Category Archives: Health, Wellbeing, Spirituality

Changes, Changes, Changes!

To every thing there is a season … Ecclesiastes 3
change-good-now-how-get-employees
Changes, changes, changes … many years ago a sage whispered those words in my ears. Life is all about changes. My life has been witness to so many changes. There are times I wish it wasn’t so. Sure, change can be exciting and full of adventure but change can also be traumatic. Change can be so very painful.

I am packing up house again. When we bought this block of land nearly nine years ago, I wanted this to be the last move. I have moved over thirty-five times in my life. I wanted this home to be the place where I turn 90, sit in my rocker, watch the sunset, smoke a pipe and demand more wine! It was not to be. Changes, changes, changes.

There are so many changes that we face in our lives: a new relationship, or the end of one; a new job, or an employment termination; the arrival of a new family member, or the loss of a loved one that leaves us gutted and empty for years; a new home, or, like me, packing up the boxes to leave; a new tribe, or saying goodbye to a group that you poured so many years of identity and belonging into. All change requires us to adjust. All change causes stress, one way or the other.

door-672999_1920

Not all change is easily defined into the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ box. Our personal make-up, and how we perceive change, has a lot to do with how change will ultimately affect us. In some way, just like our canine companions, we are creatures of habit. We like things to stay the same. But Life refuses to pamper that notion. So is there something we can do to create greater change agility?

Perhaps the most important thing is to recognise that certitude is not really part of life’s dance. We prefer a slow and predictable waltz, yet life often demands we commit to a daring tango that will require all our focus and energy. Maybe that is why we are so drawn to absolutes, comfort and security? Deep inside we know that change is as sure as the rhythmns of the seasons, but we have become infatuated with the idea of an everlasting summer … and is that any wonder when so many modern mantras and cliches feed our false paradigms of safety and certainty.

As a person of faith, I find hope in the thought that Divine Providence holds our fragile world. Like a skilled weaver, the Author of Time is creating a magnificent, colourful tapestry that holds the tears and joy, as well as the shadow and light of history. Considering this, is it any wonder that change has been woven into the fabric of our existence? We all play a part in a compelling narrative that propels us out of comfort zones and makes us confront our embedded resistance to change.

So, dear friend, if you, like me, are facing seasons of change, I truly empathise. Each person’s story is different and there are really no trite answers to anyone’s situation. I simply believe we arrive at some intersections in our lives that often only present themselves once in a lifetime – and when they do, it is time to be brave. To be brave does not mean the absence of fear. Rather, that we refuse to allow fear to dominate that moment. So here is to you, here is to us. Let’s be brave together.

Just when I think I have learned the way to live, life changes. – Hugh Prather

Article-Change-by-stealth

Reflections on Faith & Superstition

“Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.” Bertrand Russell

eyes-218185_1280

Myth, legend and superstition: the stuff of my childhood. Those familiar with Norse and Germanic mythology will know some of the popular Icelandic sagas like The Saga of Volsungs, with dragons and treasure and a hero called Sigurd. Then you add the East Prussian myths and superstitions and you have a cauldron of fear and excitement. Both sets of my grandparents were superstitious. I recall my mother telling a story of how her parents treated the wart on her finger by rubbing a potatoe on it under a full moon, and the next day it was gone. These were the stories that filled my imagination as a child.
dragon-238931_1920

Many years later, I would read the surprising ancient text of the Gospel according to Luke. I approached this biblical narrative with the same mindset as I would a Brothers Grimm Fairy Tale or Norse mythology. Yet, I was very quickly engrossed in the story of a remarkable revolutionary. In the words and life of Christ, I found a compelling blueprint for societal and cultural transformation. The words of Jesus, to me, held no comparison to any fairytale, nor, could they be regarded as wisdom literature from a benevolent Jewish rabbi. They were dangerous words – subversive and highly political in their context. They led to his death. This Jesus story was very different to those of my childhood. And this man, carrying a cross, beckoned me to do the same. It was an invitation to follow in his radical footsteps and learn that love is greater than fear.

There was a fearlessness about Jesus that was breathtaking. The centrality of his message was transformation through the realisation that a different kingdom had been ushered in – different to the kingdoms that were built on power, politics, fear, greed, or even religion. It was a message of hope to the oppressed. His kingdom message turns societal norms on its head: where the first will be last, where the poor are blessed, where the humble are honoured, where the servant is the greatest, where the outcast and marginalised are welcomed and accepted, where love overcomes fear …

at-the-feet-of-jesus
Where love overcomes fear! Perhaps this holds a key to the genetic difference between faith and superstition? They both look so alike at times, like wheat and tares. Some of my friends would argue that there really is no difference. The same factors that motivate a mother to rub a potatoe on the finger of her child, believing for healing under the full moon, some say, would be the same factors that cause another mother to pray for her child and believe for the same result. Faith and superstition: is there really a difference? They seem identical.

