Tag Archives: paradox

Isn’t it funny?

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Life will always remain a strange thing…an enigma…the biggest variable in any one of our individual life’s plots…filling it with both pain and beauty. We can experience death and new life all in the span of one week. We can reach the most glorious highs on some levels, while simultaneously experiencing the lowest of lows. Funny that. Funny using an expression like “isn’t it funny” for something that’s actually not “funny” at all, but rather difficult, bizarre or uncomfortable.

When the writer of Ecclesiastes says, “there is a time for everything”, he makes it sound so neat in a way. Yes, he mentions things like a time to cry and a time to die; but it still sounds so ordered – like there is a rhythm even to those times, that they will follow on each other, that you will always be able to move from the one to the other. And yet, in our living life, we come to realise that those times aren’t “neat” or “rhythmic”, mostly they are intertwined – joy with tears, success with disappointment, and life with death. Which is so contra-instinctive for us – we WANT life to be more “reliable”, more predictable. We NEED life to be simpler. We NEED to hold on to the belief that tomorrow will be different…will be better…will be more. But life continues on its “merry” way, and tomorrow usually ends up being the same as today – complicated. Which means that we can (and often do!) spend a lot of time questioning the meaning of our existence, the sense our living holds, the reason for our being. Getting so caught up in thinking about life that we don’t live it. But, you might say, such a complicated mess is not worth calling life, never mind living it! And yet, it is what it is, and it remains so no matter our thoughts on the matter.

So why is it worth it? What is the significance of this quagmire? Where is God in all of this? “Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery, like the idle, curved tunnels of leaf miners on the surface of a leaf. We must somehow take a wider view, look at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what’s going on here. Then we can at least wail the right question into the swaddling band of darkness, or, if it comes to that, choir the proper praise.” – Annie Dillard “Let children walk with nature, let them see the beautiful blending and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life.” – John Muir

We should not strive for peace and calm and simple, for it is only in the difficulty and the chaos and the mess that we can plumb the depths of who we are. You cannot be truly brave and courageous without having felt fear tinge your being and overcoming it. You cannot truly live without confronting the complex reality that life is. “I don’t believe that life is supposed to make you feel good, or make you feel miserable either. Life is just supposed to make you feel.” – Gloria Naylor In the fullness of the total experience, in our giving ourselves over to every piece of it, in our looking every part of life and death straight in the eye and conquering it; therein lies living. For if you’re not ready to die, then how can you live? So…hoohah! “To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.” – Mary Oliver

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