, resulting in ‘the fall.’ Yet before any of that plays out there is another duel taking place, a whole different encounter; good vs perfect.

God, the divine, the original source of energy and power, that force, ultimate reality, love, creates and it’s not perfect, who knew! Perfection is a state of completion, something that is faultless or unblemished. Perfection is static, the ultimate achievement or attainment, we achieve, we attain but then what? Good, on the other hand, has room for growth, for change, for movement forwards. This is what the creation poem echoes of as day moves to night, as light becomes dark and then light again, as the seasons change and cold becomes warm, as the life giving seeds fall to the ground and die before giving birth to life; day/night, light/dark, warm/cold, life/death, it’s all good, it’s all part of it because it all belongs. This language of growth permeates the whole bible, the waiting, the trusting, the allowing for change, the all-encompassing embrace of ‘both/and’ not ‘either/or”. Even as the story progresses and the Jesus character talks of a Kingdom like no other, he uses the language of seeds and yeast and trees, all of which invite movement and growth and allow space for death and decay.

Along with the invitation to movement into the next chapter, the next part of the story, this poem that starts the bible also invites man into responsibility, ownership and accountability for this ever-evolving creation. Man is placed in a garden to work it and take care of it, a helper is sought for man, as he names each animal, an act of responsibility and relationship in itself, none of the animals are found to be a suitable helper. Instead woman is made from man’s flesh and the two walk the garden, naked and without shame. That is how their, and all our stories begin, naked and shameless. They begin without embarrassment, without humiliation or guilt, and without any feelings of worthlessness, we’re totally worthy and completely loved.

This is original goodness, it’s where all our stories start.

It’s a truth we lose as we get caught up in a world of original sin and a desire for perfection. Tov, gently reminds us that it all belongs, that we don’t have to be perfect, that life doesn’t have to be perfect, that things fall apart, that sometimes life hurts, that we’re not always as “successful” as we’d like to be and that actually, in reality, nobody else is either, despite what they project. What if ‘good’ keeps us moving forwards despite what we experience not because of it? What if ‘good’ allows us to love and own our stories with all their mess and imperfection and to keep moving forward into life? What would it look like if we stopped chasing ‘perfect’ and embraced ‘good’?

The one about…a thought on grief.

I first met grief when I was eleven. My dad died of cancer, six surreal weeks from diagnosis to death. Five days after his death, on the 19th December, the night after my dad’s funeral, my grandad, who was staying with us, died in his sleep. Somehow we ‘celebrated’ Christmas, and then at the beginning of January my mum found my dad’s uncle hanging from a wardrobe, and we found ourselves staring at a coffin again.

I remember some of it so vividly and other moments just blur, leaving me unable to comprehend how we actually got through those days, weeks and months. We did, but I didn’t do it alone, grief began to journey with me.

Grief is hard to comprehend, there are many well intentioned words that attempt to appease it and far too many clichés, or offers of advice, which all too often only serve to create even more distance from the reality we once knew, making us feel even more isolated and alone. As an attempt to begin to unpack some thoughts on grief I wrote the following:

‘Grief cannot be ignored or put on hold, grief cannot be fixed, it does not fit in a box or respond in an ‘appropriate’ way. Grief is not a problem to be solved. Grief is real, it is unpredictable, and overwhelming, it is intense and powerful; grief needs to find expression, to have a voice, to be heard.

Grief forges its own path, taking us in a different direction to the one we perhaps thought we’d walk. Grief journeys with us, sometimes loudly and sometimes in silence, sometimes holding us back, sometimes pushing us on. Grief is full of contradiction, a swirl of anger and love and fear and laughter and tears, of strength and weakness, causing us to run away and to run home, to turn others aside and to draw them close, a mix of inconsistent and extreme emotion.

Over time, somehow,  it releases its grip a little, changing its tack, becoming softer, more malleable, perhaps reminding us more gently of those memories and moments that brought us to this place. Yet it remains, a subtle interruption to the life we’re trying to live, whispering words of fear, taunting us with the darkness of despair just enough to leave us feeling uneasy, with a sense of foreboding, like a menacing cloud that hangs at the periphery of our vision.

