Category Archives: Our faith journey

God’s window

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In this past week I was involved in quite a few conversations and scenarios where the idea of “doubt” came up: What is it? What does it do? Is it good or bad? (etc. etc. etc., as the good king would say :D) And you, knowing me by now, should know that these situations and conversations got me a’thinkin. This is how far I’ve gotten; maybe you can comment and take us all a little further?

“Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.” – Khalil Gibran

I have always been one to ask questions – from the obvious to the awkward – which means I have always asked questions of my faith as well. In studying theology I found a certain freedom – finally it wasn’t frowned upon to ask questions! In fact, it was encouraged. But in this process of letting go, of going farther and asking more than I had ever imagined, I lost something. Something precious, something that I only realised the worth of a few years later – I lost faith…I lost the capability to know when to let go. I got lost in the pain and the uncertainty of doubt, arrogantly thinking I had finally gotten to where everyone should be journeying. When in fact all I had become was hollow. It was in this time that God graciously introduced Himself to me again – through the faith of others, through their lives and their stories. I was confronted with a freedom I did not know anymore, for I had chosen to become confined within my own small mind and the things that mind could think of and could handle. I thought I had found the answers, because they were answers I could work out; when, in fact, I had only lost the capability to venture outside of myself. I had gotten stuck. Luckily, I got “pulled out” again before there was no turning back. But from then on the debate has raged within and around me – for “doubt” as such is not a bad thing. It makes sure we do not become complacent. Become petrified in our ways.

If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.” ― René Descartes “There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.” – Alfred Lord Tennyson Doubt is the beginning, not the end, of wisdom” – Ancient proverb

Doubt can be exactly the window God needs to be able to settle Himself in our souls – it very often is. And doubt can make sure that we are still in relationship with the real God, not our imagined or accepted picture of Him. So when does doubt become negative? When does it scoop all meaning out of our thoughts and our lives? When there is nothing left but doubt and cynicism. When all we do is question and doubt and fear. For then we have nothing to live for, nothing to drive us, nothing to strive towards. All we have is emptiness and trying to live through it.

Faith in doubt

Every mental act is composed of doubt and belief, but it is belief that is the positive, it is belief that sustains thought and holds the world together.” ― Søren Kierkegaard ” “The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith.” ― Franklin D. Roosevelt “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” – Dale Carnegie

May there always be enough doubt in our lives to keep us honest and our minds and hearts clear. But may there (also) always be a little faith in our doubt, enough faith to make the doubt an instrument, not the end. And may God, the true Source of all doubt and faith, keep watch over us all in our journey on this balancing act called life.


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Death and dignity

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If you know me at all…no wait, scratch that…you don’t really have to know me in the slightest to know that I am a MASSIVE (in this case literally and figuratively :D) fan of Terry Pratchett. So of course I follow his Facebook page. And yesterday they advertised an auction for a dinner with the man himself, with all funds raised in this way going to support “Dignity in Dying”. Now, notwithstanding the fact that I would sell all my possessions and organs (as well as anybody’s that I have ever known) to be the one to have dinner with Terry, it also got me thinking. “Dignity in dying” is not exactly one of those causes you can use to win Miss Universe – it’s too depressing. But, knowing that Terry Pratchett was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few years ago, I can see how this would become a cause worth investing in. Funny how priorities change as life takes its turns with us.

Which got me to thinking about “dignity” and “dying”, and about how these two can (and should/would?) go together. For “dignity” can sound like such a very passive, stiff-upper-lip kind of thing…so “dignity in dying” can sound so much like giving up, giving over, hanging around – in a dignified manner, mind – until your time is done. And yet, one of my favourite poems (anthems?) by Dylan Thomas tells us: “Do not go gentle into that good night, old age should burn and rave at close of day; rage, rage against the dying of the light”. So how do we reconcile these two seemingly very different understandings? Can we? Should we?

Living = surrounding yourself

For that I think the answer is not in the dying, but in the living of it all. Of course, in those last moments of our lives, we will all wonder about one or two things when looking back upon our journey. The trick, I think, is how much there is to wonder about – in my experiences with death and dying, the most fear and desperation are felt by those who realise that they have waited too long with most everything. Who know, in that final moment, that too much has gone unsaid, undone, unthought. Is that the same as saying that to live to the full – to get to an end with mostly peace – is to rage and burn and rave all our desires to the full? No matter who or what you leave in your wake? Or in what condition? Since it is only you on your own in those dying moments?