When you begin to critically examine some of the contemporary Christian messaging, you may find it extremely difficult to tell the difference between faith and superstition:

– A God who is portrayed as love, yet will banish those who refuse to reciprocate his love to eternal torture.9_funny_jesus_thumbs_up

– A God who ensures that you get a car park in some shopping centre when you pray ‘just right’, but seems to be deaf to the cries of 22,000 children that die every day due to poverty.

– A God who will give you ‘your best life now’ when you adhere to certain success paradigms, or tithe, or send money to that evangelist.

– An everlasting, almighty God who loves everybody, but in a twist that resembles an Orwell novel, especially if they are white, male, privileged and conservative …

… it all sounds a bit superstitious, doesn’t it?

Some modern expressions of Christianity seem to have drifted a little ways from a Rabbi who preached about a kingdom of good news that seemed to benefit ‘the least of them’ the most. In fact, it seems that the basis of some of the current Christian ideology is based on karma and superstition: “Do this and God will do that.”

It is in the time of crisis that these apparent identical twins of faith and superstition begin to bear fruit. And it is in their motivation that the difference is most noted: Love vs. Fear. Crisis is one of the few times that you can stand back and very clearly distinguish the two. Superstition, which I observed in my childhood and later in some Christian paradigms (including my own, when I was in the throes of fundamentalism), is driven by fear.

Fear that becomes palpable in times of crisis or contradiction.
Fear that reverts to karma.
Fear that paints pictures of a God that needs to be appeased.
Fear that sees ‘the other’ as evil, far from God, or responsible for the bad things that happen.
Fear that forgets that loving your neighbour the way you would want to be loved and accepted, kind of goes with this radical Jesus that Christianity is meant to be built upon.
(O and let me just spell out this neighbour bit: this could be your Muslim Neighbour, your LGBTIQ Neighbour, your Refugee Neighbour, your Poor Neighbour, your Other Religion Neighbour, your Obnoxious Neighbour, your Ill Neighbour, your Old Neighbour, your Asian Neighbour, your Black Neighbour, your White Neighbour, your Global Neighbour … get the picture?)
Fear and conspiracy theories that can reduce followers of Christ to angry and paranoid people, with a massive persecution complex.
Fear that always needs a scapegoat so we can feel better about the angst of our own vulnerability.

Faith, on the other hand, approaches times of crisis quite differently:
Faith recognises in the biblical narrative a greater story of Divine Providence.
Faith sees Christ as the expression of this Divine Providence.
Faith believes that the good news of Christ’s kingdom brings hope and light in times of darkness.
Faith produces actions that speak of hope, light and love.
Faith sees the image of God in every human being and therefore treats every person with dignity and respect.
Faith believes in Grace, not Karma.
Faith believes that love is the greatest – no excuses, no uncomfortable pauses … The greatest of all is love.

The genetic make-up of faith causes it to shine with love in times of crisis. Where fear becomes a quagmire of paranoia, protocol and law, faith chooses the path of risk and courage, because for faith, perfect love drives out fear.

So for faith, love always wins.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear … 1 John 4

Girl is holding a black cat

Reflections from Shabbat: A Call to Rest

“Our relentless emphasis on success and productivity has become a form of violence. We have lost the necessary rhythm of life, the balance between effort and rest, doing and not doing.” Wayne Muller

sab-rst

If you happen to find yourself in Israel on a Saturday you may encounter this peculiar phenomenon when using the elevators: they automatically stop on every level. And if you want to learn from this post, and not make an idiot of yourself like I did, do not go up to the receptionist and tell them that their elevator is out of order. Have compassion on this poor human. After all, how many ‘tourist ignoramisus’ can one person bear?! On Shabbat, many of the elevators work in a special mode to allow Jews to observe Shabbat and abstain from operating electrical switches. It is a day of rest. And in a speed-crazy world we have so much to learn from our Jewish brothers and sisters.

The Jewish tradition of keeping Shabbat stems from the Creation narrative and the Torah (Law). It was a day of rest and worship for the ancient Israelites. Violating Shabbat had serious consequences as the day was considered holy, dedicated to G-d. It established and bolstered Jewish identity amongst other nations and cultures as it was an expression of Jewish faith, a national identity marker. Today Shabbat is considered the most important day in the Jewish calendar and often referred to as “Shabbat HaMalka”, the Sabbath Queen.

AR-709219995.jpg&updated=201309171318&MaxW=800&maxH=800&noborder

Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Polish-born American Rabbi and leading Jewish theologian and philosopher of the 20th century, writes this about Shabbat:

“The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation, from the world of creation to the creation of the world … When history began, there was only one holiness in the world, holiness in time.” (The Sabbath)

Whether we are people of a particular faith or not, we can all learn from Shabbat. It calls us to mindfulness. It reminds us that rest is to be celebrated. It is not something to be ashamed of or forced. The centrality of keeping Shabbat is to remind Jews of the release of slavery from Egypt. The Egyptian exile is a metaphor for any enslavement, says Rabbi Becher, be it physical or spiritual. By ceasing work and resting we demonstrate that we are not enslaved to the physical world. When a person is incapable of refraining from work, then they have indeed become a slave!

