Monthly Archives: February 2012

Always blessed be

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Beginning with the end in mind

Since today is my birthday, I have decided that for this week’s post I want to share with you those things (quite incidentally three…almost like a good speech/sermon…:D) that I am, by the grace of God alone, guiding my life by. May you also find inspiration in them…something to strive towards…

“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity.” – Gilda Radner

In all circumstances

“Life is an opportunity, benefit from it. Life is beauty, admire it. Life is a dream, realize it. Life is a challenge, meet it. Life is a duty, complete it. Life is a game, play it. Life is a promise, fulfill it. Life is sorrow, overcome it. Life is a song, sing it. Life is a struggle, accept it. Life is a tragedy, confront it. Life is an adventure, dare it. Life is luck, make it. Life is too precious, do not destroy it. Life is life, fight for it.” – Mother Teresa

Keeping in mind Who I belong to

“Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: ‘It might have been’.” – John Greenleaf Whittier

My only wish? That next year I might look back and be gratefully satisfied. Even more important? That you will be able to look at me and the year gone by and be able to see these things in me.

That’s the story of…

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In every moment of every day we are surrounded – by things, by events, and, of course, by people and their opinions. And for every one person in our life – whether they are just passing through or part of the more permanent décor – there are at least three different opinions. And oh, how easy it is to lend out our ears to those people and their opinions! In fact, I think it might not be dramatic to say that our ears are on permanent loan! And then not just to the important people in our lives, but to anyone and everyone who might have what looks like an opinion.

Worst of all? We actually LISTEN to their opinions! We let the opinions of random strangers and people who don’t really know us determine the way we think about ourselves and the way we act! Now, some of it might be reasonably explained by saying “that’s the way I was taught” – they’re family so you are obligated to listen; they are in authority so you must listen; they are seen as very wise and so you would be stupid not to listen.

Overwhelmed

I’m sure we all have those rhymes that are ingrained into the fibre of our being, coming almost as naturally as breathing. They might not sound exactly the same, but the gist remains the same: we are duty-bound to live the life and be the person others expect us to be, for that is the way it has always been done and the only way to be a decent human being. And then we become heavy and weary…and who wouldn’t…because we are carrying around others expectations and desires. But to stop doing that, to stop listening to and doing what others want would be unspeakable, wouldn’t it? It would at the very least be very unchristian?! And so we bend and break under the weight of others’ expectations, for there is always more that we could have done or been, always something that could have and should have been different, always something more. A never-ending spiral of not quite being “good enough”…a spiral that started from the very best of intentions…

But then I am reminded of how Jesus’ family once wanted to stop Him from continuing on with the work He was doing and the reaction they got in Mark 3:31-35 (as well as Matthew 12:46-49 and Luke 8:19-21). Jesus’ own family, the people who knew Him the best, those people we would expect would have His best interests at heart, who would be all for the fulfilment of His life’s purpose, had decided that what He was doing did not fit in with their picture of how things were supposed to work. And so they had come to fetch Him, stop the craziness and take Him home with them. Which I am absolutely sure they thought would be the best thing for Him. Can you imagine what life would have been like if He had not rejected them? Well no, because then there would be no life and no hope. Now that’s something to chew on! Jesus Himself, the perfect example of being human, once had to reject those people we are horrified at even thinking of rejecting (and that is only in our own heads, that is not including the shock and anger of those outside ourselves!). I am also reminded of the words of Doctor Seuss himself: “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind”. It is starting to seem as if we need to adjust the way we think about listening…for sometimes the right thing will get all the wrong reactions and strong resistance, while all the wrong things will be encouraged. So what now?

“The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.” – Barbara Kingsolver. The only place our ears should be is where our hope and our life lies – with God. He is the only one who truly knows all the details of our innards, He is the only One who has only our best interests at heart and He is the only one whose biggest desire it is to see us succeed. Now, that success might not be the success the world, our family, our friends or the random people on the street think it ought to be. But that success is the success that we were made for…the success in which our purpose, happiness and satisfaction are hidden away. A satisfaction that might mean dissatisfaction for many…

John 17

Is that the same as saying: “Screw everyone, I’m doing what I want”? Well, yes and no. For sometimes you might be convinced of something that you have to do and it causes others frustration or harm, while other times you know you are acting from within selfish desires and others get angry or hurt. What makes the difference then? What gives us the security of knowing that what we are doing is the right thing, even though it might not be the popular thing? RELATIONSHIP. But then not any and every relationship (as we are so prone to do), only our relationship with God. For it truly is only in our walk with God that the truth of who we are supposed to be and what we are supposed to do can be found. Not only that, but it is only in that relationship that we can find true peace with who we are and what we do, no matter what or who surrounds us.

And so it seems then, Romans, that it is time we stopped lending out our ears and start taking them back! “All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.” – Henry Ellis. May God, and ONLY God, grant us the wisdom of getting to know this art, and may He give us peace in that knowing.

