Interior freedom is not cheap

Interior freedom is not something you can fake. You know it if you have it. It is also neither static nor comprehensive.

I have more conscious in recent years of the areas of unfreedom in me. I suppose this is because small areas of freedom have been etched out. Knowing what true freedom is even in a very small interaction means I have a touchstone. I know the flavour and texture of interior freedom, so I know it when I don’t have it.

As I have uncovered a space where I know I am not free, I have begun to simply pay attention. To become curious about the hooks. What is it that has me fearful or defensive? What is the invitation?

Gently leaning into the discomfort, having the conversations I need to have, praying for grace where I need it, and holding the stories I have told myself to make sense of my world very lightly. Slowly, slowly, slowly, there has been an increase in interior freedom.

It isn’t an easy journey, and no one can do it on your behalf. But it really is well worth it.

Truth telling

I’ve been thinking about the idea of truth telling. We encourage our kids to tell the truth. But maybe we need to think about our vocabulary. One of the images I use in The Grace of Forgiveness is given below.

I must have stumbled across this image some time in late 2015 and I am still chewing on it.

I think it is beginning to dawn on me that actually not one of us is capable of speaking the truth. Yes, we should be honest. Yes, we should exact as much honesty as we can muster from the depths of our being.

But my commitment to honesty will only ever give me the best approximation of the orange square or the black circle. I need someone else speaking from their perspective to begin to glimpse the bigger truth.

Can it be that I will never see the complexity of the cylinder?

What happens if I surrender to that possibility and commit myself to both seeing and articulating the orange square to the best my ability, and to listening to you as you describe the black circle.

What happens then?

I think it is the beginning of something truly exciting.

There is no moral high ground

Over the last couple of weeks I have been slowly savouring Larry Kaufmann’s book ‘Keep it light: Praying through suffering into joy’. In his chapter on forgiveness he likens the phrase from the Our Father ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’ to the terms and conditions of a contract.

As I mulled over this idea alongside another which has been with me a few days since a friend and I were talking about forgiveness. What struck me in the conversation with the friend is that one cannot truly forgive and assume the moral high ground. The two are actually mutually exclusive.

For me, the major key to unlocking my own capacity to forgive was discovering that I had caused harm to another. I learnt to forgive in no small part because I knew I was culpable of harming someone.

The combination of these two ideas seems to me to indicate the reason that this is a part of the Our Father. Once we learn how to forgive seeking the moral high ground loses its appeal. Forgiveness requires a level of honesty and humility which is incompatible with judgement.

If we are called to grow towards unconditional love, surely forgiveness (both giving and receiving) is the gateway.

The gift of real friendship

One of the things I think we deeply desire and deeply fear as humans is to be seen for who we are. This year for me has been one where I have been invited into that vulnerable space of revealing myself over and over and over again.

In almost every circumstance I have discovered compassion, love and acceptance. More importantly, the choice to allow myself to be vulnerable has proved a pivotal moment certainly for me, but oftentimes for those with whom I am interacting.

In the end I have discovered, in a way I never expected, that I can be myself, fully myself, in all my quirky awkwardness, and be deeply loved and appreciated. The deep truth is that no one expects any more of me. The pain of the desire for me to be more than I am is mine. I am profoundly limited, as are we all.

2017 for me has been learning that if I can own my limitations, others can own theirs. And once we get there, then we can really benefit from each others giftedness.

I’ll sign off with a picture – it was taken by my friend Kate – I got to see her for 36 hours which included 2 hours at 4 year olds birthday party (not her child). I sat outside the party room reading a book. And Kate and I and her son all had a good time. I could be myself, and Kate could do the thing she needed to do for her family. In that moment, neither of us needed the other to be other. This is the gift of real friendship.

Avoiding being triggered

Perhaps the greatest lesson I have learnt this year is that I will never get to a point where I am not emotionally triggered under particular circumstances.

For a long time I think I have been trying to get to place where I can roll with the punches regardless of what is thrown at me. I thought that getting to a point of equanimity meant getting to place where my old buttons could be pushed and I would be unaffected. I think this is cloud cuckoo land. It may exist in some mythical perfect reality but it probably will never be my life.

No, rather the point is to be able to know when I am triggered, to find the support I need to unhook my emotional response, and face back in to the situation to achieve what was hoped for in the first place.

When I find myself triggered by someone I have two choices. If the person is someone close to me it is probably worth explaining that I find that particular circumstance more emotionally charged than may be expected. But if it is someone I only interact with occasionally, it is probably better to simply find a way to recover my equilibrium.