Walter Brueggemann writes, “In our own contemporary context of the rat race of anxiety, the celebration of Sabbath is an act of both resistance and alternative. It is resistance because it is a visible insistence that our lives are not defined by the production and consumption of commodity goods.”
(Sabbath as Resistance)

51fSgKq+1BL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_

Shabbat confronts us with our own restlessness and constant addiction to activity and engagement. For people of faith, Shabbat is a space that is holy and blessed, and beckons us to connect again with creation and the Creator.

In our modern, success-driven, technology-addicted world we stand in danger of loosing our souls in a zombie-like trance of mindlessness. We stand to loose connection to the rhythm of life. Rhythm is the heartbeat that G-d has put as a sacred marker throughout creation to remind us of the sacredness of time and the importance of being mindful of our days. Whether Jewish or not, or whether we are a person of faith or not, considering and learning from Shabbat makes us mindful of this rhythm. It teaches us to listen, to hear, to see … to breathe!

Dear friend, I trust this blog may be helpful in jolting you out of entrenched mindlessness. We are the people of ‘ruach’ and life. All around us is rhythm. May your ears hear its gentle sound and not the hypnotic lies of a fear-mongering, power-hungry, consumer-addicted ideology that blares at us through the various media channels. Rather, may you free yourself from those chains … may you rediscover rest and rhythm … and may you dance …

“Everything has rhythm, everything dances.” Maya Angelou

hamburg-1508779_1920

(If you are interested in listening to an address I gave at a church on ‘The Sabbath’, please click here.)

Travelling Light!

“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other places, other lives, other souls.” – Anais Nin

P1120946

Minimalism is about attitude. Perhaps it’s also about being honest. We don’t need all the stuff we think we do. And when it comes to travel, there’s nothing else that dampens the spirit of adventure like dragging a cargo load of overpacked suitcases around.

Over my various traveling expeditions, I have attempted to down-scale my suitcase size and the stuff I pack. Never once have I experienced a frightening, under-packed ‘situation’. In fact, quite the opposite. I return home with clothes not worn and gadgets that I never once took out the suitcase.

luggage_tower_by_saint_seiya

So as we plan to embark on another journey, I am already preparing myself to travel light. This trip is tricky. Firstly, a conference where I need to look somewhat put together. Then a holiday, in which I will predominantly live in hiking gear. My plan is black. Black is brilliant.

I will take 2 pairs of black pants that can be used for the conference with a couple of nice tops. These pants will then be converted to hiking pants with long flannel shirts (hey, don’t judgtumblr_nm22l1On2W1ro4hejo1_500e the flannel). A light, black cardigan and black boots can be useful in both settings. I will wear my hiking boots on the plane. Black down vest when it gets chilly. The necessary gear for wet, cold weather – jacket, beanie, gloves, scarf. Not forgetting underwear, socks, bathers, a tiny emergency kit and toiletries. Done!

Now a few things that I have found useful:

Don’t Leave Your Packing to Last Minute.
 
You will stress and overpack. Or you will stress, overpack and forget stuff. Why not open your suitcase a week early and begin to throw in all the useful things you want to take: cords for your phone, giant hair curlers, coffee machine, nose-hair clippers, whatever takes your fancy.

Have a ‘To Do’ list in Place for Travel

If you travel a lot, why not write a list that you can follow in order to make the preparation time stress-free? Mine includes things like making sure that the humans that remain at home are cared for and informed, that the fur children are sorted, and that visas and passports are in order.

Talking about passports: Remember that some foreign governments require visitors to carry passports with at least six months validity beyond their planned stay. You may be refused entry if you fail to comply. So don’t be stuck on the doorstep of some exotic place, with your nifty, tiny suitcase, only to find you need to turn around and go back home! As the Penguins from Madagascar would say: “Well, that sucks!”

Think Looooooong Plane Trip

My partner thinks flying is a most wondrous invention (check out his blog on travel hints here). I hate it. I hate airports. I hate the long lines at passport control. I hate cooped up planes. I hate all the human noises on the cooped up planes. And there are not enough hours in the day to hate the plane toilets. Other than that, I am actually quite a positive person. So amidst all this hating, I have to prepare myself mentally before a flight!

My hand luggage includes something to knock myself out on for long, overnight flight (I mean legal stuff, right?!), a water bottle, face cream, deodorant, eye cover, EAR PLUGS (!), iPad and camera. I don’t wear makeup on flights. I am 50 years old and have earned the right to look as pale as Morticia if I want to. Also, if by chance you ever sit next to me on a plane – don’t talk and don’t make eye contact and we’ll be great friends.