And then “dignity” clicked for me – for to live a dignified live is not to live a life without passion and fire, but always living it with the knowledge that you are not the only person being affected by your journey. So, when talking about dignity in death, I think it’s more about the people you leave behind and how they are left. And the balance – that very precarious and flighty thing – is to be found in exactly “dignity in dying”…for then we are living our lives and our passions to the full, realising that we only have so much time in which to do all we desire; but to also do it in such a way that those around us are inspired, are ignited by our passion to find and follow their own, are strengthened by our lives and our journeys. When we manage that, our life, our death, will be something to mostly smile about…something that pushes people onward and upward…something to be proud of.

Be still

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One of those days…

Yesterday two of my colleague friends and I were talking about emotion – about what the ultimate emotion is and what it looks and feels like, about how to create emotion etc. One, Juan, asked me to write a blog about emotions to give him my opinion on things. The irony is that, the more I think about it (and boy, have I thought about it! :D), the more I know that emotion is exactly that which cannot be written or talked about. You cannot “create” emotion in yourself or anyone else; you can only experience it.

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart” – Helen Keller

And so this blog took an unexpected turn – it is not about emotion or the creation of emotion, but rather about being still…about abandoning ourselves to life’s every moment…about allowing ourselves to breathe…For in the living of it, in the letting go of our attempts to analyse it, therein lies the experience of true emotion. It is only then that the voice of our bodies can be heard, even more, that we can resonate with the emotions of those surrounding us. Only in allowing ourselves the simplicity (the freedom?) of completely immersing ourselves in this body, this moment, this heart, can we know what emotion is. Can we become who we need to be and do what we need to do.

“All the knowledge I possess everyone else can acquire, but my heart is all my own.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Immersing ourselves in the moment, no matter how small it may seem.

We cannot, actually, discuss emotion; in fact, we shouldn’t, for then we are missing the point and the emotion. We can and should only allow ourselves to “be still” – to abandon ourselves to the moment, to absorb the totality of every small experience in every day, to become uninhibited.

“There is a relationship between the eye contacts we make and the perceptions that we create in our heads, a relationship between the sound of another’s voice and the emotions that we feel in our hearts, a relationship between our movements in space all around us and the magnetic pulls we can create between others and ourselves. All of these things (and more) make up the magic of every ordinary day and if we are able to live in this magic, to feel and to dwell in it, we will find ourselves living with magic every day. These are the white spaces in life, the spaces in between the written lines, the cracks in which the sunlight filters into. Some of us swim in the overflowing of the wine glass of life, we stand and blink our eyes in the sunlight reaching unseen places, we know where to find the white spaces, we live in magic.” – C. Joybell C.

Giving over to the moment, the emotion, completely.

You are loved!

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This is my beloved, with whom I am well pleased

This week is Pentecost, and as a start to the week’s celebration, I got to listen to a wonderful man named Tom Smith. Because of his teaching, and because of my personal circumstances at this time – my mother is having a very serious back-operation today and my sister-in-law is having the first grandchild on Sarel’s side of the family immanently – these are the thoughts that have been rattling through my brain. I hope my sharing them can mean something to you…

The sad thing is that these wonderfully noble motives often lead us down the wrong track…something I was reminded of again when reading the following from Donald Miller: “If you watched a movie about a guy who wanted a Volvo and worked for years to get it, you wouldn’t cry at the end when he drove off the lot, testing the windshield wipers. You wouldn’t tell your friends you saw a beautiful movie or go home and put a record on to think about the story you’d seen. The truth is, you wouldn’t remember that movie a week later, except you’d feel robbed and want your money back. Nobody cries at the end of a movie about a guy who wants a Volvo. But we spend years actually living those stories, and expect our lives to be meaningful. The truth is, if what we choose to do with our lives won’t make a story meaningful, it won’t make a life meaningful either”.

