Tag Archives: life

God’s window

Standard

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.


Death and dignity

Standard

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.

Always blessed be

Standard

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.

Tangled

Standard

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

Value added

Standard

Transforming (rediscovering?) value

How do you define the value of a life? Of your life?

Society has given us many ways to define value…or is that success as value…? All of us are almost programmed with lists of things we have to want to be, do and achieve in order to be estimated as valuable. But, when all is said and done, when there is nobody left but you and nothing other than your thoughts and memories – your heart – what are the things that make you feel valuable? What are the things you think about and treasure?

Tonight, as I was sitting on the Gautrain coming home with my youngest godson sleeping on my lap, I realised once again that those are the moments that matter. That those are the things we should be striving toward. When I think back on my life those are the moments I remember, the moments that make my heart feel like bursting with a sense of purpose and wellbeing. Another life trusting me enough to be completely vulnerable with me. I once thought that what you put out into the world, those things that the world around us measures as being successful, would make me feel valuable. But I have come to realise that it is not the academic article I write for three people to read and one to like; the qualifications that I have; the amount of things on society’s checklist that I have been able to tick off, or even living up to what others see as my potential that makes my being present, my living here, meaningful.
The moments that life, my life, has made the most sense were those moments spent with others. It is only in seeing/recognising one another (which implies being and respecting yourself and allowing others the same courtesy), in journeying together and discussing everything from farting to world peace that we can ever start to know what true value is – in the best of times and in the worst of times.

Valueing others

“Love is the expression of one’s values, the greatest reward you can earn for the moral qualities you have achieved in your character and person, the emotional price paid by one man for the joy he receives from the virtues of another.” – Ayn Rand

“Different things delight different people. But it is my delight to keep the ruling faculty sound without turning away either from any man or from any things which happen to men, but looking at and receiving all with welcome eyes and using everything according to its value.” – Marcus Aurelius

“He who does not feel his friends to be the world to him, does not deserve that the world should hear of him.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


					

Allo! Allo!

Standard

“Success is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well” – Jim Rohn

It is right at the start of our journey together that I have to confess to always having had trouble with the above sentiment, as I have always had this inner obsession with the idea that only the very biggest and best will do, for “ordinary” is just a polite way of saying “plain”/”inconsequential”. See, I wanted to be the new Oprah – changing the world one conversation at a time, world domination and influence no mere fantasy but an everyday reality. For I thought that was the only way that I could mean something; that my life could contribute to the betterment of the world.

And then reality hit…hard…as only reality can. And I was forced – by quite a few years of having the option of “ordinary” with a side of “ordinary” – to face the fact that life is made up of ordinary moments. And that it is exactly in each and every “ordinary” moment that extraordinary and meaningful things happen.

 “Nothing is poetical if plain daylight is not poetical; and no monster should amaze us if the normal man does not amaze.” – GK Chesterton

Most of our lives are “small” – we move in small circles and do small things. But, I have learnt, “small” is not the same as “ordinary” or “unimportant”. What our life’s meaning is and will be depends on the viewpoint we choose. And in choosing to do those small things that are put on our path to do with enthusiasm and joy, interacting (really interacting) with those few people God gifts our journey with in love – therein lies true beauty and extraordinariness.

the joy of the small things

“We can learn to rejoice in even the smallest blessings our life holds. It is easy to miss our own good fortune; often happiness comes in ways we don’t even notice. It’s like a cartoon I saw of an astonished-looking man saying, ‘What was that?’ The caption below read, ‘Bob experiences a moment of well-being.’ The ordinariness of our good fortune can make it hard to catch. The key is to be here, fully connected with the moment, paying attention to the details of ordinary life. By taking care of ordinary things – our pots and pans, our clothing, our teeth – we rejoice in them. When we scrub a vegetable or brush our hair, we are expressing appreciation: friendships toward ourselves and toward the living quality that is found in everything. This combination of mindfulness and appreciation connects us fully with reality and brings us joy.” – Pema Chodron

So join me in a new way of rejoicing – rejoicing in the ordinary, the small and the everyday – giving each one of us SO much more to be joyful about! Precisely those small and ordinary things, all bundled together, become your extraordinary legacy. “Whoever is faithful in what is least, is also faithful in what is greater” (Luke 16:10a).