It seems that grief will always have a part to play, leaving us with the challenge of discovering how to allow it to live alongside us, while we rediscover a life that feels authentic and real. As we learn to live this way, we find ourselves with opportunities to use our grief as a force for good, to channel the creative energy that grief has awoken because grief, whatever form it takes, is simply an expression of love and love holds all things, even death.’

I wrote this reflective piece about grief, born out of experience but also in response to some of what Sid and I find ourselves in the midst of, as we do the work we do. We would really appreciate comments and contributions based on your experiences of grief, appreciating that there is no right or wrong expression and that words can sometimes be limiting, whilst acknowledging that we all have different experiences of grief and we’re all at different stages in our encounter with it.

What we hope is that by sharing our thoughts we might inspire and encourage each other as we journey through life and that some of the thoughts shared might really help someone else. Thanks in advance…oh and feel free to share. Deb x

 

The one about…after Christmas.

What do you do when it’s all over? When everything you’ve prepared for, shopped for, anticipated, dreamt about and looked forward to is all done and all that’s left is crumpled paper, cold potatoes and that feeling that you might have over indulged just a little?

Do you sit back and smile, replaying the best moments in your mind? Do you breathe a sigh of relief because it all came together? Do you look ahead to the new year with anticipation wondering what new adventures await, or with a slight sense of dread, a little unsure of how it’s going to be? Do you drink a little bit more in the hope it will stave off reality for a little longer? Do you stare blankly at the TV trying to ignore all those things you have to face up to in the coming weeks? Or do you just simply enjoy the moment?

This time between Christmas and New Year, known apparently as Twixtmas or the Crimbo Limbo, invites us into a time between, it offers an opportunity to reminisce of Christmas past, to smile, laugh or cry about what was and to relive the year gone by. It also invites us to plan ahead, to discuss resolutions for the New Year, to dream of what we hope to do and the plans we hope will take shape.

Or maybe this week between invites us into a time of waiting, a lull before the storm. For some, this week is a gentle easing back into the familiar rhythms of life, for others it’s a more brutal return to reality as the alarm sounds before the sunrises and a bleary eyed drive to work is embarked upon. Either way reality has to return. The email has to be sent. The phone calls has to be made. The PE kit has to be packed. The uniform has to be ironed. The food has to be ordered. The dog has to be walked. The bathroom has to be cleaned.

It can feel as though the return to reality is quite overwhelming but what if reality never actually left. What if the build up to Christmas, full of anticipation, hope and wonder, is reality? What if Christmas Eve, as we fall asleep caught up in the magic, minds brimming with possibilities and potential is reality? What if Christmas Day with family, food and all the festivities is reality? What if that rather sad, ‘was that it’ kind of feeling that murmurs within as Christmas Day draws to a close is also reality? What if the simplicity of Boxing Day, where the pace slows and as my mum says “nothing normal happens” is reality too? What if the crazy New Year’s Eve or the quiet one, the surreal dawning of a new day and a new year rolled into one (which happens every day of we choose to see it) is reality as well?

There’s so much said about living in the now, about being present in the moment and appreciating the reality that is. There is something about seeing ‘reality’ as the moment we are currently in, for me, writing this, sat on the sofa at my in-laws while the children play and my brother-in-law cooks food, this is reality, it’s my reality right now but all my ‘right now’s’ make up my story, my reality, just as all your moments of reality make up your story too. ‘Now’ is essential, however we’re still shaped by our past, it has made us who we are and it should be celebrated and we also need the hope that the future offers us, the gift of looking forwards, of dreaming, hoping, planning; both past and future feeding into ‘right now’ and shaping who we are and the decisions we make.

So as we live these days before the new year dawns may we know what it is to embrace right now, may we enjoy life at a different pace, caught up in those twelve days and the peace that they offer. May we see every moment as reality and live it, not dreading the return of reality nor waiting for the next opportunity to escape it. May we know what it is to embrace where we’ve come from and find that looking ahead fills us with hope, and then as the new year comes, may we live each day, embracing reality, living our story, fully alive.