DSC01150 (2)

Money, Honey

Have you got enough cash for all the coffee table books you will buy and never look at again? You will pay a lot on extra charges using your credit card. You can also use a travel card. Just keep it all safe. There are many others who would love to share your earnings!

Trying out Suitcase Organisers

A friend recommended these clever little suitcase organisers. It appeals to my sense of German and order. And I bought them on sale which appeals to my sense of ‘tight arseness’. Will keep you posted on their success rate.

Essential Packing: A Sense of Wonder!

P1130790
When all is said and done, let us consider what a great privilege it is to be able to travel and explore new places (take note, grumpy-travelling-self!). Our ancestors would not even have imagined such possibilities. So let’s journey with a sense of wonder. And, friends, let’s not allow ourselves to be robbed of our moments and experiences by trying to catch everything on camera or feeding the relentless social media machine. Wonder can’t really be captured that way. Rather, it is a gift that only the heart can hold.

May your journey be blessed!
 2014-09-17 13.47.21
“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” – Gustave Flaubert

 

Thin Places: Where Heaven and Earth Embrace

“Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”
Exodus 3:5

P1160369 (3)

Last year I visited Elk, or Lyck as it was known to my family. The town of my ancestors. I stood on the shores of the lake that held so many of my childhood fantasies. Fantasies that were fed by my grandmother’s mesmerising stories. I walked through the vibrant forest, up a hill, overlooking that magical place of a thousand lakes. I could hear whispers from the past, a distinct sense of the closeness of another dimension. It hit me. I was again standing amidst a Thin Place.

P1160551 (1)

The Celts coined the term ‘Thin Place’ for spaces and moments where the distance between heaven and earth seems almost non-existent. There is a Celtic saying that heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the Thin Places the distance is even smaller. My guess would be that the first person to utter the term probably did so in an Irish brogue, as they stood in wonder, looking at the wind-swept isle of Iona or the rocky peaks of Croagh Patrick.

Thin Places confuse our senses. We suddenly see the world in a different light. Our perceptions change. With breathless wonder we encounter the Divine and it changes us. For people who hold to a faith, Thin Places are those places where we feel most strongly connected to God’s presence.

“Thin Places,” the Celts call this space,
Both seen and unseen,
Where the door between the world
And the next is cracked open for a moment
And the light is not all on the other side.
God shaped space. Holy.”

P1110520 (1)

As I stood looking around by the lake at Elk, memories came flooding back. I was familiar with Thin Places. I remember the moment I stepped onto the edge of the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, that holy hush that descends as all words fall short in the face of such beauty. Or as I watched the sea eagles swoop through pristine Norwegian fjords. I recall the Thin Place moment as I trudged through the dark, cold catacombs along the via Appia in Rome, sensing that I was surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. And then there are those Thin Places of life and death. The moment when I took my newborn into my arms and marvelled at the wonder of life. Or when I held the hand of my dying mother on one warm and balmy December evening, and watched her pass over to another dimension filled with light.

So what makes a Thin Place ‘thin’? Not every beautiful place we encounter is a ‘Thin Place’ and it is not necessarily marked because of its tranquility. Perhaps a Thin Place can best be identified through how it effects us, changes us, strips us, and transforms us. We can’t really plan day trips to Thin Places. Rather, it seems, that Thin Places find us. Those mindful moments when suddenly we catch a glimpse of heaven and earth, unencumbered. It is that moment of recognition that Jacob experienced and exclaimed: “God is in this place — truly. And I didn’t even know it!”

It is the moment we passionately wake up:

“Indeed, it is a lovely testimony to the fullness and integrity of an experience or a stage of life that it intensifies towards the end into a real frontier that cannot be crossed without the heart being passionately engaged and woken up. At this threshold a great complexity of emotion comes alive: confusion, fear, excitement, sadness, hope.” John O’Donohue

Africa Safari - 2 117 (1)

As I stand on the threshold of a new and different tomorrow, I also sense this is a Thin Place. I feel like the last few decades, lived in a blur of hurry and productivity, have given way to a rhythm of grace, and of seeing and hearing with an ever increasing sense of wonder. It has not been a comfortable place. I don’t think Thin Places are intended to be. Rather, it has been a place of irrevocable change of the way I view and relate to the world and who I am.

What about you? Can you identify some Thin Places in your life? What was it about them that made them Thin Places? How are you different because of those moments?

You only have one life to live and it’s not as long as we’d like to imagine. May you resist the temptation to live it in the way others expect of you. May you live deeply and not be asleep when the sun rises. May your very life be the sacrament of a Thin Place for you.

“A sacrament is when something holy happens. It is transparent time, time which you can see through to something deep inside time … you are apt to catch a glimpse of the almost unbearable preciousness and mystery of life.” Frederick Buechner

4bd000554f95497215801b1031e7d080

 

Sticks and Stones May Break Your Bones but Words … !

6360008665375336441460888131_words

They are wrong. Words can kill you.