Tangled

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It was Sir Walter Scott that wrote – “oh, what a tangled web WE WEAVE” – referring to what happens when we start down the path of deceit. But after today I feel the need to elaborate on that by saying – “oh, what a tangled web IS WOVEN” – for sometimes life becomes unbelievably complicated and tangled up without our having a hand in it. Great sadness is folded in with utter joy, the blossoming promise of new beginnings with a poignant reminder of those dreams yet left unfulfilled. And it’s not as if we want it, as if we are looking for it or hoping and planning for it to happen – it happens unexpectedly on a lazy Saturday afternoon; or in a joyous Sunday morning service. And it shatters us completely. It leaves us broken and confused. It freezes us between worlds. The strand of our life gets snagged.

What to do in those moments? Those moments when our hearts are suddenly squeezed so tight we can’t breathe? Those moments where we want to cry and laugh simultaneously? Those moments on the edge of reality…of sanity?

The Native Americans have a tradition of leaving a blemish in one corner of the rug they are weaving. Why? Because they believe that that is where the spirit enters. Now, it might sound like some ridiculous New Age mumbo jumbo to you, but I have come to realise that there is a lot of truth (and Spirit) in it – even the failed pieces, the painful parts, are essential. For it is exactly in the disappointment, the sadness, the confusion and the pain of things “not going how I wanted them to go” (whatever that may mean for you today) that I come to the end of myself – of my power, my strength and my understanding – only to find a strength and a peace there that weren’t there before. It is only in that place that we are reminded that true life in all its colour can only come when we reach the end of ourselves, when we give up and let go, when we are willing (sometimes forced) to give up everything. And so I keep discovering that it truly is in those tangled times, those bruising blemishes on our lives, that the Spirit does enter. Because those times leave us no other choice than to imagine totally new tomorrows. Tomorrows where we can do and be nothing but honest and real, stripped of all pretence and of our imagined selves.

We are never alone

And in all this we need to be reminded of the fact that we serve a God who is not somewhere else – remote, detached and distant – but a God amongst us, feeling what we feel and aching how we ache. That is the point of the incarnation, of God becoming fleshly human like you and me – God came into the world and screamed alongside us. We are not alone. Does this make those moments any less heartbreaking or any less shattering, any less disappointing ? Never. We can never be prepared for when the rawness of life hits us.

But it can give us a better question to ask and a new way of walking through and out of the tangle and the mess – instead of asking “Why this?” we should rather be asking “What now?” May God help us all in our trying and messy times; may He give us the strength to ask the right question; and may He be the one to guide us through and untangle us into new possibilities.

May the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God, and the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit be with us all when life gets tangled

Two’s company. Three? Even better!

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This past week I have been thinking a lot about how individualised we have become; about how little real community we have left. We live with this idea that we have to be able to do everything ourselves, as admitting we need help with some things (never mind actually ASKING for that help!) equals weakness. And because we feel we have to live such independent lives, our days become SO full that we do not have time to reach out to those around us. Which often implies that if you are not: (a) living in the same house as me, (b) working with me, or (c) with me whilst practising the one or two hobbies I can squeeze in; there is no time or room in my life for you. And then we become isolated without even knowing it, tired without it having to be so and unnecessarily overwhelmed. Yes, it’s great to have the say over your life and what happens in it, and it definitely seems like it makes life a whole lot less complicated to not have to constantly involve others…but have we, once again, taken it too far?

Made for each other

“A healthy social life is found only, when in the mirror of each soul the whole community finds its reflection, and when in the whole community the virtue of each one is living” – Rudolf Steiner

“If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if His love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care – then do me a favour: Agree with each other, love each other, BE DEEP-SPIRITED FRIENDS.” – Philippians 2:1-3

What have we forgotten? What have we lost? The joy to be found in the sharing of the journey; the security of knowing that I am not walking alone; and the peace of companionship. Yes, it also implies having to do more and share more than we have decided we feel comfortable with…for we have indeed become so used to being maverick. But in actual fact we are missing out on so much more! For there is safety in community and there is support…a sense of others helping to carry my load…of love and acceptance in that support. It is not for nothing that we find the following:

“It’s better to have a partner than go it alone. Share the work and share the wealth. And if one falls down, the other helps, but if there’s no one to help, tough! … By yourself you’re unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.” – Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, 12

Going through the initial effort of creating community means that I never again have to worry about somebody having my back – real community equals people who believe in me and care for me so much that they will always defend me, always protect me, always help me to stand when I’m weak and wobbling and always help me to stay me on the path I was meant for. I know we Westerners indoctrinated with individuality don’t think we need all of the above, but how’s that working for you? Especially in difficult times? Times of disappointment, times of stress, times of sadness, times of failure and times of despair? In those times we need community. We need people who will wait with us, cry with us, carry us and help us clean up the mess. We cannot survive alone.

“Healing is impossible in loneliness; it is the opposite of loneliness. Conviviality is healing. To be healed we must come with all the other creatures to the feast of Creation.” – Wendell Berry

And in that real community, in that living life in all its depth together, is a testimony. It is there that we witness most powerfully to the God we proclaim – the God whose only desire is to be each and every one of us. So let us start a new way. Let us devote the energy. Let us take the risk of opening up more. Let us start purposefully expanding our lives. In that the possibility for joy, support and peace become unending.

“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.” – Kurt Vonnegut

“This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples-when they see the love you have for each other.” – John 13:35