Asking questions

I’m not quite sure why I find asking questions difficult. I have a theory, but mostly it is a story I have told myself to make sense of some of my quirks.

In the last year I have begun to ask questions. The last month or so has taught me that my default of trying to operate out of my assumptions is just a recipe for distress.

I am beginning to recognise that actually whatever I may have to say will be far better received if I begin by inquiring about the current paradigm.

Before I offer my solution, to say: I think we have a problem, what do you see?

Before I offer my insightful advice, to ask: where do you think you are?

It is ridiculously simple, but sometimes subconscious messaging can mean we overlook the glaringly obvious.

 

Blind spots

I have come to see, quite recently, that I have a few blind spots. Areas in which I cannot trust my own discernment because my unconscious desire to avoid certain things is still far too powerful. The scale of my judgement is weighted and I am unaware of it.

At least now I’m not entirely unaware of the weighting, but I still have no sense of how the scale is skewed, so I cannot trust my own discernment in these circumstances. If I make a choice without consultation I am most likely to make a poor decision.

It is truly humbling.

But what strikes me here, is not so much that I have blind spots – I’ve been coming to terms with that for a while now. It seems to me that I’m always going to have these blind spots. These areas where I know I cannot trust my own discernment. And what I most need in this space is the small circle of people I trust to speak the truth.

This is why community is so important. I need people in my life who I can go to and say help me to see.

Let me be clear – the insight here is not ‘I need to work on my blind spots and my discernment.’ No! The insight is that I need to cultivate and foster the relationships which will help me navigate the spaces where I am blind or partially sighted.

Self-acceptance

When I signed up to the Living School run through the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque I did so because I knew the work of Richard Rohr, and I had just discovered Cynthia Bourgeault. I knew nothing at all of James Finley.

When I first encountered Uncle Finley’s teaching it took me a while to recognise that I needed to treat it a bit like music – just let wash over me and trust that what I needed to remember would stick.

Nearly two years on, I can safely say, that James Finley’s teaching was the reason I needed to be part of the Living School. His words have washed over me again and again and again. And in the repetition I have found deep healing.

Several days ago I found another of his videos – in this one he is talking about the writing of Thomas Merton (You can find it below). Near the end of the formal talk before the question and answer session he quotes Merton:

I’m coming to the conclusion that my highest ambition is to become what I already am. That I will never fulfill my obligation to surpass myself unless I first accept myself. And if I accept myself fully in the right way, I will already have surpassed myself. For it is the unaccepted self that stands in my way and it will continue to do so as long as it is not accepted. When it has been accepted it is my own stepping stone to what is above me, because this is the way man has been made by God. Original sin was the effort to surpass oneself by being like God, that is unlike oneself. But our Godliness begins at home. We must first become like ourselves and stop living beside ourselves.’

I think I’ll be chewing on this for a while yet!

Contemplating presence

I’ve just come back from a pilgrimage in the Holy Land. We spent some time in Jerusalem, but it was at the Sea of Galilee that I had a greater sense of presence.

Ignatius of Loyola wanted to go to the Holy Land to touch the physical places that Jesus had touched. The image I have in my head is of Ignatius at the site of the Ascension (or at least that which is claimed to be such…) touching the rock. I was more aware of Ignatius in Jerusalem than Jesus.

In Jerusalem I had very little sense of walking where Jesus walked. Even the mass inside the tomb in the Holy Sepulchre – touching the rock on which he was supposed to be laid was somehow silent.

But as I sat with my feet in the water of the Sea of Galilee, I couldn’t help but think about the water molecules. It is possible that water molecules that were in this body of water 2000 years ago are still present today.

As I looked across the lake to hills of the Golan Heights, that view would have been much the same. My feet in the water, which itself is the same and not the same as it was then.

It was in the water molecules that presence came. And with presence, for a moment, peace.

Community

In my last post I offered the first half of a beatitude – Blessed are the truth tellers…

I had no end to that beatitude until I received an email from a friend who had also been on the pilgrimage.

Blessed are the truth tellers, for they will have the truth told to them.

It is a beatitude I will return to over and over again.

What is striking though is that it needed the participation of both of us to create it.

In a sense this beatitude is the symbol of my own journey of the last couple of years. I lead quite a solitary life, but in recent times I have become aware of the terrible lie we have been sold in individualism. We need community; real community.

It is humbling, and perhaps a little humiliating on occasion, to realise just how much I need others.

This beatitude is symbol to me of the humbling end of the spectrum. And it is to this that I cling in hope when I am confronted by those encounters which are more humiliating.

Blessed are the truth tellers

The last ten days have been an exquisite and excruciating blend of challenge and grace. I am deeply grateful for more than I can say. But for now, I want to simply say

Blessed are the truth tellers…

I’m not sure of the second half of that beatitude. In the midst of significant distress I found myself among a handful of people who were willing to come along side me.

They were willing to hold my hand and yet not try to make me feel better by offering false encouragement.

They were willing to say yes, you could have handled this one situation better. Now how can we support you in making the next step.

They were willing to say yes, you need to take time, but sooner or later you will need to speak.

They were willing to say, I know this is not what you want to hear, but this is what I see.

In each instance, there was deep compassion, deep concern, and a willingness to stand in the discomfort of truth, all the while standing right beside me.

This is not truth telling borne of anger or bitterness or resentment. The kind that is flung at you like a slap in the face. This is a truth telling borne of deep love.

Blessed are the truth tellers…

To tell the truth in love and compassion is a rare quality, but it truly is the greatest gift.

Pilgrimage

So far 2017 has proved an interesting year. It has been the crossing of the threshold into myself. Over the past few years I have really entered into acknowledging, accepting and letting go of, the things that once wished hadn’t shaped me. It has been a time of deeply accepting the limitations of who I am, and coming to the beautiful freedom which emerges.

It has also been a year when I seem to have made more mistakes than ever before. I have failed in friendship, I have let down my colleagues, and I have precipitated pain among those I love.

It has also been a year, where I have been invited to speak in so many new communities about things of faith.

This afternoon I begin a journey of pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I will get to stand in the places where Jesus stood. But perhaps more importantly, I will follow the journey which so many people of faith have taken before. And as I embark on this journey, I come as I am, so aware of the blend of giftedness and failure that I am.

I carry with me every person whom I know I have caused distress this year.

Not a reconciliation project

I’m spending the best part of the week at the Winter School hosted by the Faculty of Theology at Stellenbosch University. The overarching theme is on ‘Reforming the church, society and ourselves’. It is interesting to see a strong thread of ‘reconciliation’ woven through some of the talks in the parallel sessions. I happen to have chosen to go to these.

It has been inspiring and eye opening to hear of some of the work that is going on. But I am left with the comment made by one participant. She said ‘We cannot reconcile. Reconciliation is for those who know one another. Our task is to get to know each other’. Her point was very clear, in South Africa today, in no small part because of the physical separation of communities along racial lines, we don’t know one another.

It is such an important and powerful point. How do we begin to cross divides? I am deeply challenged myself on this point. How do I step out of my corridors of comfort?