Words are powerful. They shape our perception of the world around us. A single word can make us feel sad, mad, happy, or dissatisfied. Sometimes the words of others can pierce our heart like a sword. Words can wound. Some of those wounds we never really recover from.

With the skill of an artisan weaver, politicians, religious leaders, media, friends, family and our own minds, can weave words together that dramatically affect how we see another person or people group. Or how we see ourselves.

The delusional words of fanatics have led to some of the greatest crimes against humanity. While the words of wisdom of a young woman, shot in the head by her enemies, can mesmerise a room of powerful world leaders.

The words of artists can tap into our souls like no other. The gift of poets and lyricists amongst us help us express our deepest fears, prejudice, and longings.

Words are never expressed in a vacuum. And when the context of jokes and jests are made in a social atmosphere that is charged with violence, tension, or trauma, these words cannot, must not, be ignored.

power_of_words__mehdi_amini

The Orlando massacre was not simply a deranged man killing the innocent. It is the action of a man living in a world filled with many words of hatred, religious elitism, prejudice and ignorance, towards those who are deemed as ‘other’.

The words of a mob mocking an Australian Indigenous footballer are not heard or made in a void. Rather, they are a declaration in a historical context of racism, violence, genocide, and wounding.

The words of jest about killing a woman are not made from a position of non-violence. They often come from the mouths of the privileged, made in the context of a growing body-count of women killed, or maimed, as a result of violence.

The words of disdain towards those who choose not to eat the flesh of animals are not heard or absorbed by people who have not seen suffering. Rather, from a place where human hearts are broken as we bear witness to the horrific reality of abuse and cruelty towards our gentle earthling friends.

Words can wreck lives. There are so many words I wish I hadn’t said. So many words I can never take back. So many words that were just the product of internal strife, anger, ignorance, arrogance, or presumption.

If we want to be proud supporters of Freedom of Speech, then we should also hold a compulsory license of compassion and understanding.

If we view any curtailing of ‘free speech’ as an imposition or even ‘persecution’ by the ‘tolerance police’ then perhaps we should also consider that the words spoken from positions of power and influence, that marginalise or slander others, can be viewed as a form of bigotry and hatred.

Perhaps our very word-filled world needs to take breaths of silence? Imagine if we used that silence to walk in the shoes of another, to feel their pain, their heartache …

Sticks and Stones may break your bones but Words … ?

Words are thrown at you every day. Please know that you do not owe them your homage.

And words are also given to you, dear friend. Consider how you use them in our vulnerable world.

6b48d6b3d75a93fb250ed1ed49a259b2

An uninvited Guest: Reflections on Grief

A Repost from last year:

DSC_0148

It was November 2007. My 11 year old German Shepherd staggered into the kitchen and collapsed. His heart had failed. We called a mobile vet and it was on this day we said goodbye to Simba. I grieved that dog. Those who love their animal friends will understand the pain of losing a fur child. A couple of weeks later, after I had come back from a retreat, the phone rang. It was my dad, informing me that my mum had been taken to hospital. She died three weeks later. It was just before Christmas. Mum had been undergoing treatment for a thyroid condition, which turned out to be a misdiagnosis. My world stopped. Just a week after we said goodbye to mum, early on New Years’ morning, we received another phone call. That type of phone call that any parent who has ever received one, never really recovers from. All our three children and two of their friends had been involved in a horrific car crash. All were injured and the next few days became a nightmare of emergency and intensive care wards. It was all a blur and it felt like somewhere in November I had opened my front door and Grief walked in, uninvited.

How do you begin to describe this uninvited guest? Maybe by the way it affects us. Sadness, so overwhelming that you can’t even cry. Illogical anger and rage. Guilt, resentfulness, regret, panic, depression and fear. It was C.S. Lewis who wrote about this in ‘A Grief Observed’: “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” Lewis’ wife, Joy, had passed away from cancer and he had kept a journal observing his grief. This journal was later published. I have found it to be one of the most helpful books on this topic. Grief feels so much like fear because when we have lost a loved one we stare into a future where someone has turned off the light switch and it is utter darkness. Nothing brings back who we have lost. We live in a constant dread that life will never be the same.

“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again, but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to.”
~ Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and John Kessler

38b97d5c6a1fec2b74fdf7962c85d77a_l

In a haze of shock and numbness, I recall friends and family doing their best to help make this journey through the valley of tears a bit easier. Please don’t ever underestimate the importance of your actions and words towards someone who is grieving. Your kindness through this time brings a tiny bit of warmth into someone’s world. A world that has not only gone dark, but has frozen over in pain. “The death of a beloved is an amputation,” observes Lewis. I would add it feels like an amputation of the heart.

Grief calls on all of us throughout our lives. This unwelcome visitor does not knock. It just walks right in and for the next few weeks, months or years, you are left to entertain it, as you struggle through the various stages. Grief, that suddenly rushes at you, even years down the track. Grief, that makes you feel so alone in your chronic pain. “In my distress I groan out loud and am reduced to skin and bones,” laments the Psalmist (Psalm 102). Grief, that plays out its visit on every life in a different manner. Grief, that does not stick to any rules. “Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape,” writes Lewis. Our grief, just like our life, is a unique journey.