The one about…a Christmas that belongs!

It’s nearly here, Christmas, the “day” we’ve all been preparing for, the reason the decorations are up, the presents are purchased and the food is prepared. Life and time seem to gather pace as Christmas approaches and opportunities to stop and reflect are somewhat rare. I guess that’s one of the privileges of finding time to write, or of taking carol services and hosting crazy Christmas gatherings; they all offer opportunities to think about what and why we celebrate. As Sid and I have talked and prepared and shared thoughts this year we’ve reflected a lot on Christmas and so this blog is a summing up of the blogs, talks and thoughts that we’ve pondered together.

It seems that there are five Christmas stories…

Firstly, the perfect Christmas; the one created by the movies and the music, the one where families get together and everyone gets along, where lovers meet under the mistletoe (whilst listening to Michael Bublé) and spend forever together, the one where there’s food in abundance and the mulled wine doesn’t stop flowing. The one we all want to exist, the one we strive for every year, in the hope that this year will actually be all we’ve ever dreamt of.

Then secondly, there’s the real Christmas, the one where the children fall ill or fall out, where words are said that shouldn’t have been, where the wrong present is bought or where presents can’t quite be afforded and the usual trimmings are somewhat lacking. The Christmas where those you want to spend it with can’t be there and the one person who promised you everything delivers nothing. The Christmas that is not quite the one imagined, tinged with a little sadness and hidden by a smile that prevents anyone from really knowing the truth, that this isn’t really what was hoped for. The Christmas that’s mediocre, mundane or maybe just ordinary.

Then there’s baby Jesus, the “Christmas Story”, the one that’s rolled out in nativity plays across the land, often with a unique angle, like dinosaurs in the stable, a disorganised angel or the story told from the insects point of view (yes, I’ve been to them all and I’ve even watched Jack Whitehall’s nativity musical “Emu”!) The nativity story is one that we love to hear, the infant Jesus, the perfect baby, a baby that didn’t even cry, or so the carols would have us believe. The reality somewhat different though, a little more like the contrast between the perfect and the real Christmas we experience today.

The fourth Christmas story, the real Jesus story is about a baby born to a young Jewish couple, out of wed-lock, rejected and out-lawed by their friends and family, disgraced and unwelcome; why do we think there was no room at the inn? A birth story coupled with the harsh reality of an unsettled world, a land of enforced peace, citizens required to bow to the Emperor, pledge allegiance, pay taxes and adhere to Roman rule or face torture, slavery or death. A time of fear, of uncertainty and decreasing hope. Yet a baby is born, a baby that brings love, hope and peace. That’s the Jesus story.

Collectively, these Christmas stories tell us something. They tell us about another version of Christmas, the true story, the story that tells us that all our realities, with their aches and pains, the awkward moments or feelings that we don’t quite like, all do belong. Of course we would rather they didn’t and we’d rather that no one suffered or struggled or wrestled with inner demons but they do, we all do.

Jesus was born into a broken world, he shared light, he decorated the darkness with his message of hope. Eventually, he was put to death by the people he came to love, his revolutionary manifesto for the Kingdom of God didn’t lead to worldwide institutional change but it did lead to a new understanding of life and love, and it still does offer a new way of being in the world. A way that’s different to the way those in power and authority often exemplify, a way we can all choose no matter who we are, how influential we are or how much we have.

So, in light of all these stories, may you know that the reality of your Christmas, however happy or however sad, is actually a truly beautiful one, because it is the only truly authentic one. As you laugh or cry this Christmas, may you be full of hope despite the shadows of fear. May you allow it all to belong and may you know an unconditional, extravagant love, and dare to believe that there was something special about that baby who came to bring love, hope and peace to life. May you know the magic within the mundane, as you peel potatoes, wrap presents or tidy the house; may you have a chance to glimpse at the awe in the ordinary, discover the mystery in the mediocre and may you find a moment to be still and consider the gift that it is to be alive.

Happy Christmas!

 

The one about…our Christmas story.