Now, it might not be a Volvo specifically, but we are more often than not trying to affirm our purpose and meaning through physical things. When actually, in those moments where we are faced with the reality of life and death, it isn’t those things that come to mind. Rather it is the things that make us ugly cry, those things that lift our spirits, that force us to breathe deeply and that confront us with the harsh beauty that life is that our thoughts keep returning to. For those are the things that make our lives worthwhile…that make them feel fully lived in the dark of death’s shadow…and at the basis of all these things lies our desire to be loved! It is in the meaning our lives have for those around us – in the love that we are looked at, that we are hugged with – that we finally know that our being here has not been in vain. That knowing that one life has breathed easier because we have lived.

The most wonderful thing?! That, even before we start looking at the people around us – people who can be fickle and childish – we can be grounded in God’s overwhelming love! “The LORD your God is with you;
his power gives you victory. The LORD will take delight in you, and in his love he will give you new life. He will sing and be joyful over you, as joyful as people at a festival.” – Zephaniah 3:17 The Lord DELIGHTS in the mere fact of our existence! He SINGS over the people He has created us to be! And that only because we exist – BEFORE we DO or SAY anything?! My life has meaning because I am I, created by God to be the me I am, my only purpose being to stay true to the dream He dreamt when He made me. We just have to BE for our lives to have abundant meaning! So let’s stop chasing and striving and being so busy with what the world expects that we forget who we are…let’s refocus on God and his delight…let’s relax…for WE are his BELOVED, with whom He is well pleased!

The simple way…

Sore thumb

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“Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.” – Albert Einstein

Earlier today I was talking to my mother – a woman of beautifully simple and childlike faith (something I have always envied in a way) – looking at the tears in her eyes as she explains to me how stupid she feels when comparing her faith and life to those of others. I tell her that she shouldn’t be comparing herself or her journey/faith to others, as it is exactly the uniqueness of her life that makes her special and mesmerising. And yet, at the back of my mind, I know that I should actually be “preaching” this to myself, for I know that I am constantly comparing. We are all constantly comparing…from our bodies to our things to our faith…and we almost never come out on top… We are so quick to see and appreciate the value of others, yet simultaneously always quicker to dismiss ourselves. But then I am reminded that you can only see others as clearly as you see yourself…which implies that we aren’t really seeing other people as accurately as we think we are…and that we are using skew images to compare ourselves to…like walking in one of those classic carnival “Hall of Mirrors” and taking whatever we see – no matter how disfigured – as our only truth…

“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” – Maya Angelou

But that means that I, that every one of us, are not living within the identity God gave us. We might be confessing that belief every day, but we sure aren’t living it – for our every need to compare ourselves to others is a warped sense of self worth and a not-so-solid self esteem, based on a definition of success that we never chose in the first place! The solution, obviously, would then be to stop comparing yourself – by building your self worth and developing a solid self-esteem that cannot be disturbed by outside factors and opinions. For doing so will give you the freedom to be the only person you were ever meant to be – yourself. The wonderful – and terribly embarrassing – thing is that we do not need to search for a source of self worth or a basis for developing self-esteem, because WE ALREADY HAVE IT! We have had it all along!

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule…you’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you…you’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought…you’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat…you’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.” – Matthew 5:3-8

“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers – most of which are never even seen – don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” – Matthew 6:30-34

So, if we truly are the believers we claim to be, we have to stop comparing! We have to start finding ourselves where we should always have been looking – with God. And we should RELY ONLY on His opinion! “If God had wanted me otherwise, He would have created me otherwise.” – Johann von Goethe “Don’t compromise yourself. You are all you’ve got.” – Janis Joplin

“Each of us has a fire in our hearts for something. It’s our goal in life to find it and to keep it lit.” – Mary Lou Retton

The heart of God

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“JOY is the SERIOUS BUSINESS of HEAVEN!” – CS Lewis

I had the privilege of being present at a baby shower last weekend, and the joy of a wonderful Cape vacation this weekend…and all I constantly found myself thinking about was the spiritual discipline of joy. Which sounds strange – how can joy be a discipline?! But maybe it isn’t that strange, seeing that God’s joy and its many different faces surrounded me.