Grief bombards us with every emotion. We cry to the point that we are convinced we will never shed another tear. We may feel guilty as we look at a hurting world around us. “There are so many people worse off than me,” we tell ourselves to try and downplay our reality. Comparing grief is not helpful. It is what it is. Our loss, whatever it may be, is real and hurts like hell. We need to accept it. As we journey, let us try and surround ourselves with loving people. Friends who come, who sit, who talk about our loss, who listen, who are not absent. Don’t do this alone. “The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of confusion or despair, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing … not healing … not curing … that is a friend indeed.” – Henri Nouwen

During grief, you are dealing with a muddled mind. If you can, avoid making any major decisions at this time. Be kind to yourself: remember to eat and sleep. It’s bizarre how we forget basic human needs and rhythm in times of trauma. Cry when you feel to and find a place of solitude where you can yell if you want to – or howl at the moon, as a friend of mine recommended. Be patient with yourself. “Grief is not a disorder, a disease or sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love. The only cure for grief is to grieve.” (Rabbi Earl Grollman)

Grief changes us. It changes how we look at things and how we relate to people. Grief, armed with a fiery torch, burns compassion into our souls. In the darkest night our ego dies, and we look at things we once held as so important and wonder what we were thinking. Like Harry Potter, we all of a sudden notice that our carriage is pulled by Thestrals. We are quite sure that we are going nuts because others don’t seem to notice. Thank God for the Luna Lovegoods of this world, who remind us: “You are not mad, Harry. They can only be seen by people who’ve seen death.” Grief, this uninvited guest, it turns out is also an eye surgeon … and one day, however long it takes, the tears will slowly subside and you, my friend, will look at the world with a whole new set of eyes. Life will never be the same again – but peace, and even joy, do return like the prodigal.

The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. 

Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:

The faithful love of the Lord never ends. His mercies never cease.

Lamentations 3:19-22

flowers_in_the_rain_wallpaper-660x330

Leap of Faith? It’s Easier to Talk about It!

“To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose oneself.” 
– Soren Kierkegaard

stuntman-347052_1920

For most of us, life is often a fairly mundane rhythm of existence. Weeks go by before we notice how much time has actually elapsed. Now and then we have an unexpected visitor: Risk! Situations or moments come our way and we are faced with decisions and choices. One of these decisions is a choice for safety and comfort, to remain in what we know, and this is certainly not a ‘wrong’ choice, per se. When risk comes knocking, there is also another choice. A choice that propels us into uncharted waters and requires something of us. It invites us to step out into a place of not knowing, of instability, of following your heart … it requires a Leap of Faith.

I have often spoken about these places of peril over the last three decades. I spoke of them from a position of security, growth, and the idealism that accompanies youth and strength. But it is a different thing altogether to have Risk come calling for a cup of tea now that I am older. With age comes a sense of realism, a recognition that life does not read the “play fair” manual, and that the God of my youth was more like a shrine to my ideals than the God whose ways and thoughts are far above those of finite humanity. It is daunting, to say the least, to be invited to dust off the old Indiana Jones hat and take a leap of faith.

indiana-leap-of-faith

The stirring started in my heart quite a few years ago. I remembered why I chose to follow the teachings of  Christ. It never has been a path about safety, comfort, and acquisition. It is not a path were our objective is to impress people, create bigger platforms, or seek greater influence. It is not a way of life that allows for the building of ethereal castles, where we reside in the safety of our self-assured orthodoxy with people who agree with us. Rather, it is a narrow path of peace, mercy and justice. It is a path that requires sacrifice if these are the values we choose to live by. It is an adventure that will often require us to step into the total unknown, and like that famous scene from “The Last Crusade”, hope there is a path that meets us, even when we can’t see one.

For most of us there will come a time when we are asked to take that leap. It is both a terrifying and liberating moment. Here are some of my reflections:

1. Fear will Disguise itself as Your Friend

Fear is what undergirds so much of our vulnerable existence. Religion can placate the angst with all sorts of promises and stern warnings, yet so much of religion is itself steeped in fear and superstition. The first step to freedom is recognising this. It is to understand that the notions of safety are not that realistic. The more we make our peace with this recognition the more readily we notice the many disguises of fear. No wonder the call of Christ includes the path of being willing to lose our life in order to find life.

2. Fear will Insist you Take the Path of Safety

I kissed Christian Fundamentalism goodbye quite a few years ago. It was a leap of faith. For someone who had bought into the austerity of these ideals, including the over-emphasised teaching that humans are depraved and that the heart is deceitful above all, I had to learn to listen to my heart again. I discovered my inner core was a joyful space, full of light, wonder and goodness. When we live in Spirit rhythm we begin to breathe again. Fear beckoned me to the safety of ‘absolute certainty’. Grace called me to take a leap of faith. I am so glad I took that leap.