Everyone’s talking about it, the shops are fully stocked, the music is playing, the trees are decorated, the lights are twinkling; people are busy planning, shopping, baking, dreaming and now the calendars are counting down. The world (or that’s what we’re led to believe) is getting ready for the big day!

The 25th of December (or for some the 24th) has become such a big event. One day where everything has to be ready; food prepared, presents bought, gifts wrapped, cards sent, houses tidied, people invited…all for one day, all for the illusion of the perfect Christmas. Thing is, it is an illusion, it’s rarely perfect, despite the stories we hear and the adverts we see – oh and of course those Christmas movies which create the perfect dream.

The reality is more likely to be about a child who changed their mind on 23rd December about what they wanted from Father Christmas, leaving the parents dreading the look of disappointment on Christmas morning; or about the mum who’s had to go into work so now Christmas dinner will be at 7pm rather than 1pm and it feels like the usual traditions are in question; there’s the sombre reality of the first Christmas without that loved one, leaving a hole way too huge, along with the return of the tears you thought you’d just got control of; there’s the dad trying to put a brave face on the fact he hasn’t got the kids until Boxing Day because they’re with their mum this year; there’s the newlyweds who can’t work out who they should spend Christmas with because either way one set of in-laws will be disappointed; there’s the widow down the road who’ll eat alone like any other day except for some reason Christmas Day feels even more lonely…like I say, it’s rarely perfect.

I guess part of the challenge is to stop seeing it as one ‘Big Day’, and instead to embrace the season of Christmas. It’s not easy when our chocolate calendars count us down, we measure the month by how many sleeps there are to go, and Facebook reminds us of how many shopping days we have left.

What if we were able to hold it all far more lightly though, to see Christmas as a season rather than a day and to make more space for the tears and disappointment in the midst of the laughter and the song. Christmas is truly beautiful, it is a reminder of hope but it’s also often a reminder of reality!

The first Christmas was real, not the fabricated “new baby delight”; it was a young Jewish couple, in violation of acceptable social conduct, giving birth to a Jewish baby in a land oppressed by a cruel regime that saw many of their fellow Jews being massacred for not adhering to Roman rule. It was a time of fear, of uncertainty and of decreasing hope that life would ever be OK again. These were real people, in a real place, in real time, facing the very real prospect of invasion, torture or death.

Jesus Christ was born during the time of, ‘Pax Romana’ – which stood for Roman Peace. A period which spanned approximately 200 years  and recorded as a time of peace. Yet Roman Peace was utterly consequential and incredibly brutal, all were required to bow to the Emperor, pledge  allegiance to the Crown, pay taxes and adhere to Roman rule which in turn allowed for the prospering of the elite in the Empire.

Imagine living with this, growing up with this kind of brutality. Into this reality a baby is born. Birth and new life represent hope, future, possibilities and this baby would grow up to create a new story in the world, or maybe more accurately to tell the true story of the world.

He would tell a story that spoke true love, unconditional love into the very depth of people’s beings, that spoke the hope of a different way into the systems that had been established, a story that spoke peace into a nation that had never experienced true peace, a baby that brought joy and celebration into a land that had very little to celebrate. A baby that would present the very real presence of a new Kingdom, a new way and ultimately a new King. The King began life on planet earth as a refugee seeking shelter but would later be the one who would welcome the outcasts in. His story shows that there is hope, joy and peace to be found in the unlikeliest of stories.

Our story is part of that story too, and despite the seeming setbacks, the disappointments, the confusion and the fear, despite the unlikely characters that play their parts, the story keeps unfolding, sometimes fun, sometimes sad, sometimes uncertain but always moving forward, always brimming with possibilities and promise.

So as schools and playgroups perform their nativity plays, as the carols are sung and the cards with all the smiling characters are sent, as the movies are watched, the drinks drunk and way too much food is eaten, what if we remember that Christmas is more than just one big day? What if we make the most of every day this season, find every opportunity we can to share with others, to welcome friends and family, to give to someone else, to remember and reflect?