Perhaps the greatest gift for me this year has been the discovery that I have people in my life who can and will help me recover my equilibrium. And with this discovery I no longer have to be afraid of being triggered – I can recover. I no longer have to wait for the dawn of the era of cloud cuckoo land. I can live a beautiful, rich and wholehearted life right now.

Christ plays in ten thousand places

The gospel of the fourth Sunday in Advent was the annunciation, and yesterday the visitation. Two places I got to visit in June on a Pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Two places I had the honour of breaking open the Word.

For personal reasons the pilgrimage was a crucible. One that really did burn off some of my dross. It was acutely painful, but I was well supported by Christ clothed in the flesh of my companions.

So for me this Christmas Eve it is Gerard Manly Hopkins whose words are playing in mind:

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.
I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
With deep gratitude for all my companions on that particular journey.

Five years

I began this blog five years ago today.

It wasn’t my first blog, I had at two failed attempts at blogging prior to this. Both failed because I was afraid of putting my thoughts ‘out there’. And so I made them subscriber access only or hid them and invited a small select few to read. I had to become brave enough to let my words take on a life of their own before I could actually sustain a blog.

A couple of years ago I bumped into someone after church who said to me ‘I read your blog and I enjoy it, but how do you come up with all of your ideas.’ I can’t remember now what I said in response, but it was question that slightly mystified me – what do you mean how do I come up with the ideas? What is posted here is a tiny fraction of what occupies my mind. The ideas that I share are those that I want to crystallise for myself, or that I have crystallised and I think will be helpful to others.

What has surprised me is that five years on, I still cannot tell whether a post will gain significant traction or not.  Those posts which I have thought were either very context specific or very much written for my benefit rather than the desire to say something meaningful tend to resonate a lot more than I would expect.

Why do I keep writing? I enjoy the gentle feedback. It is encouraging to know that there are others thinking in similar ways. Occasionally I get some push back, but that is normally because the 300 or so words that I usually use doesn’t allow for much nuance or development of thought.

So for now, I’ll keep going. It is sufficiently uncomplicated that it doesn’t require terribly much energy, and I gain a lot from the process. If that balance tips then, I’ll revisit.


Flamboyant trees

I cannot explain why but this image and many like it somehow hit me in a particular way.

It is the gathering of the crowds. But it isn’t that moves me in the depths of my being. It is the blaze of red in the trees. There is something so powerful in my psyche about the fuzzy red blossoms in the trees that moves me. The combination of the people marching so peacefully and the blossoming flamboyant trees in the country to which my body know it belongs is so profoundly moving.

My soul aches in a particular way when I see these images. It is an ache of belonging. An ache of hope. An ache of the fear of disappointment.

I did not realise that I had utterly given up any sense of possibility of change while Robert Mugabe lived. I did not realise that until this week. This week of possibility, of hope, and a deep deep fear that the change may be cosmetic rather than actual.

I live in a country now where peaceful protest is almost unknown. I watch the images and hear the reports of thousands and thousands gathering in peace in my home country.

I am deeply fearful of hope. But the blossoming of the flamboyant trees…


The cost of compensation

I broke my right tibia when I was 13 (that’s your shin bone). The bone was set correctly, but my knee was at a slightly odd angle in the cast. The result is that lower half of my right leg now juts out at an angle. Most people wouldn’t notice.

The problem is the rest of my body has been compensating ever since. In my mid-teens a shoulder injury resulted because I was doing a lot swimming and my right leg didn’t have the same strength. In my early twenties a lower back injury, in my mid-twenties trouble with my knee…

Almost every physical injury I have had since then can be traced back maybe not all the way back to that one injury, but most injuries are related to earlier ones. One part of my body now injured because too much was demanded as it tried compensate for an earlier problem.

It makes me wonder whether that happens emotionally? And if that is true on an individual level what about society?

Graven images

Last night, I gave a talk to a group of people from my parish on ‘Creation and evolution’. The reading I have been doing over the last little while has really got me wondering about our attachment to our intellectual constructions of who God is.

Obviously we need to use images. We need some handle. But I think sometimes we mistaken our intellectual constructions for God Godself.

Those who operate in spirituality circles will say – yes, yes, we know about operational and theoretical images of God. But the point I am trying to make here is a operates at a different level. For example, the way in which we understand what happened when Jesus died on that cross and rose again are deeply embedded in Ancient Greek cosmology.

What happens to our understanding if we look at the same event, with the same Biblical texts, but from our current cosmology – do we come up with a slightly different construction?

Marcus Borg wrote

‘The Bible is filled with images of God, metaphors for the sacred. The biblical commandment to make no graven images of God obviously did not mean avoiding word-images. But it does mean that no one of these should be “carved in stone”—that is, made absolute.’

Are some of our intellectual constructions graven images? Who is the God we discover through a different cosmological lens?