3. You will Pay a Price – No Matter the Choice

When Risk comes calling we have to make decisions. The decisions and choices we make in these times have a price tag – all of them! Do we risk the sense of belonging and recognition we have acquired in our social tribe by stepping beyond the borders of their acceptability? Do we stay and live with the incongruity of living at odds with our deep held values? Do we risk all by following that still, small voice? Do we risk our joy by not? Make no mistake – choices have a price tag. All of them.

7c7d830f89cea48078dfd52c8be8da0a

4. Your Leap of Faith may End in a Spectacular Dive of Failure

Friend, where did we get the idea that risk is, well, risk free? You may take a leap and it may not end well, or at least, not like you thought it would … and that’s ok! We are humans, we risk, we leap, we triumph … except when we don’t. Failures are part of life. No, you are not a failure! You simply took a risk and maybe it didn’t turn out the way you hoped. But you still took a risk. Well done! And the people who are muttering after your spectacular mishap should simply be reminded that the spiritual beer gut they are parading from inactivity does absolutely nothing to convince you to take any remote notice of them.

5. Celebrate the Leap!

If you do decide to take that leap – then celebrate it. Celebrate it with tenacious joy and full belly laughs. Celebrate it with your kindred and adventure-loving friends. Remind everyone that we have one very short life to live and that regret is the saddest of all companions. Be open about the lessons you have learnt – the highs, the lows, the misery, the wonder.

A Leap of Faith sounds wonderful in theory. It is intoxicating to talk about it in front of crowds, cheering you on. It is a different thing altogether to make a decision as you stare into the menacing unknown. I will be the last person to judge you if you choose not to take that leap. For only you can make that decision and only you will face the consequences of your choice. However, if you do decide to go on this adventure, with all my heart, I wish you well. Maybe one day we will meet, chink glasses, tell our stories, and be grateful for the hell of a ride called life.

leap-of-faith

Friends!

“I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light.”
– Helen Keller
pink-hair-1256382_1920
Friends! They shape our lives, whether we realise it or not. From an early age, our friends play a crucial role in developing our sense of self. Friends help tell the narrative of our lives. Friendships make the world a far more beautiful place. Friends provide a safe haven, a sounding board, a reality check, comfort and a true sense of belonging. Friends make us better people. Friends, of course, can also make us miserable.

As an only child, friends played a most important role in my life and relational development. Now that I have reached half a century, friendships have become even more integral to the way I want to do life. There has been much study and research devoted to the friendships of children and adolescents, but not nearly enough on the friendships we hold as adults. As fully grown humans, who have lived on this planet for a few decades, we don’t just enter friendships from a void. Rather, we take into them a suitcase full of our own history, ideology and expectations of what it means to have and be a friend. No wonder friendship can be perplexing at times.

So as I reflect on this most important aspect of friendships and how they play a pivotal role in human existence, here are some thoughts:

α. Not all Friendships are the Same

hands-63743_1920
Some of my friends and I shared a meal recently. As I looked around the table at my eclectic and diverse group of friends, whom I love so dearly, I realised how fortunate I was to have these people in my life. Each of them come from very different backgrounds, their worldview has been shaped by a myriad of different life experiences, they hold different paradigms and ideas on various issues (some with great passion), and they all express themselves very differently.

We relate differently to different people. I do not hold my succinct, at times cutting, debate-style conversations, with my sensitive-soul friends. It has nothing to do with being ‘real’ or not. Rather, we learn to respect and understand that our friends communicate in different ways. Communication manners can threaten some people. For example, I find passive aggressive modes of communicating extremely stressful. Others stare in fear and wonder when our family unleashes in its loud opinion-slanging fest.

To love and be loved in friendship we come to the mature recognition that each of our friends are different. This difference is reflected in our expectations, relational and communication style, and in the depth of relationship we have fostered over the years. Each friend you have is different, so are the friendships you foster.

β. Imaginary Friends are best suited if you want Perfect Friends

I would hate to think how many times I have been just one giant ball of disappointment to my friends. To be human means that we can be loving, supportive, kind friends, AND we can fail spectacularly at the same time. The point is, if we are expecting perfection out of our friends and tryiimaginary-friendng really hard to control their behaviour in the friendship space, it might be best to find that imaginary friend from our childhood days. The real ones won’t meet our expectations. Unrealistic expectations can put tremendous pressure on friendships, as can a refusal to simply accept that we will fail our friends and they will fail us. Gratitude for the beautiful and imperfect gift of friendship is a marvellous antidote for the silly notion of ‘perfect’ friends.

γ. Not all Friendships last Forever, not all Conflicts are Resolved

In saying all this, it is important to consider any relationships that are toxic: Anger, Judgement, Selfishness, lack of Empathy, Betrayal are some of the harmful ingredients that destroy relationships. We all exhibit these traits from time to time. However, when they are bound to how a person operates and relates, resulting in them refusing to acknowledge how this is hurting others, we have to take time to contemplate how, if at all, we continue to navigate that friendship.