For the joy of the Lord does surround us – in the spectacle we call “Creation”. Just think about how different the story of creation would have been if God had not been as enthusiastic and as joyous…if He had created like we so often do. Content with “it’s all right”. Not wanting to have to go to too much effort. Just doing the bare minimum to get by. What a sad and depressing thing Creation would have been! But instead infinite combinations, spectacular engineering and abundant creative thought surround us. God did not “settle”, did not simply say, “it’s OK” or “it’ll have to do” – His creation ended with “it was GOOD!” And it was!

And it is this joy, this pleasure of the simple fact of being alive and having possibilities to consider, which should fill us with gratitude and make us jump out of bed every morning. Joy is at the heart of God’s plan for us…is at the heart of God! Does this mean we will never know sorrow? Quite the contrary – we were promised two things…one: that we would be surrounded by difficulty and sorrow…two: that we would never be alone in this, and that we would always have something to look forward to, to strive towards “with grace in our hearts and flowers in our hair” – Mumford & Sons

Go home and prepare a feast, holiday food and drink; and share it with those who don’t have anything: This day is holy to God. Don’t feel bad. The joy of God is your strength!” – Nehemiah 8:9-10

So, make time to celebrate every day’s smallest of miracles. Always keep in front of you the Source of our joy and strong hope. And remember, selfishness is the only thing that keeps us from experiencing the myriad joys God puts into our every day. So don’t just wait…LIVE abundantly! For “today is the day that the Lord has made!”

Up! And away!

Mission impossible

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When the answer is "no"...

In life, we all love a good mystery. I’m sure that, if we were to talk about our favourite TV series’, one or other of the “CSI”’s, “Law & Order”’s, “Criminal minds”, “Lie to me”, Dexter” etc. would pop up. We love the uncertainty, the tension and the figuring it out. Except when it comes to prayer and our spiritual journey. There we don’t want any uncertainty or mystery…and definitely NO TENSION! That’s why we latch onto those believers, those stories, of immediate answer – whether it be healing or a job or a husband. We desperately want the same for ourselves. Otherwise we (and others) start to question our faith. But uncertainty and mystery is exactly what we so often experience…if we’re honest…Those times when our question isn’t answered and our issue isn’t addressed.

In these situations people LOVE to quote the Bible at you, when pointing out that it must be your lack of faith that is leading to this calamity. And indeed it is true, in the life of Jesus we often find him talking about the importance of faith when having to do with miracles. Countless examples can be given of the faith He talked about while healing, exorcising, moving mountains…Matthew 17:20 being only one…

But what about those times when, no matter the size of your faith, the mountains don’t move? We have all known people, whose faith were our bedrock and our example, that landed in situations that they could not pray themselves out of. And we KNOW that we can’t pin it on their lack of faith. But what then?!

“I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me: ‘My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness’. Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.” – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

We do not know exactly what the “handicap” is that Paul talks about – most recently researchers have stated that it was probably his physical “disability” due to the struggle, hard travel, beatings, floggings etc. that were part of his everyday living. But we do know that he pleaded with God to remove it three times…and that, every one of those three times, God said “no”. Paul, a bastion for what faith is, did not receive what he was praying for. But then again, neither did Jesus – think back on the Garden of Olives…

What, then, can we surmise about faith and prayer? Maybe these things…

Abandon

  • Faith and prayer shouldn’t be about me; it should be about moving ever closer to God and his heart. This is not the same as saying that I can’t pray for myself, but that it does matter what I am praying for when it comes to me – am I praying for more tolerance, wisdom and courage? I have a feeling that, the closer we become, the more our prayers will change.
  • Faith and prayer is not about certainty, far from it! It is about being real and honest. Faith and uncertainty/doubt walk hand in hand, and form the basis of an honest relationship with God. Only in honesty can there be growth and change.
  • Faith and prayer cannot be about “testing” God. That is not real relationship, nor does it symbolise trust.
  • Faith and prayer were never meant to be for “individuals only”. When we start praying in community with others, it is amazing how our prayers are refined. How difficult it becomes to pray from a selfish place.

We are called to pray actively, personally, honestly, intimately, energetically and relationally – not because it guarantees us answers, but because it guarantees us relationship. And in relationship, even “no” starts to sound different…feel different…