What if we choose to see this as more than just a story of a baby in a crib but to see it as our story, because in the same way that Jesus Christ brought hope and peace into the world, our story can too.

The one about…redefining Brexit!

Brexit…well, I’m not sure what’s happening with the British exit of the European Union so I thought I’d fill you in on the Bridges exit instead!

We’re on the move! It has been nearly three years since we started looking at jobs in the Church of England, knowing that Sid’s curacy would end and we’d potentially need to take up a post elsewhere. It’s been a rollercoaster of emotion; applications, interviews, emails and conversations, all an attempt to discern what we should be doing and where we should be doing it. Soul searching I think it’s sometimes called, although to be honest I always imagined soul searching to be a little more like walking along a beach pondering some deep, meaningful thoughts; but these years have been brutal, exhausting, real and raw, hopeful, exhilarating, energising, draining and a whole host of other somewhat conflicting emotions! Some moments have nearly broken us, as individuals, as a couple and as family; some very dark, seemingly hopeless experiences followed by glimmers of hope, anticipation and intrigue only to find out it’s not to be. We’ve taken jobs and turned jobs down, we’ve applied and then pulled out of interview, we’ve applied and not been called for interview, we’ve been interviewed and not appointed; but each experience, however random or seemingly nonsensical, has taught us something, something more of who we are and why we’re here. We can both honestly say that while that has been ridiculously hard at times, we’ve learnt things about ourselves that we could only learn by living this way.

Yet all of it eventually had to culminate in something, a decison had to be made, and the decision was not just about one person or even two, any decision had huge implications for our children too, it would impact their friendships, their education and their lifestyle; it would impact who they are and who they would become, for better or for worse. We moved here with only five of them and now there are seven, and while playgroup and primary were our only consideration five years ago we’re now well into secondary school, GCSE’s and considering the crazy world of post-16 too. Decisions can’t be made lightly!

The decision has been made and now we find ourselves surrounded by boxes, lists and cluttered piles of “stuff” headed for rubbish, recycling or the next charity shop collection. It is somewhat monumental, the reality of moving nine of us, somewhat surreal, as we look around the house and walk the streets of our neighbourhood where we’ve lived life together, through all its ups and downs. It seems strange to think that this chapter of our life is over yet we know that the beauty is found in turning the page and beginning the next.

So we move, not far away, neighbours will change but much of what we know will stay the same and the work we’re called to do, well that’s what’s giving us the energy and inspirtaion to pack up and move on. We knew we had to find work, vocation and a lifestyle that made our hearts and souls sing. We’re so excited by what we’re doing that all of the past confusion and hurt and disappointments pale into insignificance as we look to what we get to do each day.*

There’s so much that we have learnt and are continuing to learn from this journey but there’s something about the name Prodigal that is so important, more important than we realised when we created ‘Prodigal Collective’ nearly a year ago. ‘Prodigal’ was inspired by the story known as ‘the Prodigal Son’, found in the bible. For so many, ‘Prodigal’ conjures up images of a wayward child, squandering inheritance, reckless and extravagant and maybe that’s how some people see us!? For us though, ‘Prodigal’ defines the father, the God character, the divine source, energy or being that holds the whole story. ‘Prodigal’ is recklessly extravagant in all the right ways, a universe that lacks nothing, an ultimate reality that is wired in favour of humanity…prodigal is generous, unstinting, bountiful and abundant and that is what we have experienced as we’ve journeyed. That does not mean that every day we’re skipping along without a care in the world, the belief that the universe is wired in our favour hasn’t fully stopped the tears and the pain, it hasn’t completely removed the fear or prevented the sleepless nights but it has enabled us to move through all of those emotions knowing that they belong, that we’re held and that this is all headed somewhere good. Our understanding of Prodigal is what makes life worth it, it’s what inspires us and keeps us hopeful of good times even through the difficult ones. Our understanding of Prodigal is what enables us to do each day, it’s what’s teaching us to celebrate all that we do have and it’s showing us how to live life to the full.

 

If you’d like to know more about what we’re up to then check out our website: www.prodigal.org.uk