Dysfunctional traits often lead to conflict in friendships. Conflicts are normal to any relationship. If, however, there is no recognition of the ‘shadow side’ that plays into friendship, no forgiving or seeking forgiveness, no humility and respect, then it becomes extremely difficult to resolve serious conflict. As much as we should keep an open heart, bent on reconciliation, perhaps the most difficult of all is to recognise when a friendship has run its course. Not all friends are forever. We bless what we had. At times we have to let go.

δ. Be a Generous Friend

“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” – Simone Weil

Generosity has to do with heart and attitude. It is our ability to connect deeply with our friends, with a spirit of hospitality, kindness and support. It’s learning to really listen. The generous gift of taking the time to hear the other, to reflect back their pain, joy, frustration, fear, in a manner that shows that you have listened beyond the words, is truly one of those remarkable measures of friendship.

To live life connected with friends, to share our lives and hearts, has to be one of the greatest gifts we hold as the human family. Money or possessions can never substitute for what it means to love and be loved – the sacred space between kindred heart cannot be bought. Treasure your friends.

37adacdab86263561dd286ace23498fe

Endings …

road-470798_1280

“It is always important to know when something has reached its end. Closing circles, shutting doors, finishing chapters, it doesn’t matter what we call it; what matters is to leave in the past those moments in life that are over.” 
― Paul Coelho –

In February, my life partner-in-crime made the massive decision to resign from his role as the Senior Minister of CityLife Church in Melbourne. This is a significant choice for someone who has spent most of his life in the church world, working at CityLife in various staff roles for 31 years and as Senior Minister for the last 21 years. His announcement included this: “At age 54, I am at a time in life when I’d like a smaller world not a bigger one, a slower pace not a faster one, and a simpler life not a more complex one.” I admire his courage and clarity. He has recognised an upcoming ending and determined that a season is about to conclude.

There are seasons in our life when we are faced with inevitable and necessary endings. Some of these closures are traumatic. They leave us in shock, robbed of choice, grieving, and perhaps resentful. It is hard to find comfort in endings that are forced upon us, whatever the reason may be. The author of Lamentations dedicates five full chapters to express his grief over his people living in exile and of Jerusalem having been destroyed. The anguish of imposed endings can sit in our bones for many years.

Sometimes we have the privilege of actively participating in an ending. As we listen to our lives, we discern these moments and we are far more involved in crafting the ending of the current season. There is the bitter-sweet reality of recognising that nothing in life is constant. Change is inevitable. Endings happen. They are part of life’s rhythm. And endings matter.

Endings can rise within us like a mist on a cool morning. We suddenly realise that we have changed, and like Alice, there’s no going back. If you are like me, this is not an easy recognition to come to. Driven by nostalgia and longing we frantically look for the open door to go back to where we once belonged and felt safe – but the door has shut. Values that have laid dormant in the crevices of our heart suddenly refuse to be ignored any longer. For me it was following the path of curious compassion that led me to a bigger space of how I see the hand of God at work in the world. However, it also meant the ending of what once was. Even the ending of some relationships. There are some seasons that require these sort of Grand Finales. You cannot take everyone with you on certain journeys of life. And that’s ok.

town-sign-1158387_1920

Things come to an end to allow for new growth. We grow and we change. Some people use change as a weapon: “You don’t believe/do/think that anymore? You have changed!” Of course we have changed. The goal in life does not include the need to stay rigid and unyielding. Over the years I have watched my partner change. He has outgrown some of his earlier ideals. How he has defined success has changed. What he deeply values has come to the surface. He has taken that arduous journey to the heart and discovered things about himself that have called for difficult decisions. I admire his courage to not ignore this.

Friends, I suggest that in a society that is so desperately trying to conjure up false realities of safety and happiness, endings are the last thing we want to discuss. Therefore, our developed, ‘sophisticated’ world is so poorly equipped in handling closure. Where did we ever get the idea that endings are to be avoided at all costs? People come and go. Ideas come and go. Civilisations come and go. Endings are necessary, not evil.

I watch the Autumn leaves fall outside my office window and Winter comes softly. A season of apparent barrenness. The warm, sunny, beachside days have gone. Winter reminds us of endings. It also reminds us that what looks like death is simply a necessary moment that allows for new life and growth. We cannot fight Winter – it is upon us, whether we like it or not. If we choose, Winter can serve as a wonderful guide and teacher. Within its icy grasp lie the lessons of endings and the whisper of a different tomorrow …

“No, this is not the beginning of a new chapter in my life; this is the beginning of a new book! That first book is already closed, ended, and tossed into the seas; this new book is newly opened, has just begun! Look, it is the first page! And it is a beautiful one!” 

―C. JoyBell C. –
snow-1217124_1920